Maybe that’s a small price to pay to be wed to your true love. But as the Americans who set their alarms on Friday night rouse us in time to watch this decade’s fairy-tale wedding of Markle and Prince Harry, we might also consider what drives this continued idealizing of an anachronistic British institution that blesses a very small group of people with immense wealth on the basis of divine right. The shellfish rule just scratches the surface.
I enjoyed the pomp and sparkle of Britain’s royal family long before I moved to the U.K. for graduate school in 2003. As the child of a British mother growing up in the U.S., I regarded Queen Elizabeth and her family tree with the vague interest you’d accord to distant relatives. My interest became vaguer once I learned that I was unlikely to marry either William or Harry because my father was Jewish. But over nine years living in England — I moved back stateside in 2014 — any faint curiosity curdled into a real dislike.
I enjoyed the pomp and sparkle of Britain’s royal family long before I moved to the U.K. My interest became vaguer once I learned that I was unlikely to marry either William or Harry because my father was Jewish.
The royal family, and worship of the royal family — because that is truly how this fandom should be described — is part and parcel, if not at the root, of much of what is bad about British society. The United Kingdom is a beautiful and diverse and funny country, filled with a wide array of intelligent, interesting and kind people. But it also can be a bitter, small-minded place that is limited by unyielding and antiquated ideas about class and social mobility. And why wouldn’t it be, when everyone’s social worth can technically be calculated by their proximity to a family whose influence was originally granted by God (with the help of a few inter-family executions and overthrowings).
You need only spend time with a certain echelon of middle-class British people discussing their schools and mortgages to understand how something like Brexit could happen here: At its worst, Britain is a nation of haves who are firmly determined to rule over the have-nots, regardless of the reality of their merits or circumstances. And why shouldn’t they? That’s what they’ve been taught from the top down.
In other words, the monarchy is intrinsically illiberal, and so, at the moment, is the U.K. And thus as we celebrate a biracial American woman becoming a royal, thousands of legal immigrants — some who qualify for citizenship — are being threatened with deportation. As we discuss the price of Markle’s sure-to-be-stunning dress, purchased by the partially taxpayer-funded family, thousands of ill people in Britain are being turned away from hospitals — surgeries postponed, life-saving screenings cancelled — because there’s not enough money to run them properly. As we look at photos of the country pile that the Queen is giving Meghan and Harry as a wedding gift, more than 300,000 people in Britain are homeless. And as we debate the merits of the couple’s royal-tradition-breaking wedding cake,a record number of British people are turning to food banks to survive.
Some might say that’s cruel to critique the details of a wedding — if you’ve got it, why not flaunt it? And the royal family did not itself create problems like homelessness or medical inadequacy. But don’t forget, these just aren’t any old rich people: they are rich people who receive tens of millions of dollars each year from British taxpayers. And while some count the Queen’s relative lack of political involvement as a positive — as if it’s an accomplishment to not express a public opinion about Brexit — the protection of this un-progressive institution comes at huge cost to British people.