Ever since Prince Harry confirmed his relationship with actress Meghan Markle in an unprecedented statement from Kensington Palace, rumours of an impending engagement have started to swirl.
Should Harry decide to propose to his girlfriend, though, English law dictates that he will have to seek the permission of one very important family member first: the relative in question being his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.
Back in 1772, King George III passed the Royal Marriages Act, decreeing that his direct descendants must be granted permission from the reigning monarch before marrying. If the sovereign chooses to veto their choice of partner, the marriage would be considered void.
The Act was a response to George III’s disapproval of his brothers’ marital choices. In 1771, Prince Henry had married Anne Horton, a commoner and a widow; the same year, the King learned that another brother, Prince William, had secretly married a woman born out of wedlock.
The Act has been relaxed over the ensuing centuries; now, David Cameron’s Perth Agreement, which was proposed in 2011, limits its ruling to the first six in line to the throne. Coming after Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Harry is fifth in line, meaning that he will still need to ask for permission from Granny if and when the situation arises. As yet, the Queen has never formally denied a request.
Harry and Meghan’s relationship is going from strength to strength, and the actress is thought to have already met with William, his wife Kate and Princess Charlotte (George, ever the cool customer, was otherwise occupied at the time). However, it could be long time before she is formally introduced to the Queen: Kate had been William’s girlfriend for four whole years before her first meeting with the monarch, which took place at the wedding of the Prince’s cousin Peter Phillips in 2008.
Before William and Kate’s 2011 nuptials, the Queen signed a notice of approval granting her formal consent to the marriage of ‘our most dearly beloved grandson Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, K.G. and our trust and well-beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.’
Meghan Markle was previously married to film producer Trevor Engelson (from 2011 to 2013), a fact which has raised eyebrows from some conservative commentators. Historically, the prospect of marrying a divorcé has caused controversy amongst the royals. Viewers of Netflix’s The Crown might recall how Princess Margaret was forced to give up her relationship with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, committing to ‘the Church’s teachings that Christian marriage is indissoluble.’ Even more dramatic was the abdication of 1936, when Edward VIII gave up the throne in order to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson.
Since then, however, the royals have moved with the times, and the Queen granted permission for her eldest son Charles to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles. The 2005 ceremony marked the second marriage for husband and wife, so we can assume that Harry isn’t too worried about his grandmother’s response to his (hypothetical) engagement.
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