By Leah S. Dunaief
Thank heavens for Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Because of our fascination with the British royal family, despite having cast them off more than two centuries ago, they pushed out newscasts of assassinated terrorists and a tragically downed civilian airplane from the top spot with their own declaration of independence. As we watched and listened, they said they wanted to “carve out a progressive new role” for themselves while remaining in the royal family but would step back from being senior members “and work to become financially independent.” They also explained that they would spend part of the year living in North America.
Wow! Sounds like trying to be a little bit pregnant.
Why are we so interested in this? Could it be that over the 20th century, the royals have become human? Perhaps they might be viewed as a proxy family for us all. Who doesn’t have a ne’er-do-well uncle in their midst? Or trouble with an in-law? And certainly surprise at a rebellious child who isn’t following in the family footsteps?
The first to go rogue was Edward VIII, who famously gave up his throne for “the woman I love”: Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée from Baltimore. The rules were still strict then. To withdraw was to leave, and that was that. Then came Princess Margaret, whose love for a married commoner, Peter Townsend, was not permitted to proceed, but she retaliated by dancing out of the base paths the rest of her life.
Despite Queen Elizabeth II’s stalwart traditional life, her children did not follow suit, especially Charles, Prince of Wales, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York. After Charles’ wife, Princess Diana, opened a huge window into the workings of the royal machinery and then tragically died, Charles was able to properly unite with Camilla Parker Bowles and life seemed to quiet down at the palace.
Then along came the next generation, and rules had relaxed so far that Kate Middleton — whose parents were merely business owners — had met Prince William as students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. She was accepted and ultimately welcomed into the Windsor dynasty with a splendid wedding. Rules and tradition relaxed so far further that Harry was allowed to marry previously wed, biracial American actress Meghan Markle.
And now this. It is a wonder that the queen, at age 93, is still upright. She must surely be uptight. The House of Windsor has gone, in her one lifetime thus far, from an image of rigid control to having its laundry washed in public.
Conversations are going like this. Some are scolding the royal couple for asserting — or at least trying to assert their freedom and appearing to defy the queen. Others are commenting on alleged racism in Britain, as evidenced by racist treatment Meghan has received at the hands of the British press and other members of the upper echelons. Apparently a BBC host “compared the couple’s newborn baby [Archie] to a chimpanzee,” according to an article in The New York Times this past Sunday. Still others would have liked to see the couple work from inside the family and its institutions to improve race relations in Britain much the same way the royal family inspired the courage of the British people during World War II.
For my part, I am frankly delighted to hear and read about something other than “the week the world stood still,” as we waited for Iran’s reaction to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and the extreme partisan reaction that followed. And trying to follow the demonstrations in the streets by irate masses across the globe need constantly updated scorecards. It is a positive relief to follow the trials and tribulations of the royal family, however brief the respite. This is not to say I am unsympathetic to parts of their saga. In fact, we all deal with family uprisings and can identify in such matters even as we are made proud by other actions family members take.
Or maybe I am just addicted from having watched too much “Downton Abbey.”