Royals watchers will be scouring every aspect of Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle for symbolic details. The bride’s dress, her hairstyle, and who walks her down the aisle will all be scanned for their significance. Analysts will be quick to jump to conclusions about what they say about the future of the monarchy.
But one decision that’s less obvious but no less symbolically important is Harry and Markle’s decision to have the head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry of Chicago, speak at the ceremony.
This is a break with tradition, albeit a mild one. According to past royal protocol, addresses given at royal weddings are customarily given by senior members of the Church of England. While the US-based Episcopal Church is a member of the wider Anglican Communion (which includes the Church of England and sister Anglican and Episcopal churches worldwide), customarily only British priests are invited to preside over royal occasions.
Curry will join Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, and Rev. David Conner, the dean of Windsor, in serving in a leadership role at the ceremony.
Kensington Palace announced the pick last week.
Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle have asked that The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, give the address at their wedding : https://t.co/a14L7JGcAd #RoyalWedding pic.twitter.com/njqCaN55Gr
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) May 12, 2018
“The love that has brought and will bind Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle together has its source and origin in God, and is the key to life and happiness,” Curry said in a statement.
The choice of Bishop Curry as a speaker at the royal wedding is significant in two ways. Like Markle, Curry is American. Secondly, he is the Episcopal Church’s first African-American leader.
Much of the UK coverage of this forthcoming royal wedding has focused on Meghan’s status as a perceived “outsider” to the royal family. As a divorced woman, an American, and as a biracial woman, Markle has received outsize media scrutiny and, at times, hostility from within the royal family itself, as Vox’s Anna North points out.
Princess Michael of Kent wore a deeply racist “blackamoor” brooch — depicting a caricature of an “African” face — to meet her new relative. (She later apologized.) As someone who shares both Markle’s Americanness and her heritage as a person of color, Curry having a presence at the wedding is symbolic of the ways Markle and Harry are publicly working to affirm her identity within the marriage.
When it comes to the royal family, this sense of shared purpose is particularly significant. As North writes, women who join the royal family are generally expected to give up their outside careers (Markle had to retire from acting and shut down her lifestyle blog) and otherwise subsume their identities into what members call “the Firm.”
But it’s been less clear what such a sublimation of identity would mean for someone like Markle, who has had a public profile independent of her future husband. She has also, in the past, been more outspoken than other royal brides about her relationship, her goals, and the ways she’d like to use her future role as an advocate for the causes that matter to her.
Michael Curry’s presence at the royal wedding may not be the biggest or most controversial gesture, but as a (mild) departure from tradition, it suggests that Harry and Markle are looking to carve out a space, however small, for Markle within the firm.
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