The Spectator's Notes

Are Harry and Meghan legally married at all?

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

I have been slow in the uptake. When I saw the Duchess of Sussex complain in her interview clips about how her son had not been given a title and then move on to the alleged racism of an alleged speculation by an unnamed but probably royal person about the possible skin colour of the child she was expecting, I did not immediately see the connection. The full interview makes it clear. Meghan is saying that Archie was not allowed to be a prince because of his skin colour. Oprah: ‘Do you think it’s because of his race?’ Meghan: ‘We have in tandem the conversation of “He won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title” and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born… if that’s the assumption you’re making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one.’ Leave aside whether what she said was true (which, for slightly involved reasons about princely titles, and also for reasons of common sense and common decency, it cannot have been). Consider the import. Meghan is creating what will soon become a social media dogma that her son is really a prince but has been denied his title because of royal racism. Obviously, even the imaginative Duchess cannot claim that Archie is heir to the throne in preference to the established three-generation line of Charles, William and young George. But she might hope to disrupt the monarchy by doing something like what Diana attempted when she said that her former husband should not be King and the throne should pass directly to her elder son. Untitled Archie becomes the prince over the water. For this myth to grow, no further facts are needed and no factual disproofs will avail. As the prince in exile, he will be recognised, Meghan may hope, by people of colour everywhere. An Arthur for Africa — or a Prester John — he will one day come into his rightful kingdom. And she will be his Igraine. As she also told Oprah, ‘The most important title I will ever have is Mom.’

Another interesting question the Duchess prompted is: ‘When did she and Harry actually get married?’ She said, and Harry appeared to confirm, that ‘You know, three days before our wedding, we got married’. As she remembered it: ‘We called the Archbishop, and we just said, “Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us”. So, like, the vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury.’ Harry: ‘Just the three of us.’ If it really was only the three of them, then they were not, in law, married. Anyone getting legally married in England needs witnesses, as well as the person officiating. Reading this, I remembered noticing at the time an oddity in the ceremony at St George’s, Windsor. It was without the usual ‘just cause or impediment’ bit allowing objectors to speak or ever afterwards ‘hold their peace’. Was the ceremony actually a marriage, I wondered, or a mere service of blessing, like that given to Charles and Camilla in the same chapel, after their registry office wedding? If the Sussexes were married neither in St George’s nor in their Palace ‘backyard’, were they legally married at all? It is surprisingly hard to find out, although all marriages are public legal facts. At last, I reached the Special Licences section of the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury: a special licence was issued for the marriage in St George’s, they told me. (And no, the service does not have to include ‘just cause and impediment’, so long as due diligence has been done.) So the Duchess is mistaken. What sort of rite took place in that Kensington backyard can be fully explained only by the Archbishop; and he is not saying.

Trevor Phillips, who has thought so long and hard about race issues, emails me about how much more thoughtful the interview could have been: ‘A genuinely interesting question about race would have been to ask the couple whether they had discussed Harry’s own past behaviour and remarks. It would’ve been a big positive for them to talk candidly about how they got past that history, and possibly an injunction for people to be generous.’ Yes, Harry could have helped young white men trying to tiptoe through this minefield. But Trevor adds: ‘That’s assuming that Meghan actually knows about his past life — she seems remarkably ill-informed about the family she married into, even though it is the most famous and widely reported clan in history.’

In Simon Heffer’s edition of Chips Channon’s diaries (see last week’s Notes), Chips goes, in 1935, to see a ‘charming and simple’ play about Queen Victoria. It has to be performed privately because the Lord Chamberlain, in those days in charge of what theatres could show, had forbidden, says Heffer, ‘any representation of a monarch on the stage until a century after his or her succession’. Nothing about Victoria before 1937, therefore. How envious the present Queen must feel. Under that rule, she would have been protected from a torrent of rubbish until 2052.

On Tuesday, I was asked to appear on BBC Newsnight to talk about the Sussexes’ interview. When told it would be presented by Emily Maitlis, I declined, on the grounds that ever since her political speech against Dominic Cummings on the programme last year, I have had no confidence in her fairness. Sure enough, she spoke on the programme that night of ‘the sense of the attempted suicide’ of the Duchess of Sussex — though Meghan had mentioned only ‘suicidal thoughts’. At the time, my little gesture seemed rather pointless, so I was pleased to read in the next day’s papers that Ofcom has at last decided that the Maitlis diatribe against Cummings ‘had the potential to be perceived by some viewers as an expression of her personal view on a matter of major political controversy’. Hardly a bold rebuke, but a start.

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