Prince Philip once quipped of Britain, “People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.”
Now, following a weekend of intense speculation that an announcement was imminent, it has been announced that his grandson Prince Harry is due to follow in the footsteps of those anonymous dukes, and marry his American girlfriend, Meghan Markle, in the most high-profile royal wedding since the marriage of Kate Middleton and Prince William in 2011.
Clarence House issued a statement on behalf of Harry’s father, Prince Charles, on Monday morning, saying that the couple will marry in the spring of next year.
The announcement said they “became engaged in London earlier this month” and the queen had been told the news, and that Harry had “sought and received” the blessing of Markle’s parents.
The couple will live in London at Nottingham Cottage, Harry’s home within the grounds of Kensington Palace.
Rumors that an announcement was imminent have surfaced repeatedly in the media for several days.
Reports this weekend said they had planned to announce their engagement on Thursday last week but got “spooked.”
Speculation intensified after it was revealed that Meghan had relocated to London and was enjoying personal protection from the British police.
According to some reports, Markle has also begun the process of relocating her dogs.
The 36-year-old was photographed shopping on Kings Road, Chelsea, last week.
The American actress was spotted with official police bodyguards from the Metropolitan Police’s Protection Command Tuesday, which also suggested that the couple were indeed engaged.
The Sunday Express writer Camilla Tominey, who first broke the news of Harry’s relationship with Meghan, reported a female close protection officer is understood to be shadowing Kate’s bodyguard in preparation for becoming Meghan’s personal protection officer.
The marriage will break significant new ground for the royals.
Markle is a divorcée. She is 36 and Harry is 33. But it is the fact that she identifies as mixed race (she is the daughter of a white father and an African-American mother) that will mark the most notable step forward for the hitherto all-white British royal family.
A statement was issued on her parents’ behalf by Harry’s office at Kensington Palace.
In a revealing article written for Elle magazine in 2015, Markle spoke of her slave ancestry.
“You create the identity you want for yourself, just as my ancestors did when they were given their freedom."
Meghan has described herself as “a strong, confident, mixed-race woman.”
An announcement has been eagerly expected ever since Markle gave an interview to Vanity Fair magazine in the summer in which she publicly professed her love for Harry and hinted that a time would come when they would go more public with their story.
In the most revealing section of the interview, Markle said: “We’re a couple. We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.”
Shortly after the interview appeared, Markle, 36, and Harry, 33, appeared together in public for the first time at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
In a series of tweets, Kensington Palace announced that the couple will appear for a photo call this afternoon and participate in a broadcast interview this evening in the U.K.
The happy couple were congratulated by William and Kate who said: “We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together.”
A spokesman for the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh said they were “delighted for the couple and wish them every happiness.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I would like to offer my very warmest congratulations to HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle upon their engagement. This is a time of huge celebration for two people in love and, on behalf of myself, the Government and the country, I wish them great happiness for the future."
It is expected that the Queen will grant Harry a dukedom on the occasion of his marriage and Meghan will become a duchess. The dukedom in question must be vacant, and the most likely candidate is the dukedom of Sussex, which has not been filled since 1843. Meghan's actual first name is Rachel (Meghan is her second name) so Markle could be known as Her Royal Highness Rachel Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
She would also technically be Princess Henry.
The couple are expected to continue living in their present London accommodation.