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Why Meghan and Harry Are Getting Married in a Church-But Charles and Camilla Didn't

It's complicated.
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In another era, Prince Harry marrying Meghan Markle would have been a scandal so large it would shake the British monarchy to its core. The bride-to-be is an American, a divorcée, and she also attended a Catholic school as a child—comparisons to Wallis Simpson and the Abdication aren't without their logic.

But since it’s 2018, the royal wedding will take place in just a matter of weeks with the Queen’s blessing, in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle no less.

That’s a striking difference from Harry’s father Prince Charles's own wedding. The Prince of Wales married Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in 2005 in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall, then received a church blessing at the chapel afterward. Like Markle, Camilla is a divorcée (she was married to a Catholic), but back then the wedding venue was an issue, and this time it isn’t.

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So what’s the difference? 


Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, after their civil wedding ceremony.

Quite a bit, according to Duncan Larcombe, the author of Prince Harry: The Inside Story—but it doesn't actually have much to do with divorce. “I think it is just a reflection that time’s moved on, things have changed,” Larcombe tells Town & Country. “As a general rule the royal family tend to be about 25 years behind the rest of society.”

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A century ago, Edward VIII had to give up the throne in order to marry a divorcée, but society has a much different view of divorce today. It's no longer a major scandal. After all, Charles was divorced too, as are two of his three siblings.

The Church of England allows, in special circumstances, for people to remarry in the church even if their former spouse is still living (hence Meghan and Harry's choice of venue), a decision that is left up to the individual priest. Of course, Prince Charles's second marriage also received an endorsement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the New York Times reported. Yet he still chose to marry in a civil ceremony, which suggests there was another issue at play here: optics.

While Camilla's popularity has increased in recent years, according to the Sunday Times, as of August of 2017, "two thirds of Britons did not think she should be queen, and only 19 percent thought she was fit for the role."

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The British public still hasn't forgotten the part Camilla played in Charles and Diana's divorce, and it's possible the palace thought people wouldn't look kindly on a big church wedding.

“To be honest, they could get married in Shrek outfits on pogo sticks, and I think the public would still just cheer and be happy.”

In contrast, people around the world are enamored by Markle and are curious to learn more, and Prince Harry is an incredibly popular royal. “At the moment they’re riding an absolute crest of public affection,” Larcombe says of the soon-to-be newlyweds. “To be honest, they could get married in Shrek outfits on pogo sticks, and I think the public would still just cheer and be happy.”

Charles and Camilla reportedly opted for a civil ceremony to keep things "low-key," or as low-key as a royal wedding can possibly be. At first, they wanted the civil ceremony to be held at Windsor Castle, but it was later moved to Windsor Guildhall because if they licensed the castle for wedding ceremonies, the private residence would have to be open to members of the public to get married there for three years.

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The Queen was not present at Charles and Camilla's Guildhall wedding, but she did attend the prayer ceremony and reception afterward. According to unnamed sources, the Queen felt her duty as the head of the church came before her role as Charles's mother, and therefore she couldn't attend a civil wedding ceremony. "The venue was never the issue for the Queen," a senior royal aide told The Telegraph. "The civil nature of the service is the issue. She did not feel it was appropriate for her to attend."

Ultimately, adds Katie Nicholl, author of Harry: Life, Loss, and Love, Prince Charles is the heir apparent to the throne, which puts him under a level of scrutiny that Prince Harry simply doesn't face. "[Harry] is not the heir to the throne, he’s soon to be sixth in line, and that is the fundamental difference, really. It is a different scenario."

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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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