Could Prince Harry ever marry divorcee Meghan Markle? There are royal precedents...

Meghan Markle wouldn't be the first divorcee to marry into royalty. Photo / Getty Images
Meghan Markle wouldn't be the first divorcee to marry into royalty. Photo / Getty Images

Prince Harry is rumoured to have a new love interest: Meghan Markle, a 35-year-old American television actress who lives in Toronto.

As is the way with these things, Ms Markle - best known for her role in the legal drama, Suits - combines her acting career with being a UN advocate and style blogger, boasting a million followers on Instagram, where she describes herself as a "lover of handwritten notes".

Reports declare that the two have been an item for six months, share a love of yoga, and sport matching friendship bracelets. The 32-year-old prince is described as "besotted".

One detail that no one seems unduly concerned about is that Markle is a divorcee, following a marriage to a film producer that ended in 2014.

"And why should they be?" those of a more nipperish persuasion may demand. Yet to anyone hoary enough to remember the sacrifice made in the Fifties by Princess Margaret, the nonchalance about such matters will represent a significant sea change.

After the Queen's sister made clear her plans to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorced war hero and former equerry to George VI, the relationship was called off. "Mindful of the Church's teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others," ran her official statement on the matter.

Eleanor of Aquitaine
The prejudice against royal love interests who have previously been hitched goes back a long time. Certainly, in 1152, when Eleanor of Aquitaine renounced her position as Queen of France to wed burly, testosterone-pumped Henry II, her non-virginal status was used to undermine her. Rumours of her unqueenly sexual appetite abounded, and she was said to have enjoyed relations with her uncle, her new husband prior to wedlock, and his father.

Isabella of Angouleme and Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fresco in the Chapel of St Radegund. Photo / Getty Images
Isabella of Angouleme and Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fresco in the Chapel of St Radegund. Photo / Getty Images

Caroline of Brunswick
In the 15th century, widow Elizabeth Woodville was accused of deploying witchcraft to charm Edward IV, so extraordinary was it for royalty not to be united with virginal stock. More typically, having already seen off three wives, Henry VIII argued that his repulsion for Anne of Cleves lay in her being "no maid"; while George IV was similarly dismissive of his detested Caroline of Brunswick's virtues, informing Lord Minto that she had mixed tooth powder and water to fake hymeneal blood. The message was clear: while a male royal was expected to have a past, his intended must produce a (genuinely) bloodied bedsheet.

George III's Royal Marriages Act of 1772, requiring royals to obtain permission from the Sovereign to wed, marked his attempt to inculcate Protestant family values: no Catholics, no commoners, and certainly no one who had been married before (his son George IV's paramour, Mrs Fitzherbert, being all three).

Wallis Simpson
Of course, the most dramatic altercation over a royal and a divorcee came in the abdication crisis of 1936, when Edward VIII sought to marry Wallis Simpson. Mrs Simpson, notoriously, was an American socialite divorced from her first husband, while attempting to shed a second, and was considered nothing if not sexually and socially knowing, if rumours concerning her Shanghai brothel tricks and upwardly mobile aspirations were to be believed.

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Windsor in the Bahamas. Photo / Getty Images
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Windsor in the Bahamas. Photo / Getty Images

When George V died in January 1936, prime minister Stanley Baldwin made clear that the government, popular opinion and the overseas dominions (now the Commonwealth) could not approve the new king's marital ambitions; not least in his capacity as head of the Church of England, which did not permit remarriage following separation. If Edward married against the advice of his ministers, it would cause the government to resign, creating a constitutional crisis.

In December, Edward chose to abdicate, leaving his brother, the Queen's beloved father, to become George VI. This marked the beginning of a feud between the Queen Mother and "that woman" that was to last the duration of their lifetimes: the former believing her husband's life was cut short by the stress of becoming king, Wallis thus sentencing her to decades of widowhood.

It also meant that, when her youngest daughter, Margaret, later fell passionately in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend in the Fifties, it was still unthinkable for a royal to marry a divorcee. And so the Princess was forced to renounce her hero, despite becoming a divorcee herself some 30 years later.

The Queen, now 69 years into her own union, issues from a generation in which marriage was something one got on with and stuck to. So her sadness over the separations of Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Prince Charles in 1992, her "annus horribilis", was palpable. Such was the unremitting fallout of the Prince of Wales's conjugal collapse, that, three years later, she would write to both parties stating that a divorce was desirable.

But in a move that was interpreted as redemptive, in 2005 she gave her permission for Charles to marry fellow divorcee Camilla Parker Bowles, with a ring that had belonged to his staunchly anti-separation grandmother. She and Prince Philip did not attend the civil ceremony, but were witnesses at the marriage's blessing, and held a reception for the newlyweds at Windsor Castle.

Despite this, some attribute the Queen's fondness for Prince Edward's wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as testament to the Countess's being a "tremendous sticker" (Nancy Mitford's term to describe the opposite of a marital "bolter"). And she may harbour similar hopes for fellow commoner Catherine Middleton, whom she permitted her grandson to marry in 2010.

Still, times change, and with them social mores. Today, with divorce statistics falling because marriage rates are in decline, a divorcee is a different thing: less a bolter like Wallis, more someone who respected the institution enough to give it a whirl, even where that particular union failed. Besides, a woman of 35 with some experience behind her - sexual as well as life experience - might be expected to fare better as a royal partner than a naïve young virgin barely out of her teens, as Harry himself will be painfully aware.

As ever, when it comes to royal romances, we are getting ahead of ourselves. Still, it is fair to say that Prince Hal has form when it comes to the old "prince and the showgirl" routine. Gossip has previously linked him with actress Jenna Coleman (who recently played his ancestress, Queen Victoria), singers Natalie Imbruglia and Mollie King, and television presenters Caroline Flack and Natalie Pinkham. Even society crush Cressida Bonas is a dancer-cum-actress.

His uncles Andrew and Edward both succumbed to ladies of the stage, be it in the form of Koo Stark with her erotic film performances, or Ruthie Henshall hoofing it up. "Pretty, witty Nell" Gwyn gave Charles II two sons, while George IV's mistresses included actress Mary Robinson.

Edward VII's conquests began with Nellie Clifton, an actress smuggled into his tent while he was on manoeuvres, later mistresses including Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. Even George VI, a staunch family man, boasted an infatuation with the beautiful songstress Boo Laye.

A woman able to act the part would be just the ticket for the modern Firm. After all, both are in the same line of business, only Harry boasts a bigger budget. Who knows, perhaps even the Queen might be persuaded that - despite being a divorcee - Ms Markle may be just what's needed to keep the show on the road.

- Daily Telegraph UK

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 04 Dec 2016 22:17:58 Processing Time: 571ms