Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Thoughts on Tomorrow's Big Nuptials

When Charles married Diana I was 11 years old and more than eager to wake up early and see the festivities.  I have always loved weddings and certainly one of that magnitude was an extremely exciting event for me.  This was like a fairytale - a real prince was marrying his new princess.  What could be more beautiful?

Or maybe not.  Being a member of royalty doesn't guarantee you a happy marriage in the real world.

Will I watch the wedding of William and Kate?  Chances are if I'm awake I will turn on the news and take a gander.  I'd like to see the procession (horses!) and her dress.  I don't have any intention of hanging on every word.

So many thoughts have gone through my head about this wedding, about why we care so much, and about the future of the monarchy that I really had to blog about it.  I have a few different topics on my brain.


Is this wedding a fairytale?  I keep hearing it referred to as such.  Let's stop for a minute and consider what a fairytale is.

In essence a fairytale is a made-up story that incorporates some kind of enchantment or mythical creature, often incorporating some kind of moral message.  Young girls favor stories of young women - some of whom are already princesses and some who are in poor and helpless - marrying princes. We have to remember there  are other types of fairy tales as well.  Some tell stories of revenge.  Some tell stories of abandonment (think of Hansel and Gretl).  Some are stories that end with disappointment and loss (like the original Little Mermaid).  Not every story is going to end with the phrase, "They lived happily ever after," but all too often it's what we expect.

Were Charles and Diana a fairytale?  In 1981 Charles was in this thirties and the Royal Family was looking for Charles to settle down respectably and continue the bloodline.  Diana was a good choice.  Although not of royal blood (I would guess royal spouses are harder to find these days if you don't want to keep inbreeding) she was of noble blood with plenty of royalty in her background.  She was a starry-eyed young virgin who was naive enough to believe Charles was marrying her for love alone.  She was the perfect spouse for Charles because she was so easily molded into the wife the royal family wanted her to be.  Her obvious sweetness made her the darling of the media and the masses.

There were no enchantments in that marriage, but certainly a few manipulations.  Diana never had the happily ever after she sought.  I suppose there was a moral to the story though.  She matured, came into her own, and demanded the life, the love, and the respect she deserved.  She learned a hard lesson in marrying Charles and I think the Royal Family learned a lesson as well. 

Are William and Kate a fairytale?  I don't know what enchantments might have been behind their courtship (I would assume none), but it seems far more conventional than your typical royal engagement.  They went to school together.  They dated for years.  They became engaged.  It bears more resemblance to the peasant way of doing things than it does to that of a romantic story or even of a typical royal betrothal. 

I suppose there are those who would argue that the fairytale lies in the fact that she is a commoner.  She is not only not royal, but she isn't even noble like Diana.  There is something ordinary about her. 

How ordinary is she really?  The press makes it sound as if she came from a very humble background.  Her parents own a party rental business - so commonplace.  However, her parents' business is a million-dollar business.  She is not poor by any means.  Remember she attended the same schools as William.  Her bloodlines might be unimpressive, but if she can afford to attend the same boarding school as royalty, she's not doing so badly.  If some girl from a council estate who had a very slim chance of ever rubbing shoulder with William suddenly met him and won his heart, I'd say it was a fairytale, since there would have to be some kind of magical intervention for that to take place. For William to marry Kate?  Pretty typical.

One thing does make for a nice story though.  I learned recently that Kate was badly bullied by a group of girls at school when she was in her early adolescence.  It was so bad she had to switch schools.  I'm sure most young women of her generation dreamed of marrying Williams, so she can really laugh at those bullies now. Go Kate!


Why are Americans so obsessed with the British monarchy? We fought a war in order to rid ourselves of that monarchy. When the Constitution was drafted, the authors wisely did away with inherited titles. Everyone has the same opportunities in America (in theory anyway). Your bloodlines are not as important as the work you do. These are some of the core values this country was founded on .

Still we love the monarchy.

As stated in the previous section, kings and queens and princes and princesses are the stuff of stories and legends. Americans have come to venerate royalty because it seems exciting and romantic and glamorous to us. Kings and queens really do exist in the flesh – today! Wow!

I once saw a magazine in a doctor’s office that was devoted to royal watching. It was quite a revelation to me to know that there are Americans out there who are so obsessed with the British royalty that they watch their every move. They don’t just care about Charles and William and Kate and Harry. They know every royal aunt, uncle and cousin for three generations. The magazine tells of their histories, their relations to the Queen, their life stories. We see them at various charitable and family functions, impeccably dressed and correct in every form of etiquette. Most of it is pretty boring, but the attention given to these people is impressive.

I’m someone who can’t stand tradition just for tradition’s sake. I believe the world needs regular shaking up. Despite this, I still can’t avoid feeling a sense of awe when seeing these people. They inhabit a world that is nothing like mine. They still live in a world where people dress for dinner and eat off china that might have also served Queen Victoria. They attend events that probably existed in medieval times. They can trace their ancestry back to the beginning of the last millennium. What do we have in the United States that even compares to this?

