Meghan Markle and the American Royal Fantasy

We all wanted to be Meghan Markle. Until she told us we didn’t.
But we can still fantasize about royal life.

I admit that I was a skeptic at first. To me, Meghan Markle was Wallis Simpson 2.0, the American divorcee whose romantic entanglement with a member of the British royal family was going to lead to disaster. (That part was right.) She was Not Kate, and the media frenzy surrounding her engagement to Prince Harry, their wedding, and her pregnancy with Archie all meant pushing my beloved fantasy princess off the front page and into the margins when my imaginary version of the Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was too perfect to be spoiled by an interloper.

Perfection times two.

And quickly that turned. As an American, Meghan Markle lived out the Cinderella fantasy that so many young women idealize. Her story was hardly the rags to riches of Disney’s floor-washing Cinderella; she was estimated by some sources to be worth $5 million at the time of her engagement. She was an actor who traveled in elite circles with plenty of privilege. But she was also one of us: ordinary American women without noble titles and with a past that our culture forgets in five minutes because in American society vision is always toward the future. Plain, regular folks. And she was joining a 1,200 year old institution, gaining if not power, then at least more privilege and more fame. The glamour of the formal events, the posh perfection that is every carefully stage managed royal family event. And, for women around my age (which is around Harry’s), she was also publicly claiming someone many had drooled over since his mother’s funeral thrust him into the spotlight.

My friend Mandy had posters of Harry and William in her bedroom. She said she was going to marry one of them. I guess that didn’t work out for her.

A few weeks ago, in her interview with Oprah, Meghan-turned-HRH-turned-duchess-now Meg openly talked about how difficult that picture perfect fantasy was, how trapped she felt. (We see some of this in The Crown season four when a young Diana is literally stuck inside Buckingham Palace alone all day, a situation Meghan said she’d also experienced.) She was candid about the effects the publicity and death threats had on her mental health, and in ninety minutes, she shattered every illusion we had about royal life.

In a clever move, part of the interview showed Meghan and Harry after casting off their royal ways: in rubber boots feeding chickens. Meghan likened her experience in the royal family to Ariel in The Little Mermaid and noted that, in the end, Ariel gets her voice back.

But that doesn’t mean we have to quit fantasizing.

Royal romance is incredibly popular. From Cinderella to a dozen Hallmark movies, the story is usually the same: a prince falls in love with an ordinary woman, and love ultimately triumphs over history and protocol. It’s a wonderful fantasy for folks stuck in a world with a shrinking middle class, where we know we’re not the 1% and probably never will be. And if there’s something a little distasteful about the American elite – how, after all, did they get so wealthy while the rest of us suffer so much? – then surely the old money wealth of a European royal is fine. It’s not their fault they’re rich, after all, and in most of these stories, the princes are busy shirking their royal traditions and denouncing all that money. They’re rich and privileged, but they’re the good kind, they assure us.

Royal Matchmaker is one of my favorites. You can guess what happens from the title.

This feels like a timely moment to have my next book, The Queen Has a Cold, ready for release. It’s currently being sent to reviewers, and readers can preorder it at the Bold Strokes Books website. In many ways, my heroine Sam is the anti-2018 Markle. Yes, she falls in love with royalty, but she sure hates everything the monarchy represents…until she and Remy, the royal heir, are able to change it into something more socially progressive.

Some days, writing this book was hard. I knew Sam and Remy weren’t going to dismantle the monarchy. That does happen in some royal romances: in Hallmark’s Royal Hearts, the American who accedes to the throne forces the country to strip him of his crown in favor of democracy. In most, however, the American enters the royal family and drags them kicking and screaming into the 21st century while preserving the tradition of things like patrilineal inheritance. In The Queen Has a Cold, part of Remy’s emotional journey is learning to fall back in love with the nation. It was important that they accept their place in the monarchy at the end, even as they changed it, rather than destroying it for a new form of government. As someone who thinks trickle-down economics is bullshit (which is supported by data, thanks) and who values equality, that was a challenging ending.

But what brings me back, time and again, to the joy of royal romance is the glitzy fantasy and our choice to overlook these kinds of realities. I don’t think romance readers are naive or neglectful. We know that giving up personal freedom for fortune and fame might be a terrible idea, and we recognize that “old money” was made on the backs of Black and indigenous people and people of color just as money as new money is made on the backs of all of us. It’s just that it looks so appealing. The balls (for there is always a royal ball at the end), the fancy dinners, the learning to curtsy and learning when and to whom and all that other etiquette — it’s just such fun pageantry.

Readers will delight in knowing that The Queen Has a Cold takes all of this to heart. There’s glitz and glamour, but there’s also social critique. There’s tradition, but there’s also social progress. I have mad respect for Meghan Markle for letting us peek behind the curtain and sharing her mental health struggles so candidly, but it’s still okay to indulge knowingly in the glossy fantasy of what royalty might mean.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s