Hillary Mantel has compared them to pandas in a zoo, “expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.” Martin Amis once described them as “philistines.” When it comes to the Windsors, Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2000, the stubborn appeal of the British Royal Family comes down to a national “conditioning of mild hysteria and personality cult.”
Why are we so fascinated by them? “As in all matters royal,” Amis concluded before the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, “we are dealing here not with pros and cons, with arguments and counter-arguments; we are dealing with signs and symbols, with fever and magic.” How else to explain the 25 million television viewers in the U.K.—29 million in the U.S.—who tuned in on Saturday morning to watch an actress and a former army captain get married?
Even as signs and symbols go, this was no ordinary royal wedding. The bride, Meghan Markle, is 36, nearly twice the age Princess Diana was when she got engaged to Prince Charles. Meghan has her own career and her own wealth, accumulated not through inheritance but through industry. For the first half of her journey down the aisle through St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, she walked alone. And, more significantly, the ceremony itself was studded with deliberate reminders that Meghan is biracial. In one of the whitest spaces in modern England, Bishop Michael Curry gave a rousing sermon that mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King, and spirituals sung by slaves in the American south. It was an address, as Diana Evans wrote in The Guardian, “that will go down in history as a moment when the enduring seat of colonialism was brought before the Lord, and questioned in its own house.”
It shouldn’t be up to Meghan—now the Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton, and Baroness Kilkeel—to singlehandedly modernize an institution that’s doggedly resisted change since its inception. And yet here was the House of Windsor witnessing a revolution, whether it wanted to or not. Note the Duchess’s new page on the Royal Family’s website, which includes a single quote from Meghan in her own words: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.” And the speech she reportedly made herself at the reception, traditionally given by the bride’s father. And her personal lack of formality (she reportedly alarmed the Palace by hugging Prince Harry’s security guards) within an environment constructed wholly out of protocol and