Why the Royal Family Used to Forbid Marriage After DivorceBreaking News
tags: marriage, divorce, Meghan Markle, Church of England, Prince Harry
When Prince Harry weds Meghan Markle, he won’t just be breaking the mold by marrying an American actress. Markle is also divorced—her two-year-long marriage to producer Trevor Engelson ended in 2013.
That’s a big deal: Marrying a divorced person was taboo among the British monarchy for hundreds of years. By signing off on the match, Queen Elizabeth, who must be consultedbefore people within the line of succession marry, has reinforced the family’s recent about-face on divorce. But why was it such a divisive issue in the past?
“Historically the Church of England’s position was that divorce was okay, but remarriage was not,” saysArianne Chernock, an associate professor of history at Boston University whose research focuses on gender and the British monarchy.
Ironically, the roots of that position—and the Church of Englanditself—lie in the inability of Henry VIIIto annul his marriage with the blessing of the Catholic Church. In the 1530s, Henry decided he wanted an annulment after Catherine of Aragon failed to give birth to a male heir. When the pope repeatedly refused to grant his request, Henry first limited the Church’s influence in England, then formallyseveredties to Catholicism in 1534.
This break from the Roman Catholic Church meant that the British monarch, not the pope, was the official head of the church in Britain. Henry and the monarchs that followed took on the role of “defender of the faith.” Since then, monarchs have pledged to uphold the religious tenets of the Church of England at their coronations. Within the royal family, it became nearly impossible to divorce or marry someone whose previous marriage had ended.
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