The world has been all abuzz with the recent nuptials of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. In many ways, the event was exactly what everyone needed after two straight years of depressing, conflict-driven news—the union of a handsome prince cum war hero with an intelligent, mixed-race American actor provided both the reassuring frame of tradition, but decorated it with signs of modernity and progress. Even with the event officially over, you can bet that people won’t stop talking about it. Thanks to its 24/7 live-stream of the BBC News, subscribers of the TV streaming site FilmOn can get their fill of all the royal wedding clips, breakdown, and analysis for the next week or so—at least until the first honeymoon photos are leaked to the press and we loose our shit about Harry’s Hawaiian shirts.
For those not so acquainted with the very specific pageantry of British royal weddings, the spectacle may have seemed just as stuffy with history and formality as you would expect for a 1,200-year-old monarchy. The ceremony took place in a thousand-year-old English Castle, Markle was followed by a 16-foot-long veil of silk tulle that just hung out in the aisle even after she sat down, and people wore really, really, really crazy hats. Like, the craziest of hats. If anyone ever doubts the power of tradition to normalize strange behavior, just point them to these hats, because without the benefit of historical context, there is no world in which these hats make sense.
But with just a little historical background in mind, it turns out that Harry and Meghan pulled off the punk rock concert of royal weddings.
First and foremost, and not to state the obvious, but Markle is joining a family that cleaves more closely to the color palette of The Lord of the Rings than, well, any other movie than The Lord of the Rings. Weddings are all about symbolism, and spectators across the world noted the symbolics of a woman descended from slaves joining in wedlock with a royal whose forerunners built a system of commerce out of human beings with dark skin.
Adding to her mixed-race ancestry, she is three years older than Harry and divorced. Keep in mind that the last time an English royal wanted to marry a divorced American, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne under a cloud of shame to get hitched to Wallis Simpson. Then World War II happened. (But, on the bright side, Colin Firth got an Academy Award out of the whole episode).
Even the resplendent white dress Markle chose made a defiant statement. As Robin Givhan of The Washington Post put it: “The dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller, was free of extravagant embellishments. It was not covered in yards of delicate lace. It did not have a single ruffle—no pearls or crystals. Its beauty was in its architectural lines and its confident restraint. It was a romantic dress, but one that suggested a clear-eyed understanding that a real-life romance is not the stuff of fairy tales. The dress was a backdrop; it was in service to the woman.”
Markle has long identified herself as a feminist, and instead of changing her beliefs to fit the traditions of the British crown, she did what Americans have done best since the colonial days and changed the British crown to fit her (only this time it didn’t involve dumping boxes of tea in Boston harbor). The newly-minted Duchess of Sussex entered St. George’s Chapel by herself and processed down the aisle alone (ignoring the two little page boys who carried the end of her crazy long veil) without a father or any man to give her away. Then, when the affianced exchanged vows, Markle omitted “to obey” from her vows to Harry.
Perhaps most shocking to both viewers and attendees (some of whom looked on the verge of fainting) was the spirit-rousing, foot-stopping, wall-shaking sermon by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the first African American to preside over the Episcopal Church. The Chicago-born Bishop put “the redemptive power of love” at the center of his 13-minute sermon, and extolled a vision of the world united by collective and mutual love.
He opened with a passage from the Song of Solomon—a conventional enough move—but then quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “we must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that we will make of this old world a new world. For love is the only way.”
What followed was a fiery, partially improvised oration that touched on selflessness, poverty, and politics. He even directly referred to American slavery. “[T]here were some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform,” he preached.
Perhaps most potent example of love’s transformational powers, however, was the ceremony itself and the love between Meghan and Harry that overhauled centuries of tradition.