Foreign Policy Digital

Royal Weddings Are a Fairy Tale. They Used to Be High-Stakes Diplomacy.

Once upon a time, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would have been instruments of foreign-policy ambition.

Millions around the world will be glued to their televisions on May 19 as Britain’s Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, weds Meghan Markle, an American actress. Royal weddings are designed to be heartwarming fairytales that invite us to forget our everyday trials and tribulations, and this will be no exception. The couple met two years ago on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend and, by official accounts, fell in love almost immediately.

Royal weddings are also showcases of tradition. The British royal family represents ideals of continuity and stability, reflecting a present moment solidly rooted in the past and reassuring us that some things are enduring. In preparation for the event, Markle has already started the process of becoming a British citizen and been received into the Church of England.

But in observing the traditions that are being upheld, it’s also worth remarking upon those that have been discarded. The royal wedding is a national cultural event. There was a time, however, when it would have also been naturally understood as an expression of national interest and international ambition. If the British public hasn’t been thinking of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as diplomatic actors involved in a venture of international relations, that is a sign of their present roles — but also of how much Western diplomacy has changed since the days when royal marriages were major political events.

Consider the function of Europe’s royal marriages in the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time, the state belonged to the monarch, and marriage was understood as a way of adding to his territory and cementing crucial alliances with other powers. Marriages have always been a method of securing control over family possessions — it’s just that these possessions used to include the states themselves.

Often monarchs planned these events long in advance. Take for instance the deal

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Foreign Policy Digital

Foreign Policy Digital5 min readPolitics
America’s Syria Debacle Is Not Trump’s Alone
By going along with the myth that the president is pulling out of the Middle East, his critics are helping make U.S. wars there worse.
Foreign Policy Digital3 min read
Will Brexit Stumble Over Northern Ireland Again?
On Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the United Kingdom and the European Union had finally reached a Brexit deal, which will see Britain pay the EU as much as $50 billi
Foreign Policy Digital4 min read
Why is Turkey Fighting Syria’s Kurds?
Turkey’s president says Syrian Kurdish fighters are terrorists—but he’s a very unreliable narrator.