For those smitten with the fairy tale romance of Prince Harry and “commoner”/biracial actress Meghan Markle, don’t get too taken in with the supposed grandiosity of all. For Markle herself descends from Mary Hussey Smith, a landowner in New Hampshire who descended directly from the noble blood of John Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey of Sleaford. To add to the dramatic revelation of her heritage, the baron was ordered to be beheaded by the grand freek-a-leek himself, King Henry VIII in 1537 for conspiring in the uprising of 1536 known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Hussey’s descent from King John further adds to the royal lineage of Markle.
And yet, in a somewhat, “She’s my sister AND my daughter!,” moment, Markle is also related to Prince Harry himself, their shared ancestors being Richard and Elizabeth Bowes, themselves the scions of Queen Elizabeth–as in Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, a.k.a. Harry’s grandmother. It’s all very intertwined, to be sure. But to heighten the polarization that Markle has caused among the congenitally white supremacist Anglicans of the British population and press, her background also includes within it not just a black mother, Doria Radlan, but a paternal great-great-great grandfather who was a slave on a Georgian plantation before the North’s winning of the Civil War in 1865 permitted him the “luxury” of emancipation. What a scandalous lineage for the remaining stodgy Brits to endure, indeed.
But it doesn’t stop there, Markle is also of a Catholic persuasion, which, as anyone even remotely familiar with History 101 can understand, harkens back to an age-old religious conflict in England between the Protestants and the Catholics (Trainspotting 2 should briefly catch you up on it during that pub scene in West Scotland if history isn’t your bag). And furthermore, not one to be outdone by Wallis Simpson, immortalized by Andrea Riseborough in W.E., Markle is a divorcée, to boot.
It is this combination of factors taken in one not so sugary sweet bite by the old guard British public and presumably some of the royal family themselves that no doubt has Princess Diana impishly smiling to herself from the great beyond. Prince Harry clearly takes after her rebellious nature, even if underneath it all, Markle is fundamentally royal–but it’s fun for the public to buy into the plebe meets prince story as a means to fortify their own desire to believe in some semblance of a fairy tale for the twenty-first century. Because it’s not every day that you hear about the prince turning out not to be a dickhead anymore.