Though the 36-year-old television star’s engagement is much less unusual than it would have been in previous generations as traditions become more progressive, Markle’s upcoming ascension to the royal family is still groundbreaking in several ways.
She’s a woman of color.
One columnist from The Daily Mail wrote that if the new couple had children, “the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA,” and described Markle’s mother as “a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.”
Another Daily Mail story about the actress’ hometown of Los Angeles contained the headline, “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton,” referring to the LA suburb where the rap group N.W.A. formed. The writer also wondered if Harry would visit the “gang-scarred home of her mother.”
In a rare public statement last November, Prince Harry condemned the pieces’ “racial undertones” and the ongoing “abuse and harassment” Markle and her family experienced.
In 2015, Markle wrote in Elle Magazine about racism she and her parents have faced ― and how her father advised her to “draw your own box” when needing to identify her race.
There was a mandatory census I had to complete in my English class — you had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian. There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other — and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. ‘Because that’s how you look, Meghan,’ she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn’t tick a box. I left my identity blank — a question mark, an absolute incomplete — much like how I felt.
When I went home that night, I told my dad what had happened. He said the words that have always stayed with me: “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”
She’ll be the first American to officially marry a British royal.
The Los Angeles native is not the first American to marry a British royal, but is the first whose relationship has been officially accepted by the royal family.
In 1936, King Edward VIII famously abdicated the throne to marry twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson after their relationship caused a royal scandal.
She breaks some other traditional royal rules.
Markle, like Simpson, is divorced, which traditionally excluded someone from marrying into the royal family. But the acceptance of the former shows more tolerant social conventions over time. Prince Harry’s father Prince Charles divorced his mother, Princess Diana, and in 2005, married the divorced Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall — though their wedding was a civil ceremony.
Until 2015, British rules barred members of the line of royal succession from marrying Catholics, as Queen Elizabeth II serves as the head of the Anglican Church. Though Markle, who attended a Catholic high school, wasn’t raised Catholic, she will be baptized into the Church of England before the wedding.
The British Parliament’s changes to the law on royal succession also included the removal of biases toward male heirs ― which now allows, for example, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s daughter, Charlotte, to join the line of succession directly after her older brother, George, even if she ends up having other male siblings.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, as a princess, and incorrectly stated that the Duchess of Cornwall has been divorced twice. It also incorrectly stated that Markle was Catholic. Language in this story has also been amended to clarify the new laws for male heirs and royal succession.