News & Opinion

The Royal Wedding

Change: the powerful cultural meaning of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding

The Daily Beast

May 19, 2018

The service melded African-American and Windsor traditions. There was love, and a challenge to established order. The power of Meghan and Harry’s wedding was personal and cultural.

Why did Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding ceremony pack such an emotional punch?

Well, first and foremost it was the love in the room, the love between two people which was visible and right in front of our eyes. It was in the support and sweetness flowing between them.

It was Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, tearing up proudly, as she watched the young couple exchange vows. Part of this viewer felt that Doria looked too on her own at this momentous moment (although maybe this was just an incorrect conclusion bought by TV cameras); as someone said on Twitter, could she have had a plus-one?

Never mind the hoary narrative of the princess getting her prince, and this being the fruition of her story; it was Harry who looked humbled, stunned, and that he couldn’t believe his luck. And quite right too.

And, as a woman in Windsor from New York said to cheers on NBC’s Today show, “I loved the pastor who came from Chicago [Bishop Michael Curry was born in Chicago and grew up in Buffalo]. Everyone in England was treated to a traditional African-American church service and it was beautiful.”

There was a lot of euphemism-spouting among nervous TV anchors on Saturday: how Meghan is “modern,” how a girl “like her” got here; that the royal family has not ever seen “anything like it.”

Stripped away from the not-saying-the-words, or precisely analyzing the day’s import, is exactly what the New York woman said, and it is exactly what Kalyn Wilson wrote in The Daily Beast earlier this week: a biracial American woman not only married into the British royal family on Saturday, but in the choice of service we saw what a radical breath of fresh air in this ultimate temple of white privilege Meghan Markle really represents.

The service was a beautifully conceived melding of African-American church tradition and Windsor tradition. It was an ingenious combination, but what was most memorable—because quite simply the queen and Prince Philip and many Brits won’t have ever sat through anything like it—was the stirring sermon of Curry, the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

“Love” was Curry’s theme, and the royal family looked stunned and uncomfortable. But that is their default look. There is always a humorous element to watching the Windsors looking so puzzled and discombobulated when the modern world, or a world not of their own, comes knocking—but it’s a laugh of the mordant kind.

The real world shouldn’t be so unfamiliar to them; they shouldn’t look so offended and surprised by it.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was the family’s first challenge in this respect. She, I think, would have loved today, not just because she would have been watching her son be so happy, but because in the social and cultural activism Harry and Meghan feel so passionately about, they are clearly following the example Diana set.

The music was enough to have you in floods. There was Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, singing “Stand By Me,” in a gospel version I could listen to on repeat for some time, there was familiar choral standards like “Lord of all hopefulness,” and then—as Harry and Meghan and the royals left the church into the blazing sunshine—“Amen, this little light of mine.”

We don’t know yet how profoundly Meghan’s presence will change the royal family, but the joy of the church service was there for the couple and their loved ones, and it was reflected in the joy it left in all of us watching it.

What was our joy for? For them, for sure. For a service that brimmed with joy. But also, what Harry and Meghan represent: change, and then promise of change, the bringing together of cultures, the surmounting of old barriers, the sight of institutions like the royal family changing in front of us.

If you had a huge smile on your face as you listened and watched all this, it’s perhaps because that wedding showed us the pleasure of watching things change for the better. Why change excites us. Makes us feel a flutter of possibility. The power of inclusion. Sheer happiness and joy. A reaching out to so many.

The values embodied in Meghan and Harry’s service are at a refreshing variance to the world of conflict and division we are presently in. The church service represented the best of us, if we care to cherish that.

Yes, the pomp and ceremony were meticulously British, but this royal wedding was like no other. It was a joyful challenge to order. Let us see not only where Meghan and Harry’s marriage goes, but where it might lead us.