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How are royal marriages evolving in the 21st century?

| Monday, October 2, 2023

Often when we think about royal marriages, we have a certain stereotype in our head.

The stereotype tends to be modeled after the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer — a traditional affair with a lavish ceremony watched by millions. It’s a conventional alliance that (at least, on the surface) seemed like a perfect fit for such a historic and traditional institution like the British royal family. 

However, in recent years, the image of a royal family has been changing. As royal families enter the modern age, older traditions and conventional ideals of a royal marital arrangement are being left behind.

The newest example is the engagement between the Norwegian princess Märtha Louise and Hollywood self-professed spiritual guru Durek Verrett; this is certainly not your typical royal duo.

During their tour of Norway in 2019, they made waves in Norwegian culture due to their unconventional beliefs. Märtha Louise claimed she can talk with angels. Likewise, Verrett claims he can communicate with spirits. He also claims he practices ancient medicine and has a medallion to dispel negative energy.

Verrett’s alternative beliefs have drawn controversy to his name. For instance, his book ”Spirit Hacking” suggests cancer is a choice. He sells a $222 ”Spirit Optimizer” medallion which ”will assist you into being your best version of your higher self” on his website. The shaman also claimed that he had come back from the dead and recovered from a month-long coma by ”burning” his soul. Alongside his commercial work, Verrett is a spiritual mentor to many public figures such as the actress and businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow. Verrett was also featured in an episode of a Netflix reality show called Bling Empire. 

Even given her fiance’s more extreme eccentricity, Louise stated ”I am probably the one in Norway who has received the most criticism of all.” Louise is no stranger to criticism from Norwegian media. She believes the paparazzi drove her ex-husband Ari Behn to suicide in 2019. 

It is no surprise Louise’s new relationship has been met with its fair share of criticism from fans of the royal family.

”The royal family is meant to be a unifying force,” historian Trond Noren Isaksen said. ”The problem is that Martha Louise and Durek Verrett are exactly the opposite: controversial and polarizing with suspicions of charlatanism.”

Despite public opinion, Louise’s father King Harald V said in a statement to the Associated Press the royal household was “delighted to welcome” Verrett into the family.

After a two-year engagement, King Harald V and Queen Sonja announced on Sept. 13 the unorthodox couple finally set a wedding date. Their wedding will take place on Aug. 24, 2024 at Hotel Union in the scenic Geiranger Fjord, rather than the royal family’s conventional Oslo Cathedral venue. 

Historic Hotels of America
A picture of historic Hotel Union in the Geiranger Fjord.

”The Geiranger Fjord is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and represents Norway’s rich culture and natural beauty,” the princess and bride-to-be posted on Instagram. ”We are incredibly happy to be able to celebrate our love in Geiranger’s beautiful surroundings.”

Märtha Louise has had an interesting career in the royal household.

In 1990, the Norwegian Constitution changed to allow the first-born child of the royal family, regardless of gender, to take precedence in the line of succession. Since this law was passed after Märtha Louise’s birth in 1971, her younger brother Crown Prince Haakon will succeed as King, even though she is the eldest child of King Harald V and has an ancestry tracking back to Queen Victoria. 

In November 2022, the Royal House of Norway announced Louise was ”stepping away” from her royal role to more freely pursue her interests and alternative beliefs without being affiliated with the crown. A statement on behalf of the Norwegian King and Queen reads ”the King and Queen wish to thank Princess Märtha Louise for the important work she has carried out in her official capacity for several decades. She has performed her duties with warmth, care and deep commitment.”

Despite officially stepping back from her royal duties, she retains her title and is included in family events. Her husband-to-be, however, will not gain a royal title when they are married. Märtha Louise and Verrett will not be ascending the throne any time in the future, but it is an interesting idea to pose what it would have been like to have had such an alternative couple inherit the Norwegian crown. 

Their marriage mirrors other unconventional royal marriages in recent years, most notoriously Prince Harry’s marriage to actress Megan Markle. These new, younger and unorthodox couples demonstrate how royal families in Europe are being challenged and changed. Perhaps the future of these traditional institutions might not be so traditional after all.

Lucy Carrier-Pilkington is an international exchange student from London, England. She is currently a junior studying history, political science and journalism. You can contact her at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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