The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: how will it impact the monarchy?

On Saturday, the world turned on their televisions to watch the marriage ceremony of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Bob Morris offers his views on what the marriage could mean for the monarchy. This is the first in a small series of blogs about some constitutional aspects of the Monarchy.  The next is to be published on Wednesday 23 May and will complement two Unit reports on the coronation and accession oaths taken by British monarchs. 

‘A family on the throne … brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life… A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and as such, it rivets mankind.’ [Bagehot, 1867]

Everyone will wish the couple well in their life together. Their wedding will have been watched by millions and enhanced the sense of continuity that the British monarchy can convey to an increasingly diverse population. Abroad it will equally delight and intrigue – how is it that a modern state can still indulge such celebrations? Continue reading

Royal Wedding: congratulations, or commiserations?

While we must all be happy for Prince William and Kate Middleton on their wedding day, we must also be aware of the heavy burdens which will be thrust upon them. Prince William was born into the Royal family and had no choice; but for Kate there was a choice.  She could have remained a private person; but from now on she will become public property.

Members of the Royal family do not enjoy some fundamental human rights which the rest of us take for granted:

  • They have very little privacy.  The rest of us have a right to private and family life.  William and Kate will be pursued by photographers wherever they go.  Their children will also be the subject of intense media interest.  Celebrities choose to be in the public eye; Royals have no such choice.
  • They have no choice of career.  William’s choices are effectively limited to military service or charitable good works.  Senior members of the Royal family cannot go into business.  Kate has already given up her job in preparation for the wedding
  • They have no freedom of speech.  Prince William is not free to say what he thinks, in particular on anything remotely political.  Although Kate is less restricted, she also has to be extremely careful not to be drawn into political or public controversy
  • They have no freedom of religion.  If Prince William or Kate were to become a Roman Catholic, he would have to step out of the line of succession and renounce any claim to the throne
  • Members of the Royal family are not free to marry whom they wish.  Royal marriages require the consent of the sovereign; and that consent depends upon government approval.  Government approval was withheld from King Edward VIII’s proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson in 1936; and from Princess Margaret’s proposed marriage to Peter Townsend in 1955.

The burdens of monarchy were clearly brought out in the film The King’s Speech. That depicted graphically the loneliness of the position, the constant pressure to put on a good public performance, and the difficulty of finding close confidants with whom to share the burdens.  To that must now be added the insatiable demands of the modern media, who will be watching their every move.  We wish them well; but we should also understand what burdens they assume in our name.