Ever since Clarence House confirmed the happy news of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, we’ve been counting down the days until the happy couple tie the knot at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. While some of our biggest wedding-related enquiries have so far been answered – from the bridesmaids and page boys to the cake and the on-the-day itinerary – we still have a handful of questions that are yet to be confirmed. We know that Prince William (in his capacity as best man), his wife Kate and two older children will be among the guests of honour on May 19th, while Prince Charles will be hosting the reception at Frogmore House later in the evening. We also know (albeit off-the-record) the royals who haven’t received an invite. But will Her Majesty the Queen be attending this royal wedding?
If you’re confused as to why the Queen’s presence at her grandson’s wedding is being taken as anything other than a given, it’s important to consider her in terms of her official role. As Queen of England, Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith or fidei defensatrix to give her the correct Latin title (but if you’re up-to-date on The Crown, you’ll know this already…) So, she stands for the Church, its values and – by extension – its views on divorce. Think back to Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, or Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend. In the case of both romances, one half of the couple was divorced, a fact which caused widespread scandal at that time: the then-King Edward VIII had to give up the throne in order to marry, while Margaret chose to retain her royal title and give up on a future with Townsend.
Had this marriage taken place fifty years ago, say, Meghan’s previous marriage (to TV producer Trevor Engelson, whom she divorced in 2013) might have made things rather more complicated. These days, though the royals are arguably more liberal in their attitudes (the heir to the throne, after all, is a divorcé married to a divorcée) but the Queen still takes her duty as Defender of the Faith very seriously: so seriously, indeed, that she did not attend the first half of the Prince of Wales’ wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles.
‘The Queen is fidei defensatrix of the Church of England,’ explains a constitutional lawyer at the University of Cambridge, speaking off the record to Grazia. ‘The Church doesn’t permit, except in exceptional circumstances, the remarrying of divorced persons while the spouse is still alive (marriage is forever, a covenant with God).’
‘[The Queen] didn’t go to Prince Charles’s wedding with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, because of this. It would be inconsistent with her position (as Defender of the Faith) to be there.’ Indeed, at the time of her eldest son’s second marriage, she reportedly told a close friend that she ‘[did] not feel that [her] position permits’ her attendance at the pair’s civil ceremony.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Harry is, to borrow a certain turn of phrase, the ‘spare’ to William’s ‘heir’: after the birth of Prince Louis, he is now sixth in line to the throne, a fact that takes the pressure off somewhat. ‘It’s a possible differentiator between [Harry’s case] and the Prince of Wales,’ explains the lawyer. ‘But he is still a member of the Royal Family, and Her Majesty is still the Supreme Governor of the Church. So, in theory, it makes no difference, but I suspect that may well be the workaround used.'
Even in the decade or so that has elapsed since Charles tied the knot with Camilla, the royal family has rapidly modernized its outlook in order remain relevant – taking a more lenient attitude to divorce in the process. So, though the Queen’s attendance at her grandson’s wedding has not yet been confirmed in any major way, we’re almost 99 percent certain that we’ll spot her arriving at Windsor Castle in a colourful co-ord on May 19th.
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