Editor’s Note: Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Spring 2019 was already going to be a historic moment in British history, as the UK cuts loose from the European Union.
But, after news from Kensington Palace on Monday, there will be another – less consequential, yet far more symbolic – landmark for the UK’s history books.
All being well, the first American – well, half-American – in the close line of succession to the British throne will be born.
Kensington Palace announced that Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who have just embarked on a tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand, are expecting their first child in April next year.
The new prince or princess will not only have that American heritage, but will also be the first biracial baby in line to the British throne.
He or she will be Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandchild and seventh in the line of succession, after father Harry. (There are some distant royals of American descent, but none near the top 40).
Any new baby is a symbol of hope for the future of any family. But these expectations will be made all the heavier for the newest member of the royal family – particularly at a time of uncertainty and upheaval in the UK. Brexit is due to happen on March 29, 2019; the royal birth could come weeks – or even days – later.
Whether planned or not, the British royals have a knack of timing major events like weddings and births when the national mood is, perhaps, in need of a little lift.
When William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, married in 2011, the government was embarking on a period of harsh spending cuts under its financial austerity program.
In 1947, the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) married the Duke of Edinburgh, a moment of national joy at a time when the immediate euphoria after the war had faded to the gloom of persistent rationing and financial hardship.
Today’s younger generation of royals, of which William and Catherine are at the head, haven’t stopped having weddings, births and christenings since the turbulence of Brexit began two years ago, even though this is surely a coincidence due to several young royals reaching their 30s.
A more realistic, hard-headed view would be that these royal events do little for the people who are most affected by cuts to public services or major changes like Brexit.
Yet the wedding of Harry and Meghan last May did something else: her own proud heritage as a biracial woman and an American was a much-needed counterpoint to the climate of fear and hostility over immigration that has become magnified since the Brexit referendum..
The image of the bride’s mother, Doria Ragland, given equal status and prominence with the Queen in the official wedding photographs was a powerful one that the royal family hoped to convey: of diversity and progress in the most ancient of British institutions.
Eighty years ago, when Edward VIII abdicated so he could marry an American divorcée, the British public treated his bride with disdain.
Today, the British public has embraced another American, Meghan, as one of its own and with a starstruck warmth: compare the crowds for her wedding to Prince Harry to the modest turnout for his cousin Eugenie and her groom Jack Brooksbank at the same venue in Windsor last Friday.
Indeed, at that same wedding, there was as much a flurry of excitement for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) as there was for the bride herself.
It is that same excitement that has greeted the announcement of her pregnancy. Anyone would want to wish the couple well, and hope that Meghan has a safe and health pregnancy and birth. But the new baby will be carrying a lot of hope and expectation on his or her shoulders.
And it will be the first American to ever get so close to the British throne.