Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may create a feelgood factor around the royal family, but they will not fundamentally modernise the monarchy and make it more inclusive, a historian has said.
Anna Whitelock, director of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage at the Royal Holloway University of London, said the couple were “great cheerleaders” for the Windsors.
But she stressed that the pair, who are to wed on Saturday, will not inherit the throne, and that the monarchy always remains rooted in elitism and inequality.
“Ultimately the monarchy is anachronistic. It is based on hierarchy and privilege – merit is nowhere near what it’s about,” she said.
Ms Markle is the first mixed race person in modern history to marry a senior British royal, and both Harry and his bride-to-be are seen to represent a more open, touchy-feely side to the royals.
Dr Whitelock told the Press Association: “There’s no doubt that Harry and Meghan can show a warmer, more engaged, and softer side of the royal family but claims that their marriage represents a new inclusivity and more modern monarchy misses the point.”
She added: “Harry and Meghan, because of their place in line to the succession, can afford to be more celebrity than William and Kate.
“They have that space of being special celebrities but with a bit of extra royal dust on them.
They're great cheerleaders for the monarchy, but they are not 'the monarchy'Historian Anna Whitelock
“But they are not intrinsic to the future of the monarchy in terms of the line of succession.
“They might create a feelgood factor but that may not be enough, especially for a younger generation of people who have a bigger, more profound sense of what they want Britain to represent and who they want to represent it.
“They’re great cheerleaders for the monarchy, but they are not ‘the monarchy’.”
Going to be talking about the royal wedding this week. But beyond the history stuff,Iâm keen to get a sense of what you think: does it matter or not? Does it make you more or less interested in/ supportive of the monarchy? Very keen to reflect all views! Do share #RoyalWedding— Anna Whitelock (@AnnaWhitelock) May 13, 2018
Dr Whitelock suggested the monarchy was based on values that individually the prince and the American former actress would probably be against.
“The monarchy is founded actually on values that certainly Meghan and probably Harry would completely despise in a sense – those values of elitism, privilege, deference, wealth, inequality – all of those things,” she said.
“The monarchy can modernise by gesture but it can’t really modernise fundamentally in a way that really means that it embraces inclusivity, diversity equality and all these things. It just can’t.”
The historian said major questions remained over the future of the monarchy.
The popularity of Harry and Meghan is no indication that people are completely happy with (the monarchy).Anna Whitelock
“Does it represent British national identity in the 21st century in the projection of this new post-Brexit global Britain?” she said.
“Is an un-elected representative what people want?
“The popularity of Harry and Meghan is no indication that people are completely happy with that.”
Dr Whitelock also questioned whether the royal wedding was as popular with the public as was being suggested.
“I think there’s an age issue here. I think people who remember Diana … they can’t get out of their head that image of Harry walking behind his mum’s coffin, and this feels like the end of that story,” she said.
“But I think for younger people, perhaps there’s interest in what Meghan’s going to wear just as if it was any televised celebrity wedding, but I’m not sure there’s the level of interest the amount of media coverage will suggest.”