Britain: The Battle Royal

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markel no doubt stopped short, in their interview with Oprah Winfrey, of the offense of lèse-majesté. It’s no longer illegal in Britain to deface the dignity of the crown, anyhow, at least not in any practical sense. Then again, too, their unburdening themselves of their grievances seems calculated to wound a monarchy that, at least in our view, Britons are likely to need more rather than less in the generation ahead.

That might sound like an odd sentiment from these quarters. The New York Sun is, after all, a tribune of republican principles. Yet we make no secret of our admiration for Britain and, most recently, its scramble for independence from the European Union. It has just placed a strategic bet on its own Commonwealth, and it’s going to need the monarchy that does so much to hold it together.

Even without these larger issues, the drama of the Sussexes is simply unseemly. In Ms. Markle’s own telling, it began with a quarrel over wedding dresses, when her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, made her cry. To plunge from there to a charge of racism is horrifying, all the more so in the way it was done; Meghan, almost in passing, mentions “concerns and conversations” about “how dark” Archie’s “skin might be when he’s born . . .”

That left Ms. Winfrey staring, open-mouthed, for several long seconds until she exclaimed “What?!” At one point she asked: “Who is having that conversation with you?” It elicited no clarifying answer. So it’s a classic small group libel. By refusing to name the alleged racist, British journalist Daniel Johnson writes, Harry and Meghan must know that they are casting aspersions on the entire royal family.

To make matters worse, Prince Harry, according to Ms. Winfrey, later asked her to make clear that the culprit wasn’t his grandmother or grandfather, meaning the Queen or Prince Philip. That has the effect of focusing the aspersions on an even smaller group. All wrapped in the rhetorical device of preterition, the damning of someone or something — in this case the monarchy — while suggesting one is not doing so.

It’s not our intention to minimize the issue of racism. It’s hard, though, to think of a generation of British royals who have so embraced the racial diversity of the Commonwealth as enthusiastically as have Elizabeth and her husband. (The point is dramatized in “The Crown,” when Elizabeth makes news by whirling around a dance floor arm-in-arm with the revolutionary president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah.)

President Biden, meantime, managed to jump into the fray this morning with praise for the Duchess’s “courage.” We’ll see how it goes over with the Queen when — or if — our new president makes the traditional state visit to London. If Meghan Markle showed courage, in our view, it was her gumption in assenting to marriage to Prince Harry in the first place and setting out on the royal adventure.

Harry, too, is not without a streak of courage. In our view it was glimpsed in the global war on terror, when he appeared in arms in Afghanistan. The streak runs in his family. By our count he is the fourth senior royal to have appeared in arms in the past century. In World War I, his great-grandfather, Prince Albert of York (later George VI), saw action at in the Battle of Jutland.

In World War II, Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip, spent years in combat, including in the Battle of Cape Matapan, where, we’re told by Conrad Black, he turned on the searchlights to enable naval guns to be used at almost point-blank range against Italian warships. In the Falklands, Prince Andrew was on HMS Invincible and piloted a Sea King helicopter as a decoy to draw fire away from the British vessels.

In the current contretemps, it is the part of courage for both sides to bury the royal resentments so that Harry, Meghan, Archie, and the daughter they’re expecting can find a place back in the family. For a change of generations in the British monarchy could soon be upon the realm, and the Commonwealth and the British-American special relationship will be under challenges that dwarf today’s melodrama. Both Britain and America will need all the help we can get.