American actor Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry on Saturday. Four academics at the University of Warwick consider the weekend’s big event.
The historical perspective
Dr Sarah Richardson, associate professor in the Department of History, considers how the world has changed in 80 years.
“The only other American divorcee to marry into the royal family was Wallis Warfield Simpson. Her relationship with Edward VIII had already caused notoriety when he announced, in December 1936, that he was abdicating the throne in order to marry her. At that stage the Church of England forbade divorcees to marry in church and it would have been unthinkable for a reigning monarch and head of the church to marry in a civil ceremony.
“Wallis and Edward, now Duke of Windsor, married quietly in a chateau outside Paris the following June. They were married under French civil law and then followed a quasi-religious ceremony conducted by an Anglican vicar – although the Bishop of Durham made it clear he was acting in his own capacity and not representing the Church of England.
“The marriage was reported in a muted fashion back in England. There was a terse paragraph in the Times on page 16 and even the Daily Mail only devoted half a page on the news on page 9 of the newspaper. An Independent Labour Party MP asked the Prime Minister whether the government was sending congratulations to the couple. He received no reply.
“In the early 1950s Queen Elizabeth II refused to give permission to her sister, Princess Margaret, to marry a divorced pilot, Peter Townsend. Permission was required under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 which required members of the royal family to have the consent of the monarch to marry. Although once Margaret reached the age of 25 she could have appealed the Queen’s decision, this would have been unprecedented and caused a huge scandal. In the event Margaret ended the relationship.
“The Act was superseded by the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013. Although the Church of England stopped preventing divorcees to remarry in a church ceremony in 2002, the Prince of Wales felt it necessary to have a civil ceremony when he married Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, followed by a church blessing. The Queen did not attend the civil wedding so as not to compromise her position as head of the Church of England and defender of the faith.
“No such restrictions have been faced by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle who are having a full Church of England wedding service.”
The socio-political perspective
Tana Nolethu Forrest is a PhD student in the department of Sociology working on exploring mixed race identities in a West Midlands city. She considers what Meghan Markle represents and how the world will view her.
“Meghan Markle is an important figure in terms of representation - as a biracial woman her presence in and amongst the all-white royal family takes us one step closer to having people of colour represented in positions of power in the UK – especially traditional, monarchical power.
“Representation is incredibly important in this moment. It is something that is being talked about a lot, and changes are occurring in terms of the kinds of people we are seeing represented in popular culture. There is a push on social media, and in activist and artistic circles, for more brown and black, queer, trans and disabled bodies to be represented more regularly in popular culture.
“At the same time, the way in which we immediately focus on Markle’s race makes everything she does political. Her relationship with Harry is politicised as a result of Meghan being biracial (something that was never discussed with Kate Middleton) and Harry being white, speaking to the long history the west has of racialisation. This touches on issues of race and gender - the woman of colour is always racialised - and means that whatever Meghan does, and how she chooses to deal with race in her position, will be politicised.”
The public’s perspective
Dr Helen Wheatley, Reader in Film and Television Studies, considers the spectacular occasion of a royal wedding and how, via television, these events become a shared experience for the nation.
“There will be two Royal Weddings taking place on Saturday. There will be the event that takes place at Windsor Castle with all the pomp and ceremony of its visiting dignitaries and beautiful dresses, and there will also be the event as broadcast into homes and community settings across the UK and around the world.
“A royal occasion – be it a wedding, a funeral or even a Coronation – highlights the ways in which television acts as ‘social glue’, binding us together and addressing us as a group of citizens. In the UK, the image of the ‘viewing nation’ is a significant social fiction that seeks to paper over difference and social discord with the idea of a shared investment in a shared (television) event. For the large majority of us, the royal wedding is first and foremost a television show.
“The wedding is also a big and important showcase for television broadcasters. In the UK, the BBC, ITV, and Sky will be covering the event and the BBC has taken the unprecedented step of announcing that a television licence will not be needed to watch the wedding, allowing communities to screen the event at street parties and gatherings.
