North Carolina’s Royal Wedding

Fay Mitchell

As the eyes of the world will be on the May 19 Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it seems a good time for a comparison with what was considered North Carolina’s Royal Wedding. The August 24, 1901, wedding of Mary Lily Kenan to multimillionaire Henry M. Flagler was held in the small town of Kenansville, in Duplin County, at Liberty Hall, home of the bride’s uncle, Thomas Kenan.

Both couples have the influence of friends to thank for meeting. Mary met Henry in Wilmington, N.C., through a mutual friend, Pembroke Jones. Harry met Meghan in London through a mutual friend, Violet von Westhenholz, Mary was a socialite and the daughter of William Rand Kenan, a wealthy merchant and port collector, and from a long-established Southern family. She was a buxom beauty who attended Peace College and majored in voice and music. Meghan was born and raised in Los Angeles, the daughter of Emmy-winning lighting director Thomas Markle Sr., and social worker/yoga instructor Doria Ragland. Her parents divorced when she was age six. Markle was an actress in the TV series Suits and in several films. She attended Northwestern University and graduated with a double major in theater and international studies.

Unlike the Royal Wedding, with about 600 invited guests, only 27 guests could crowd into the parlor of Liberty Hall, this in days before electricity and air conditioning. The Royal Wedding will be in St. George’s Chapel, which happens to be on the palace grounds. In addition to the wedding guests, more than 2,600 guests have been invited to view the couple on the palace grounds, and 200 of them are representatives of Prince Harry’s charities. Among those speaking will be the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, who began his ministry in Winston-Salem. No figures from world politics have been invited.

Then there’s the age difference. Meghan is 36, Prince Harry, 33. They met in July 2016 on a blind date. When Mary met Henry, she was 23, he was 61…and married. His wife later was institutionalized as insane and they were divorced. Ten days after the divorce was final, Mary and Henry were wed when she was 34 and he 72, some 11 years after they met. Henry had also been married even before that, but his first wife died of tuberculosis. Prince Harry has never wed, but Meghan Markle was married for two years to actor and producer Trevor Engelson. They divorced in 2013.

The Royal Wedding will start at noon in London, 7 a.m. EDT. After the ceremony, Prince Harry and Meghan will take a short ride around London streets, attend an afternoon reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth, and later a private reception hosted by Prince Charles at Frogmore House. After the Kenan-Flagler wedding, the couple traveled from Kenansville to New York aboard Henry’s private train. A cofounder of Standard Oil and railroad magnate, Henry was considered one of the richest men in the country. The New York wedding reception included the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and New York’s society class.  

Prince Harry and Meaghan initially will live in Harry’s current abode, Nottingham Cottage, on the grounds of Kensington Palace -- where Prince William and his family reside. The two-bedroom cottage formerly served as housing for servants, but has been renovated for senior family members. As a wedding gift to Mary, Henry built Whitehall, a 26-bedroom palace in Palm Springs, Fla., which was compared to the Taj Mahal. The couple was happily married for 12 years, until Henry suffered a fall down a marble staircase and subsequently died at age 84. Mary is believed to have inherited between $60-$100 million upon his death. She took interest in his many business affairs and charities. She remarried an old friend some years later. One hopes the Prince Harry and Meaghan fairy tale will have a longer happy ending.