She probably won’t be called Princess Harry. Although it is the proper form for non-royal wives of princes, it has not been used often. The only example I know of is Princess Michael. That is how Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz has been known since 1978 when she married Prince Michael of Kent, first cousin of the Queen.
The Queen likely will give Harry a dukedom or earldom, as she did his elder brother William upon his marriage. That way, his wife can be called the Duchess or Countess of whatever.
Meghan is American and an actress. Although Grace Kelly and other American actresses have married into European royalty, this is a first for Great Britain.
A more serious aspect of British royal marriage rules does not have to be an issue for them, or the Queen or Parliament. Meghan is divorced, with a living ex-husband. Despite being founded by a King who wanted to divorce and remarry, the Church of England long forbade the marriage of divorced persons unless the ex-spouse had subsequently died.
For being free to marry Harry in the Church of England, Meghan has 1992 to thank. That year, called by the Queen an “annus horribilis”, Harry’s parents Charles and Diana separated after scandal upon scandal. Tabloid photos of his Aunt Sarah, Duchess of York, scandalized the world after she and Prince Andrew split up. His Aunt Anne, Princess Royal, divorced her husband Mark Phillips then married Timothy Laurence. All this in one year.
Princess Anne and her second husband Timothy Laurence married in the Church of Scotland. It allowed the marriage of divorced, but not widowed, persons. So by getting married at a church near Balmoral, her family home in Scotland, they sidestepped Church of England dicta.
Dissolution of Charles and Diana’s marriage was a thornier issue. He was heir to the throne, therefore the next head of the Church of England. Their marriage and its problems were much more public than his sister’s first marriage had been. However, Charles and Diana did divorce in 1996.
The next problem was what to do about his relationship with Camilla Barker-Bowles. She too was divorced, and her ex-husband was alive. So in November 2002 the Church of England changed its rules. The General Synod said that divorced people with living exes could remarry in the Church.
Despite having the way open to a church wedding, Charles and Camilla did not marry until 2005 and then in a civil ceremony, followed by a Church of England blessing.
Three Kings in One Year
It is the story of Harry’s great-great uncle, 82 years ago, that has been most compared to Harry and Meghan. In December 1936, the new King Edward VIII abdicated the throne rather than give up the woman he loved. She was an American divorcée, Wallis Simpson.
1936 was commemorated in a plate my mother had as Three Kings in One Year. George V died in January, Edward abdicated December 10th, and his brother became George VI. The former king and his new wife were given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and effectively banished from the UK.
While Meghan Markle’s story invites comparison with Wallis Simpson, Harry’s story is maybe more like that of Princess Margaret. Like Harry, Margaret was a member of the inner circle of Royals and always would be. Also like him, she was in little danger of actually ever becoming monarch.
In 1953 Margaret was third in line for the throne, behind her nephew Charles and niece Anne. She was in love with RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend, and he proposed to her. Problem was he had just divorced his wife. The Queen and Parliament would not agree to their marriage. Over the next two years, they sought ways to allow it without compromising Church or government rules. If Margaret gave up her place in the line of succession, they eventually decided, she could marry him in a civil ceremony. But in 1955 Princess Margaret said that, due to “the Church’s teachings” and her “duty to the Commonwealth”, she would not marry Townsend.
In 1960 Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones. Wikipedia says she “reportedly accepted his proposal a day after learning from Peter Townsend that he intended to marry a young Belgian woman [who] bore a striking resemblance to Princess Margaret.” True or not, it fits well in the story of thwarted romance. Princess Margaret and Armstrong-Jones’s wedding was the first to be televised. Fitting for her, the glamorous sister and maybe the first Royal media star. Also maybe in keeping: in 1978 they divorced amid tabloid scandal.
So, from Edward VIII and Wallis, through Princess Margaret to Harry’s own parents, the path has been cleared for him and Meghan. The Church, the Queen and the public have given their blessing.
A girl from Tinseltown and a prince. Maybe General Hospital will use the storyline. The soap opera is part of Meghan’s story. Her parents met while working on it and Meghan got her acting start there.
The Princess Harry story is a happy-ending romance, one hopes. Wallis and Edward, Princess Margaret too, are more tragic romance stories.
See The King and Us for why I think Wallis Simpson and Parliament did us all a favour. Also, although Coronation Street hasn’t yet mentioned Harry’s wedding (at least in Canadian airtime), I loved their take on William and Kate’s marriage in 2011.