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Times have changed even though plenty of British royal family traditions remain. In 1936, King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to marry an American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. At the time, no one would have accepted their king being married to her, so he had to choose between love and the throne.

Many comparisons have been made between Edward and Wallis plus Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex since she too is an American divorcée. Why was Harry allowed to marry someone who was divorced? And more importantly, would the future king Prince William have been granted the same privilege?

Prince William and Kate Middleton
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge | Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth had to approve Prince William’s marriage

One of the queen’s many important duties includes approving royal marriages for certain family members. Prior to the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013, Her Majesty had to bestow her blessing upon every single royal marriage or else it couldn’t happen. But now those rules have relaxed and she only needs to approve engagements for the first six royals in the line of succession.

Either way, that means she had to approve both Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s choices for wives. The question of whether these two men could marry divorced women whose husbands were still living all came down to Queen Elizabeth’s thoughts on the matter.

Prince William and Queen Elizabeth
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Queen Elizabeth II | Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth’s opinions on divorce have changed thanks to Prince Charles

There’s little question that the queen still despises divorce and scandals in general. But when it comes to approving marriages for her family members, the queen has loosened up on the rules significantly thanks in part to Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s disastrous union.

In short, the Prince of Wales was in love with a woman who wasn’t considered “suitable” for him to marry. Camilla Shand wasn’t a virgin and didn’t have the proper lineage for the future king, therefore the royal family convinced Charles to marry a woman he barely knew. We all know how that turned out.

Now Charles, with the queen’s blessing, is married to Camilla even though he’s destined for the throne. It’s all proof that she’s changed her standards considerably. These days, there’s much less stigma around being divorced, which helped inform the queen’s ultimate decision to support Charles and Camilla’s relationship.

British royal family
British royal family | Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

There’s a good chance Queen Elizabeth would have allowed Prince William to marry a divorcée

It’s true that Her Majesty was probably less concerned about approving Prince Harry’s choice of bride since he’s unlikely to ever see the throne. But the fact that she allowed the Duke of Sussex to marry a commoner who was also divorced proves that she may have reluctantly allowed William to do the same if he was adamant about it.

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s marriage made history because she was the first commoner to marry into the royal family in 450 years. The queen approving her as a suitable spouse for a future reigning monarch was groundbreaking enough. If she had had an ex-husband, it would have truly proven the queen’s standards have evolved over time.

Ultimately, no one knows what Queen Elizabeth would have said if Kate had been a divorcée. But she’s probably grateful William didn’t present her with that particular challenge.