Royals Gone Rogue: What It Means To Marry Outside The Monarch
It’s the fairytale cliché. The prince or princess falls for a penniless commoner, love conquers all and they live happily ever after. But it turns out the stories we learned at our mother’s knee were light years ahead of reality. In the past few decades, royal heirs and heiresses have been granted permission to choose their own mate; prior to that, crown marriages were powerful bonds based on allegiances, money and a palace-load of plotting.
As the role played by royalty has evolved to fit with modern society, members of the younger generation have been able to marry partners without centuries of lineage attached to their names—albeit with a few terms and conditions attached. Nowadays, royals everywhere are trying to find that perfect balance between fulfilling their personal needs and their duty to their country.
Princess Mako, Japan
Nowhere is the battle between duty and emotion clearer than in Japan, where Princess Mako, the granddaughter of Emperor Akihito, was forced to forfeit her royal status this September after announcing her engagement to university classmate Kei Komuro. Under Japanese law, female members of the imperial family must give up their royal rights if they marry a commoner.
That this does not apply to male heirs has long been a source of controversy, particularly since the royal family now comprises only 19 people, 14 of whom are women.
The punishing of women for making a love marriage feels like a relic of the past, but prior to 1947, female members of the imperial family were not stripped of their royal status if they married a commoner. Perhaps the day will come again when Japanese princesses are allowed as much freedom to marry as their brothers.
Queen Rania, Jordan
One of the most notable royal weddings of the past few decades took place in Jordan, when Queen Rania married King Abdullah in 1993. Born in Kuwait, Rania al-Yassin and her Palestinian family had fled modern-day Israel and were effectively refugees when they arrived in Jordan.
Years later, the marriage of this beautiful, highly educated young woman to the Jordanian king is an important symbol of unity in a country where nearly half the population is made up of Palestinian refugees.
Queen Rania has been a notably popular and inspiring royal. But not all men and women who accept the complicated, privileged and often invasive role of royalty are able to accommodate the reality of their new lives easily.
Princess Grace, Monaco
European royals are more accustomed to the concept of “marrying out,” even though the word ordinary could never be applied. The most striking, of course, was Grace Kelly, the exquisitely beautiful blonde 26-year-old film star who broke Alfred Hitchcock’s heart in 1956 when she gave up her stellar career to marry a real-life Prince Charming, Prince Rainier of Monaco.
From her dress—which took six weeks to make and was created from 125-year-old vintage Brussels lace, tulle and silk taffeta—to the vintage Rolls-Royce that bore the couple around the streets of Monaco, the day that screen royalty wed actual royalty felt like a Disney finale brought to life.
Since then, European royals have married television presenters, bankers, journalists, comedians and fashion designers in their quest to find happiness—or even South African Olympic swimmers, in the case of Princess Grace’s son, Albert, and his wife, Charlene.
Diana, Princess of Wales
But even Prince Charles’ marriage to the aristocratic Lady Diana Spencer—a 20-year-old virgin who could trace her family back to the Norman conquest—represented something of a departure from royal norms of the time. This is because she was the first English woman to marry a prince of Wales in the 300 years since the reign of George I. Before Diana, the future king of England had always been betrothed to a European princess.
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Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
When Kate Middleton, the daughter of a businessman and a former flight attendant, arrived on the scene, the faint murmur of disapproval became deafening in certain sectors of British society. Because, really, for a future king to marry a woman from such an ordinary background amounted to a revolution in Windsor terms.
However, the British royal family, for all its internationally renowned pomp and ceremony, has been marrying commoners since 1464, when Elizabeth Woodville, a lowly widow, secretly wed King Edward IV.
“There’s never been a mandate that royals should always marry royals in England,” says royal commentator Dickie Arbiter. “In fact, four of Henry VIII six wives were commoners. King George VI married out of royalty; the present queen married a defunct royal prince; Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Princess Anne all married non-royals, as has Prince Charles again. Prince William has married a non-royal and, going down the scale of seniority, the dukes of Kent and Gloucester both married non-royals, so your assertion that royals are traditionally meant to marry other royals is, in fact, a myth.”
Happily Ever After?
“The difficulty a non-royal faces in marrying into the family is adapting to the goldfish bowl,” says Arbiter. “The expectation is that the bride will do her round of charitable work; be on parade at national or international events in support of the monarch; represent the UK and the monarch when required. There’s a fairly steep learning curve which can be easy or difficult depending on the bride’s upbringing. The Duchess of Cambridge and Countess of Wessex found no difficulty; Sarah Ferguson found it almost impossible.”
While we don’t yet know if Meghan Markle, the actress currently dating Prince Harry, and Kei Komuro will actually get to try adapting to this opulent, complicated world, attitudes are changing fast towards those once considered outsiders—and who have the quiet courage to turn their worlds upside down for Prince or Princess Charming. After all, if there’s one thing fairy tales have taught us, it’s that marrying for love is usually a fast track to the happy ending.
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Illustrations by Jao San Pedro | All images from AFP photo and Shutterstock