May 19, 2018


The ceremony itself featured an African-American bishop who cited the American civil rights movement and quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as often as he did Jesus. The couple opted for a secular song, “Stand by Me,” performed by a predominantly black gospel choir—jaws literally dropped—in addition to old-school Christian hymns sung by the congregation. The traditional Anglican vows were altered slightly to allow the outspoken feminist Markle to opt out of the traditional promise to obey her husband.

While the acceptance of people of color into the royal fold is a welcome and long-overdue change, the acceptance of divorce and immorality by the Church of England is another thing altogether. That the Church blessed the union at all, coming as it did after the couple had been openly cohabitating and in light of Markle’s divorce, signals a radical departure from the traditions of the church headed by Queen Elizabeth, who inherited the title “Defender of the Faith” on the day of her coronation. That designation was first granted to King Henry the VIII by Leo X in 1521. Henry VIII, you will recall, famously left the Catholic church after the Pope refused to annul his marriage to first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He later appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and went on to wed five more women.

In his 1999 book the Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens contrasted between Winston Churchill’s reserved 1965 funeral and the lugubrious outpourings in the wake of the 1997 death of Lady Di to illustrate the breakdown in English civility and the ole’ stiff upper lip attitude. But in hindsight, it’s even more astonishing to watch the 1978 miniseries Edward & Mrs. Simpson to observe that as recently as the 1930s, royalty marrying an American divorcee caused a constitutional crisis that nearly tore the Empire apart.

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