Come May 19, when Meghan Markle walks down the aisle of St. George's Chapel to officially join the royal family, there will be very few people able to relate to the experiences being had by the one-time American actress. But Lady Julie Montagu, former cast member of Ladies of London, author, yoga influencer, and future Countess of Sandwich, might be able to offer a little perspective on what Harry's bride-to-be is feeling.
Born in Sugar Grove, Illinois, a small town west of Chicago with just under 8,000 people, Montagu had, as she describes it, a "wonderfully normal American childhood." But in her 20s, she hopped the pond to London for a job, eventually meeting and marrying Lord Luke Montagu, heir to the Earl of Sandwich.
Introduced to her future husband by mutual friends, Montagu didn't know he had a title until she saw "Viscount" on his credit card. She even mispronounced the word when she asked him about it. (For the record, it's Vie-rhymes with Pie-Count.) It was hardly the last time she would be unfamiliar with the aristocratic world.
"Outside the royal family, I didn’t know that all these other titles still existed. I didn’t know that the Earl of Sandwich still existed," she tells T&C.
The biggest hurdle she had to clear when she joined the British aristocracy was all the unfamiliar history. "People don’t realize that when you marry into a British aristocratic family, you have to really know the history and the paintings and the furniture and what it dates back to," Montagu tells me over the phone. "[Meghan] will have to know the House of Windsor forward and backward, just like I’ve had to learn and am still learning the House of Montagu."
The second most surprising element? Learning the formalities.
"The amounts of knives and forks and cups, and how everything needs to be lined up-literally, I’ve never experienced it even at a high-society dinner party in New York," she says. Titles-and the proper way to use them-were another vexing minefield. "It was a long while before I really felt comfortable in addressing people and making sure that I got their titles the right way."
ontagu is certain that Prince Harry will help Markle to learn the ropes, and that she's already well on her way. But even after Markle has mastered the etiquette and the history lessons, there will still be those who treat her as an outsider because of where she comes from.
"I suspect she will face some [criticism]. It’s like anything in life. We are outsiders coming in and some people don’t like outsiders. I have heard through the various English aristocracy grape vines that I’m the Scarlet Letter 'A,' the American with it emblazoned on my forehead,” Montagu tells me.
"There is still this view, and it's a minority view, that members of the aristocracy should be marrying other English roses."