“Royal events have traditionally challenged the image of television as a private, domestic medium: Elizabeth II’s coronation is frequently seen as a landmark moment in television history where television ownership rapidly expanded and families and communities crowded around shared screens; the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was shown on public mega-screens in parks and other community spaces in a move which writ large the idea of television as a shared, communal viewing experience.
“For broadcasters wishing to cement their place in the public’s consciousness, a royal wedding is an ideal time to remind us just how central they are to national, public life.”
The business perspective
Professor Qing Wang, Professor of Marketing and Innovation at Warwick Business School, considers the value of the Royal brand and how this generation of Royals is increasing its value.
“British luxury brands derive their value from their rich history and heritage. This was particularly true for those brands with a strong association with the royalty. One way to develop a strong association is through the Royal Warrant, which is granted to those brands that have provided excellent services to the royal households. It makes for a great marketing tool domestically and abroad. There are currently around 800 holders of the Royal Warrant, ranging from small family owned firms like the glove maker Cornelia James to large corporations like the automobile maker Aston Martin.
“The value that the royalty has instilled to these British brands through the myth, history and links to the leisured class are hard to quantify. At least from a business perspective, it is not dissimilar to a co-branding exercise, if one considers the monarchy as a brand with a tangible value. In fact, in a recent report published by Brand Finance, a brand evaluation agency based in London, the value of the monarchy is estimated to be around £67 billion, making it on par with the likes of Coke Cola (estimated at £69bn) and Amazon (estimated at £64bn).
“The commercial influence of the monarchy is by no means limited to the UK but worldwide. Particularly for consumers in the US and emerging markets such as China and India, the royal connections were one of the main reasons they purchased British luxury goods. In my research, 57% of Chinese consumers said the Royal association is important or very important in increasing desirability of British lifestyle brands, while 27% said they get their inspiration for fashion and home style from the members of the royal family.
“The royal family has been through tough times and the reason that it has retained its popularity, and gained increasing affection from the general public worldwide, is partly due to the fact that the younger generation of the royal households – including Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and now Meghan Markle – has presented a positive and caring image and shown a strong interest to connect with the world today, particularly with the millennial generation. Their effort in connecting the tradition with the contemporary and in making the old monarchy stay relevant for the future (not dissimilar to an effort in rejuvenating a heritage brand) has begun to bear fruit judging by the steady increase in the value of the monarchy as a brand.”
15 May 2018
Dr Sarah Richardson is a research historian at the University of Warwick. She is an expert in women and political culture in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century. This year she will present Warwickshire Women and the Fight for the Vote, a talk uncovering the unsung and unknown activists from the largely rural county of Warwickshire, at a number of venues accross the county.
Read more about the suffrage movement: Five things about Women and the Vote
Tana Nolethu Forrest is a second year PhD student in the Department of Sociology, working towards her thesis: "Mixed Race Identities in a West Midlands City”. She is from South Africa and it was there she completed her Masters research on mixed race identity. Tana is interested in topics relating to black feminism, gender and race.
Dr Helen Wheatley is Reader in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick. She has interests in TV
history as well as contemporary television and has written extensively on the subject. Her most recent book,
Spectacular Television: Exploring Televisual Pleasure (IB Tauris, 2016), has just won the Best Monograph award
from the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS). Her latest research project is about
television and death – including how death is depicted on TV (both fictional and real deaths) and includes work on
how the TV archive give us access to programmes, people, and places ‘beyond the grave’.
Read more on Dr Wheatley's work: The TV Guide – Dr Helen Wheatley on the cultural importance of television
Qing Wang is Professor of Marketing and Innovation at Warwick Business School. Part of her research work examines luxury brand consumption. Her current project investigates how the newly rich build self-identity through luxury brand consumption, in the context of highly dynamic economy like China and India. She is the Director of the MICE (Marketing, Innovation and the Chinese Economy) network and is Associate Editor of Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing and International Journal of China Marketing. She has consulted for companies in the UK, US and China.
All images used are available under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: Mark Jones via flickr
Bunting: jijopgood via flickr
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