A Newcastle vicar contacted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office over Meghan Markle’s claims that she and Prince Harry married in secret in their garden days before the public wedding and was told “no wedding took place”.
In the interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired in the early hours of Monday morning, the Duchess of Sussex said, “You know, three days before our wedding, we got married. No one knows that.”
Later on in the show Harry said it had been just them and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby present, reports the ChronicleLive.
Rev Mark Edwards, who was flooded with private wedding requests during the Covid lockdown, contacted the Archbishop’s office after the claims to “get some clarity” on their policy.
But the vicar at St Matthew’s Church, in Dinnington, and St Cuthbert’s Church, in Brunswick, said he was told by a Lambeth Palace staff member that, “Justin does not do private weddings. Meghan is an American, she does not understand.”
Rev Edwards said the person he spoke to then told him: “Justin had a private conversation with the couple in the garden about the wedding, but I can assure you, no wedding took place until the televised national event.”
Vicars have cast doubt on Meghan’s claims since the interview, as rules on Church of England weddings require at least two witnesses, and the public must have ‘unrestricted access’ to the ceremony so objections can be lodged.
Furthermore, a couple who are already married cannot do so again, unless something was wrong with the first marriage.
Experts have said any ceremony that took place is unlikely to have been legally binding.
Rev Tiffer Robinson, a Church of England vicar in Suffolk, wrote on Twitter: “She’s entitled to consider it her marriage if she wants to. Americans are much less concerned with the specifics of marriage law than English clergy.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has so far said he will not comment on Meghan’s comments as it is a private matter.
But Rev Edwards said it was “in the public interest for the leader of the church to put the record straight”.
He told ChronicleLive: “It puts us priests in a difficult position on what constitutes a Church of England wedding.
“Should there be witnesses and licensing and legality or is it now just an ad hoc arrangement with members of clergy? Can we now do private weddings without witnesses in our back gardens?
“Justin saying he refuses to comment is not helpful to the rest of us clergy and our own policies and practices.
“I have had people ask me during lockdown if they could have a private wedding, and I have had to explain that would not be a legal wedding and not according to canon law.
“I think we need a clarifying statement – we need to know what our policies and procedures are. It can’t appear to be one rule for one and another rule for another.”
“We called the Archbishop and we just said, ‘Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world but we want our union between us’,” she said.
The couple revealed they have a framed photo of the ceremony in the bedroom of their Montecito mansion.
“So, like, the vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our back yard with the Archbishop of Canterbury,” Meghan said.
Meghan said she felt like the “spectacle”, attended by Oprah and other high-profile figures, “wasn’t our day”.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said they had been unable to establish who Rev Edwards spoke to, and could not verify or comment on the remarks.
They said a marriage must be solemnized by a member of the clergy in a church, or in a place specified in a special licence (e.g. a cathedral, a chapel, a hospital), in the presence of two witnesses.