Do Royal Spouses Have To Be Anglicans?

The news of Prince Harry’s forthcoming nuptials led a reader to ask the following question:

I saw that Meghan Markle is going to be baptized and confirmed in the Church of England before she marries Prince Harry. Is that a legal requirement? Does everyone who marries into the Royal Family have to become an Anglican if they aren’t one already?

As the law stands now, members of the Royal Family are free to marry people of any faith or none at all. It wasn’t always this way, though. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Parliament took steps to keep Roman Catholics off the throne. With that goal in mind, the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Act of Settlement 1701 declared that only Protestants could inherit the crown,[1] and marriage to a Catholic would automatically remove a person from the line of succession (the marriage itself would be valid, however).

Despite this prohibition, members of the Royal Family occasionally married Catholics, though none of these individuals had any realistic chance of inheriting the crown. For example, Prince Michael of Kent was removed from the list of succession upon his marriage to the Catholic Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz, but he was fifteenth in line for the throne at the time (however, their children were raised in the Church of England, so they were never removed from the line of succession). Interestingly, the prohibition was only applied to people who were Catholics at the time of their marriage. Prince Michael’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Kent, converted to Catholicism many years after her marriage to the Duke of Kent, so he never lost his succession rights.

Since the coming into force of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, marriage to a Catholic no longer bars a person from inheriting the crown, and people who lost their rights of succession under the former prohibition have had them restored. However, the monarch must still be a Protestant due to their role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Prince Harry could still marry Meghan Markle even if she were never baptized and confirmed. While many Christian denominations insist that one or both parties to a marriage be baptized, the Church of England does not. Generally speaking, all heterosexual couples[2] have a legal right to marry in their local parish church, provided their marriage would comply with the relevant statutory provisions. It doesn’t matter if they are Anglicans or even Christians. That being said, Meghan Markle is marrying the brother of the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and courtiers and ecclesiastics probably figured it would be a bit awkward if she lacked any religious affiliation.

NOTES

[1] They did not have to be Anglicans, however. For example, George I was Lutheran.

[2] Despite the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, same-sex couples cannot marry in the Church of England.

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