On my first visit to London I visited Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Of course at the Tower I had to see the crown jewels. Prior to entering the room that houses the crown jewels you go into a room where they show you a video of Elizabeth’s coronation. The ceremony consisted of her being presented with the crown, scepter, and orb that were the symbols of her position. Then I went into the display room and saw that crown, that orb, and that scepter. I imagined just how many kings and queens over the centuries had been presented with these same symbols. In Westminster Abbey I saw the coronation throne and again felt the stories of the centuries in its history.

I compared this to a presidential inauguration. The inaugural traditions are the same, but there is nothing passed on from president to president. I always imagined that they used the same Bible for the ceremony. I had believed that Obama swore on the same Bible was George Washington. I was a little surprised to find out that he swore on the same Bible as Lincoln, but no other president other than Lincoln had sworn on that Bible. There are no symbols of office passed on. We have the National Archives, which houses our most important documents like the Declaration of Independence (back to the idea that we threw off the monarchy) but nothing than be passed on from leader to leader.

The wedding of William and Kate also provides a certain fascination for Americans because our culture is so wedding-obsessed. I admit to being someone who loves weddings (and no that doesn’t make me any less of a feminist nor does mean I was a bridezilla at my own wedding) and so I do have an interest in seeing how this one comes off. In our culture we tend to associate weddings with romance and happily-ever-after, so this wedding is going to be seen as one of the most romantic gestures ever. Plus, it’s like an episode of Platinum Weddings on steroids. What will people do when tradition reigns supreme and money is no object? William and Kate have stated their wedding will not be quite as extravagant as Charles and Diana’s, but I’m sure it will be quite over-the-top by the standards of most normal American weddings.

It’s not important for me, but it could be fun to see. If I wake up early enough, I’ll watch it, but I’m not setting an alarm for 4 AM.

What next?

The British aren’t as interested in their monarchy as Americans are. They don’t care that much about this wedding. Like the American colonials, they’re sick of the Royal Family growing fat on their taxes. The British monarchy doesn’t really do much except act as official figureheads. I give them credit for being actively involved in the military. Leading your people into battle on the field is something American politicians don’t do. The Royal Family does do its traditional duty in military leadership – for what that’s worth. Queen Elizabeth worked as a mechanic during WWII. Beyond that, they really don’t serve much of a function. They preserve a tradition – and tradition doesn’t always have a place in an evolving society. They want to get rid of the world Americans crave.

The house of Windsor has seen more than its share of dysfunction in the last century. As it desperately tries to hold onto its power and prestige, the modern world interferes around it.

Nothing drove home that point more than the movie The Queen. I really saw how Queen Elizabeth is a woman caught between major family scandals.

At a family dinner in recently years the topic turned to Princess Diana and how if it weren’t for Wallis Simpson, she would still be alive. After all, if King Edward had not insisted on marrying her, the line of succession would have gone to him. The whole mess with Charles and Diana never would have happened. Of course if the line of succession had been different, Charles would not have had the same pressure to marry, or to marry a certain type of woman. Charles would likely have just been Camilla’s lover until she divorced and would have likely quietly married her at some point without anyone but serious royal-watchers knowing or caring. Diana would just be some random noblewoman that no one but her peers would really be aware of, although she might have gained fame as a philanthropist. I’m sure she would have married some rich businessman after spending enough years single to be old enough to have a more realistic grasp on marriage.

I think of the abdication of Edward VIII as ancient history, but he was Elizabeth’s uncle. He was alive when I was born and his wife lived long enough for me to be aware of who she was. His actions must have had a very strong influence on how Elizabeth has tried to handle the current scandals and affairs and marriages. In The Queen Elizabeth remarked that her father, unprepared to handle the stress of being king (reflected in The King’s Speech), died a premature death, placing her in a position of power before she felt ready.

I’m sure that in centuries past, none of this stuff would have shook the foundations of the Royal Family to the ground this way. Thanks to the nonstop news media and information-hungry royalty fans, the dirty laundry is aired in public in a way it never has been. Once upon a time kings and princes had women by the truckload and scores of mistresses. Now suspicions of a single infidelity set fingers wagging. The public seems so hungry to believe that royalty will engage in the true, faithful love of storybooks and romance novels. Tabloid reporters are hungry to catch them in the act. A king can’t just have a mistress, buy her an apartment or country house, and then quietly spend time at her place while the queen attends to palace matters. People hold him to a higher standard. Royalty has to marry for love and be faithful to that love.

The happy ending of William and Kate is yet to be written. They had a much more conventional courtship. Unless his father abdicates (and some say he will) he is not going to sit on the throne for a very long time, so there is little pressure for him to marry and produce another heir. He and Kate had a long courtship where they met the way most commoners meet – at school. They fell in love in college, moved on with their real lives, had their ups and downs, and decided they cared enough to make it permanent. It seems like a wise and mature way to go about it. Kate is likely painfully aware of what she’s in for thanks to the tragic story of her late mother-in-law. She made the choice to sign up for that life, so she must be determined to handle it. She has spent the past few years devoting her life to William.  Let's hope she can keep that up.

I wish them luck. Maybe the family will find some peace.

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