As a royal wedding approaches, Americans must also remember the past

Sarah Ladd

Have you heard?

The United Kingdom’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed baby number three last month, Prince Harry’s wedding to American (former) actress Meghan Markle is on May 19 and Princess Charlotte makes history as the first princess to not be surpassed in line to the throne by her new younger brother.

When Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge walked out of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London last month with her new prince, only hours old, the shrill screams of thousands cracked the air. People all over the world who could not be in London watched online as the fifth in line to the British throne made his debut.

What’s the fascination with these moments, ordinary for millions of people, but somehow internationally dynamic for this family?

Don’t get me wrong—I will be one of the millions who log onto YouTube to watch Meghan Markle marry the eligible British prince this weekend, though I can’t explain why I should care.

Why are we so interested? Didn’t we spill American blood for years to escape the rule of the British monarchy? Yet, a recent gallup poll shows that Americans feel favorable toward the monarchy 75 to 12 percent. However, our mass consumption of any gossip that slips out of Buckingham or Kensington Palace shows more than favorable feelings. It shows fascination to the point of hysteria.

No, I don’t think we should be mulling over a war fought so long ago when so many years of friendship overshadow it. But, I think we need to be careful to not forget where we came from. During our rising emotions over the upcoming wedding, we need to slow down to evaluate the significance of this fascination. Especially considering our countries prepare to unite through marriage once again.

A January article by the Huffington Post reports our reasons for our fascination with the Royals as escapism from reality, a chance to watch history unfold and a chance to see real-life fairy tales. I think these explanations are accurate, but we need to look at the reality of the famous family. While we are watching history unfold, history is merely repeating itself. While what we see appears to be a fairy tale, it is dangerous for us to fall for that carefully constructed image.

According to Associate Professor of History at UK Tammy Whitlock, there is a long tradition of Americans in the royal family.

“Historically speaking, there is little cause for worry,” she said. “American women have been marrying into the British aristocracy for some time.”

She explained that Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, was born in Brooklyn, New York as “Jennie Jerome”.  The first woman elected and seated as a member of the British parliament was an American born in Virginia to the Langhorne family, better known as Lady Nancy Astor, wife of Waldorf Astor (whose own father traded his American citizenship for a British one and died as a Viscount). The most famous Pennsylvanian to become a duchess, Wallis Warfield Simpson, stole the heart of a Prince of Wales and led him to give up his crown to marry his love. 

“If Edward VIII had his way, there would have already been an American queen,” Whitlock said.  

Phil Harling, Gaines Professor of the Humanities at UK with a focus in modern British history, said, “this particular royal marriage is of real cultural significance.”

“Even more than a union that represents the coming-together of Britain and the U.S.,” he said, “it represents an important step in the evolution of the monarchy from a traditional bastion of privilege into an institution that is more closely aligned with progressive forces.”

He said the significance is further proven through Markle’s identity as biracial and as a feminist.

In a new age of strong, independent women around the world, we must lean away from this worship of the age-old Disney idea of a prince marrying a princess and living happily ever after. The Royal Family are real people, with real feelings and struggles and I have no doubt Markle will rewrite the image of a glamorously fickle princess to a graciously strong woman who should be known more for her works than her looks.

In this new “Meghan Age,” let’s choose to focus our admiration on her independence, humanitarian outreaches and kindness rather than the facade of fairy tale happiness that can never be a 24/7 reality behind closed doors.