Love and Marriage in the House of Windsor

Tomorrow is finally the day that many Royalists and Fashionistas have been looking forward to: the marriage of Henry Mountbatten-Windsor and Ms Rachel Meghan Markle, better known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

I find the media frenzy surrounding the event interesting in its own right; perhaps it is a case of escapism in these troubled times, a bit of a romantic fairy tale of a prince and a fair maid that finally find each other (and in the process turn a rake into a Prince Charming) and will live happily ever after in the glaring spotlight of the media.

There is a bit more to this story, of course. Ms Markle is American, divorced, and above all ‘bi-racial’ (an awkward term that suggests some discontinuity within her personality), that is to say, she is the daughter of a ‘Caucasian’ father and an African-American mother. What this means to her and how it defined her life she put into an eloquent essay published in Elle magazine in 2015. As Harry’s bride and future member of the Royal Family, her ‘racial’ identity becomes a socio-political signifier that refers to a recognition of racial identities in a British society that to this day has evaded, avoided, and sometimes flat-out denied racism as a problem in the UK.

I admit I am looking forward to the broadcast which I shall have the pleasure of watching in the presence of my mother – a fashionista in her own right. I expect some interesting comments.

Here is what I am interested in: how will Ms Markle’s wedding dress compare to Sarah Burton’s stroke of genius of Katherine Middleton’s wedding dress in 2011 that combined a McQueen touch for Victorian Goth with a modern aesthetics? It combined the relevance of  the monarchy’s tradition with its current role in UK society. Will Ms Markle’s dress signify the ‘difference’ that her ‘racial’ identity makes?

Lest I be misunderstood, my interest is of course strictly academic While I shall indulge in the frivolity of royal spectacle and spectacular fashion, this event feeds into a nascent project on Power and Glory, building on Giorgio Agamben’s work on The Kingdom and the Glory.

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Governance, the argument goes, requires and refers to an excess of aesthetics for its legitimation. So maybe the spectacle at Windsor tomorrow should be understood as a moment creating space for ‘public acclamation’ for the monarchy and thus for the legitimacy of the British governmental system.

But yes, above all: what dress will Meghan Markle wear…

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