Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wed, and a new era dawns in Britain
WINDSOR, England — A thousand-year-old English castle echoed with the exhortations of an African-American bishop and a gospel choir on Saturday, as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle, nudging the British royal family into a new era.
Markle, who has long identified herself as a feminist, entered St. George’s Chapel alone rather than being given away by her father or any other man, a departure from tradition that in itself sent a message to the world. She was met halfway by Prince Charles, her future father-in-law.
Prince Harry, who is sixth in line for the throne, has long called on Britain’s monarchy to draw closer to the daily life of its people. But the most extraordinary thing he has done is to marry Markle, an American actress who is three years his senior, biracial, divorced, and vocal about her views.
Their choices at Saturday’s wedding, many of them heavily influenced by black culture, made it clear that they plan to project a more inclusive monarchy.
In a time of tribalism and separation, it was a clear move toward an integrated modern future from the oldest of houses. Seated directly opposite Queen Elizabeth II was Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, the descendant of slaves on plantations in the American South.
In the knight’s stalls supporting Markle, beneath rows of medieval swords and helmets, sat a constellation of American celebrities, among them Oprah Winfrey who, with a great gift for openness and emotional candor, has become an icon for black women.
There were the Hollywood and humanitarian megacelebrities George and Amal Clooney, and tennis star Serena Williams. A gospel choir sang the Ben E. King song “Stand By Me,” and the couple exited to the rousing civil rights anthem “This Little Light of Mine.”
Among the throngs who filled the streets of Windsor on Saturday were black women who had flown in from Houston and Atlanta, moved, sometimes to tears, to see a woman of color so publicly adored.
“One of the children of slaves is marrying a royal whose forerunners sanctioned slavery; the lion is lying down with the lamb,” said Denise Crawford, a court stenographer from Brooklyn.
“I just want to be here to observe the changing of the guard and the changing of the British Empire,” she said. “Today is a day that history will never forget.”
The most startling moments came with the sermon by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the Chicago-born bishop who leads the Episcopal Church in the United States.
Curry, in the great tradition of black preachers, delivered a loose, improvisational sermon that began as a meandering discourse but built to a passionate, shouting climax, name-checking Martin Luther King Jr. and slave spirituals along the way.
“I’m talking about some power, real power,” he boomed. “Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.”
To open the festivities, the queen honored her red-headed, 33-year-old grandson with a new title: the Duke of Sussex, making the 36-year-old Markle the Duchess of Sussex.
When the couple stepped out of the church and into the sunshine after taking their vows, a jolt went through the waiting crowd, which cheered their first kiss as husband and wife.
Police said more than 100,000 people lined the route.
The royal couple’s open-topped carriage was pulled by four Windsor Grey horses and past crowds waving flags and holding cellphones aloft. The newlyweds smiled and waved, smiled at each other, waved, and repeated the process for the 25-minute tour of Windsor.
For Britons, there was a sense of an old heartbreak being mended.
Many people here feel a special affection for Harry, who was only 12 when his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash. On the day of the funeral, Harry walked behind her coffin, and much of the country watched as his face crumpled.
“He was such a young boy,” said Christine Janetta, 57, one of the charity workers invited to greet the couple from the lawn on the grounds of Windsor Castle. “We’ve all been very protective of Harry, because we saw that little boy with his broken heart.”
Janetta said she was devoted to Diana, and that she thought it would have given her a sense of deep relief to see both of her sons happily settled. “He’s just his mum,” she said. “He is a carbon copy of his mum. Just look at the smile.”
Harry’s popularity helped give him the power to stretch the bounds of convention by marrying Markle, an American of mixed race.
The wedding was a global event for many reasons, including Harry’s status as a senior British royal and Markle’s celebrity after starring on the US television series ‘‘Suits’’ for seven years
The decision may have a lasting effect on British society, which in recent years has been swept by a wave of antiimmigrant feeling. But it has not made things easier for the couple.
As the wedding approached, British newspapers swung the klieg lights of their attention to Markle’s estranged half siblings, who said scathing things about a bride whom few Britons knew.
More damaging were insistent approaches to her father, Thomas Markle, a retired Hollywood lighting director who declared bankruptcy years ago and now lives in Mexico.
A week before the ceremony, The Daily Mail reported that Thomas Markle had colluded with a photographer to stage seemingly candid pictures. With that, he dropped out of the wedding in disgrace, leaving Meghan Markle with only one blood relative, her mother, to attend the ceremony at her side.
But lots of things went right Saturday. Even the British weather cooperated. It was sunny and balmy, bathing the staid stones of Windsor Castle in a beautiful spring light.
Many in the throng who waited outside also embraced the trans-Atlantic symbolism of the moment.
Sheraton Jones, 22, who is from California but studying in Britain, told the Associated Press it was a melding of cultures. ‘‘It was very touching,’’ she said, adding, “it was just so surreal.’’