Postcard from London
The prospect of a royal wedding always lifts the public mood in the United Kingdom. The divisive referendum to leave the European Union has cast a long shadow on economic confidence. A sparkling royal bride-to-be who is confident in front of media cameras has lifted spirits.
Brits fervently want this royal romance between Prince Harry, fifth in line for the throne, and his American fiancée, Meghan Markle, to be genuine. They want it to work and demonstrate that younger royals have a valued place in Britain and the Commonwealth. This is especially so for Prince Harry, now discharged from the military and in search of a robust role.
Retailers are already benefiting from the influence of a new fashion icon as young women soak up every detail of Markle’s attire, which so far seems to be surprisingly affordable.
The royal engagement has nevertheless produced church talking points. There is the issue of covering a royal marrying a divorcée, and then there is Markle’s pending baptism and confirmation. She attended a Roman Catholic school and was previously married to Trevor Engelseon, a Jewish film producer.
Princess Margaret (1930-2002), younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, gave up her wish to marry Captain Peter Townsend because he was divorced. Earlier, Prince Harry’s great-uncle King Edward VIII in 1936 gave up the throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. In those days the Church of England would not countenance marriage of a divorcée to a potential Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Since the 1980s the Church of England has taken a more relaxed attitude to the remarriage of divorced persons in church. Prince Charles, current heir to the throne, is married to a divorcée, Camilla, Duchess of Windsor. They married in a civil ceremony, followed by a church blessing.
Harry and Meghan will marry at Windsor. While the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement warmly welcoming the engagement, it is not yet known if he will preside at the royal wedding. One possible reason why this issue is pending could be that the royal public relations machine is sophisticated and adept at pacing stories for maximum effect.
The other talking point is that Markle will be baptized and confirmed ahead of her nuptials. Here, some reporters seemed out of their depth. It emerged that Markle, who was brought up in a nominal Protestant family and attended a Catholic school, was never baptized. Some media were vague about her baptism and thought she needed to be baptized “into the Church of England.” That had Church leaders pointing out that the Church of England did not countenance rebaptism and that baptism is an initiation into the universal Church, not a particular denomination.
There will be scrutiny of her spiritual preparation. While many Church of England clergy maintain an open baptism policy, welcoming candidates who qualify as residents of their parishes, they do not like being taken for granted. They therefore insist that adult candidates understand the step they are taking. Likewise for parents of children presented for baptism. In Markle’s case, at least some clergy particularly will want to know that principle applies.