Meghan Markle’s picture-perfect wedding to Prince Harry continues to garner column inches and media spotlight in Britain and across the globe, but she will only be the latest in a succession of American women who became real-life princesses.
And just as they had to relinquish their former roles the Los Angeles-born actress too has had to give up a promising acting career and glossy instagram lifestyle. She now has to subject herself to the straightjacket of a foreign monarchy and hope that it all works out fine.
When Grace Kelly with whom she continues to draw comparisons, became engaged to Monaco’s Prince Rainier more than 60 years ago, rumours swirled around her Philadelphia neighborhood that the wedding would take place at the local parish church.
“All the merchants were excited. They were going to provide the flowers and the haircuts and whatever was necessary,” recalled Ellen Sheehan speaking to Reuters, president of the East Falls Historical Society, who was 17 years old at the time.
Instead, she and other local residents watched the event on television, as the Hollywood star transformed into Princess Grace of Monaco in her adopted Mediterranean country. But the glittering ceremony belied certain challenges behind Kelly’s transition.
“She went through some awkward years getting the people in Monaco to accept her,” explained John Lehman, Grace Kelly’s cousin and chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, which supports emerging artists.
“There was a bit of a language barrier, which she studiously erased by really learning French and learning the Monegasque culture and French culture,” said Lehman, a former US navy secretary, who often visited Princess Grace at the palace. “It didn’t take too long before she was their princess.”
But she retained a strong sense of her American identity and continued to visit Philadelphia, he added.
Princess Grace’s reign ended with her tragic death on September 14, 1982, after she suffered a stroke while driving and her car plunged over a parapet on a steep winding road behind Monaco.
In 1959, American socialite Lee Radziwill became a princess overnight when she married her second husband, Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill of Poland, in a quiet ceremony.
“Lee loved being called a princess. It was something that gave her a lot of pleasure,” said Randy Taraborrelli, author of the recent biography, Jackie, Janet and Lee.
She embraced the title, in part, because it helped distinguish her from her sister, soon-to-be US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, with whom she had always had a competitive relationship, according to Taraborrelli.
Radziwill adapted easily to royal life, he said, because her mother, Janet Auchincloss, had instilled in her daughters the etiquette needed to thrive in the upper echelons of society.
“If Lee hadn’t become a princess, it would’ve been such a waste of great teaching at the heels of her mother,” Taraborrelli laughed. However, the marriage was short-lived, ending in divorce 15 years later.
Other American women who married into royalty include; Queen Noor of Jordan, Rita Hayworth, who was briefly married to Prince Aly Khan, and Kelly Rondestvedt, who married Hereditary Prince Hubertus of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 2009.
Whatever Meghan Markle’s experience will be marrying into the House of Windsor, it will undoubtedly be a far cry from that of her controversial predecessor, Wallis Simpson.
In 1936, King Edward VIII made the shocking decision to abdicate the throne in order to marry the divorcee and socialite from Baltimore.
The problem was not that she was American rather that she was divorced, according to Anne Sebba, author of, That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. But British perceptions of her “American” mannerisms did not help her cause.
“I think the problem for Wallis really was that she was brash,” Sebba explained. “She would walk into a room and she would say, “‘Hi, I’m Wallis.’ She’d wear lots of jewellery. She’d talk about money.”
Markle in comparison is being hailed as the woman who has put modernity back into the monarchy getting the dated institution noticed in circles they could only have imagined. That is, despite her previous divorce, allowing her to fulfill a role that Simpson never could.
“Because they’ll be welcomed, they’ll be able to do a job. And as far as I see it, that’s really the critical point of the royal family today,” said Sebba.
Lehman believes Markle has what it takes to be a successful princess but must fully commit to the position, which means abandoning her acting career and learning all she can about her new surroundings.
“She cannot follow a better example than Princess Grace,” he said.
Markle seems to have heeded this advice with her actions and her pronouncements. She gave wound up her acting role on the American legal drama, Suits, as soon as her engagement was made official. She also shut down all her social media accounts and The Big, her lifestyle blog. She event went the extra mile to sever her relationship with charity organisations she had been associated with before meeting her prince charming.
The palace too seem to have rewarded her handsomely, creating a role for her alongside the duke and duchess of Cambridge and her new husband. The transformation has unfolded at lightning speed catching even seasoned royal observers napping at times. On the morning of her fairytale wedding she was awarded the title of HRH Duchess of Sussex from being just plain Ms Markle. The following day she was granted her own profile page on the official website of the royal family with an accompanying gushing biography that listed her charitable work.
It also described her role as undertaking royal duties in support of the Queen, both in the UK and overseas, perhaps a nod to her burgeoning profile in the Commonwealth, a body that still holds huge sentiments with the ageing monarch. If Markle had been hankering for such a role it could not have harmed her prospects to have expressed the wish of having all 53 countries of the Commonwealth sewn into her wedding veil. Givenchy’s first female artistic director duly obliged. Waight Keller designed a veil representing the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country in one spectacular floral composition.
The Commonwealth body – of which the Queen is still titular head –will be a central part of Prince Harry’s and Ms. Markle’s official work following Harry’s appointment as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.
She had also declared her wish to “hit the ground running”, which has meant a honeymoon put on ice for urgent royal duties to support Prince Charles’s 70th anniversary as a Commonwealth patron.
There was also effusive praise for her well-regarded work on female empowerment. “From a young age, The Duchess had a keen awareness of social issues and actively participated in charitable work. Aged 11 she successfully campaigned for a company to alter their television advert that had used sexist language to sell washing-up liquid.
“Her Royal Highness also volunteered at a soup kitchen in Skid Row, Los Angeles from the age of 13-17. She continued to volunteer at the soup kitchen when she would return home to Los Angeles until the age of 22. These early experiences helped to shape her lifelong commitment to causes such as social justice and women’s empowerment.
“While filming in Toronto, The Duchess actively volunteered at a Canadian soup kitchen from 2011-2013. She also established the program at her place of work to ensure that leftover meals from the set were donated to local homeless shelters.”
At a recent event alongside the princes and Kate Middleton where they were styled unofficially as ‘The fab four’, she disagreed that women needed a voice because the already had one, they just needed to be empowered to use it. The website also highlighted a memorable quote from a 2015 speech on gender equality at the United Nations: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”
She seems also to be saying loud and clear, I belong in this rarefied royal company.