On Saturday, His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales will marry American actress Meghan Markle, and they will live happily ever after. That's what's supposed to happen, anyway. "I think she'll bolt," feminist writer Germaine Greer told 60 Minutes Australia last month. "I hope in a way that she'll bolt, but maybe she'll take Harry with her."
Harry, though, has indicated that he has no plans to go anywhere: He told Newsweek last summer that he intends to "carry on the positive atmosphere that the queen has achieved for over 60 years." That is a shame, though, because Prince Harry resigning as a royal in order to live out an ordinary life with Markle would be the best — not to mention most romantic — ending to this fairytale.
Admittedly, it is not exactly the happily ever after people are rooting for. Everywhere you look, there is breathless coverage of the impending nuptials, most of it written with the same starry-eyed belief in fairytales and true love and #RelationshipGoals.
Some of the gushing, though, is really deserved: Harry's marriage to Markle, who's biracial, represents significant progress for the bloodline-obsessed royal family, which Kehinde Andrews, the author of the forthcoming Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, tells Vox is "a symbol of racism, but ... also really racist." Aside from that whole colonialism thing, Princess Michael of Kent, for example, has made headlines for wearing a racist brooch when meeting with Markle, and she reportedly named her pet black sheep "Venus" and "Serena." Even Prince Harry has been caught making racist comments. While Markle will not be the first "black princess," a biracial royal in the wake of Brexit is symbolic to many in a way that should not go unappreciated. While "fairytale" easily slips from the tongue in any monarchical context — Kate also had a "fairytale" wedding — the term truly seems to apply to Markle's marriage into the family.
The Lifetime movie practically wrote itself:
Meghan: I'm American, I'm from California, I'm divorced, and then I'm half black.
Harry: I don't care about any of that.
Meghan: This can never be my world. It's just how things are.
Harry: Let's fight how things are. If anyone can, it's you and me. [Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance]
Despite being a pretty terrible bit of writing, Lifetime's Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance actually gets something right here: There are no royals better suited to fight "how things are" than this pair.
First off, while Edward VIII had to relinquish the throne in 1936 in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Harry wouldn't have to sacrifice much to retire from royalty. In terms of succession, he is just one more royal baby away from total irrelevancy. Sixth in line to the throne thanks to the infant Prince Louis, Harry is just barely on the right side of the symbolic divide between being a Prince William and a Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Who? Exactly). Barring immense tragedy, Harry and Markle will never matter in the grand scheme of who inherits the throne, if you're into that sort of thing.
And there are certainly downsides to remaining in the House of Windsor.
For one, they would spend the rest of their lives navigating an archaic labyrinth of rules and expectations, many of them utterly demeaning. Markle will have to curtsey to the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, for example, unless she is "validated" by encountering them while she is with Harry, in which case Eugenie and Beatrice will have to curtsey to her. British royals are also expected to be boring, an unwritten rule that has gotten Harry into some trouble over the years.
But Markle, in particular, would have to sacrifice a lot to attach herself to this old German line. She has already confirmed that she has given up her acting career to join Harry's side, a sacrifice that famously haunted another princess, Grace Kelly of Monaco. Will Markle be satisfied by such a small world? "I've never wanted to be a lady who lunches — I've always wanted to be a woman who works," she revealingly wrote for Elle in 2016.
Markle has identified philanthropic work as part of what she's looking forward to about being a royal. As she tells it, she bonded with Harry in part over their shared interest in "the different things that we wanted to do in the world and how passionate we were about seeing change." But despite this passion, Markle and Harry are muzzled if they stay in the family. The royals are not allowed to publicly express political opinions, and Markle has a history of vocally standing up for what she believes in, like women's rights and progressive politics.
Over the course of human civilization, we have wasted a whole lot of time being terrorized, exploited, and embarrassed by our royal leaders. Most nations have since either beheaded their kings and queens or stripped them of any vestigial power or grandeur. Britain, on the other hand, has clung onto its mildewed origins, perpetuating the 19th-century myth that some people are born better than others. This offense to democratic values is worsened by the fact that the British royal family is entitled to enormous amounts of taxpayer money and resources that it did nothing to earn. The monarchy might finally be "modern" enough to accept Markle, but why would Markle want to accept the monarchy?
Luckily, there's a better way. Life as an ex-royal, or the wife of one, would still be extraordinary, especially for self-imposed exiles of the British nobility. Post-abdication, Markle and Harry would presumably live like any other fabulously wealthy and attractive celebrity couple. Harry is worth an estimated $30 to $40 million thanks to an inheritance from his mother, Princess Diana — none of which belongs to the Crown — and that's before the several million Markle brings to the table. The pair has more than enough to accomplish their ambitious goals of changing the world without the House of Windsor. What they might lack in platform — although I am skeptical such a move would truly make them less visible, rather than more — they would make up with their most powerful weapon: an unrestricted voice.
In real life, weddings aren't happily ever afters; they're once upon a times. Prince Harry and Markle have an opportunity to write their own story on Saturday, but only if they leave the staid and morally unjustifiable clutches of royal life far behind.
As Markle recently told Vanity Fair herself: "Personally, I love a great love story." Let this be it.