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Fifty-eight Days and Counting

03-02-2011 by L. S. Carbonell

Prince William and fiancee Catherine Middleton

Shortly after Princess Diana died, People Magazine acknowledged that she was probably responsible for their success. Princess Diana on the cover elevated People out of the realm of glossy tabloid and into respectability. They probably feel that lightening just struck twice. In Catherine Middleton, they have a gorgeous young woman to grace their cover again…..and again and again and again……

This week’s cover claims that “William and Kate are bucking tradition…” One would think after all these years that People’s editorial staff would have caught on to the secret of the BritRoyals. They have a talent for making everything look like a thousand-year old tradition even though they only thought it up the day before yesterday. There are only two things in Great Britain that are carved in traditional stone, the Opening of Parliament, which has not changed one whit since the reign of William and Mary, and the coronation of a new monarch. When Charles was invested as Prince of Wales, the ceremony looked like it was straight out of the reign of Longshanks, but no Prince of Wales had ever been formally invested in that kind of ceremony. There is no traditional formula for a royal wedding. Every one of them is unique in some way. Queen Elizabeth’s wedding was one of the most austere, with the country still on wartime rationing and supplies for a banquet in short supply. Apparently, virgins were also in short supply after World War II. The Queen Mother was heard to comment that they had to find a supply of “maidens” to act as bridesmaids “if there are any left.”

Even marrying a commoner isn’t new. The peripheral Royals have been doing it for generations. It is unusual for a direct heir to the throne. You have to go back quite a way for the last one who didn’t marry someone with at least a “Lady” in front of her name. Diana’s father was the 8th Earl Spencer, a title that dated back to 1765. How Americans got the idea she was a commoner always mystified me. And the fact that Wills and Kate are not going in for a houseful of servants isn’t exactly new either. When they were first married, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip lived on the military base at Gibraltar. At the most, they had a a couple of servants, not a full regalia. Queen Elizabeth was quite a competent young woman, having driven ambulances during the war and knowing how to repair them. She was up in a tree, photographing African wildlife when she received word her father had died and she was Queen.

This marriage does break with one ancient tradition, however. Kate has not been made to endure the “virgin certification” that kept Charles from marrying Camilla Parker those many years ago. That tradition dates to a time when it was the only means of assuring that whatever child might be born to the Queen or Princess was actually the child of the King or Prince of Wales. It was a stupid idea in the 1970′s and it’s pointless today. William and Kate have been living together part-time for a couple of years already. The Royals have also given up on the month-long training time that Princess Diana spent with the Queen Mum. It’s a much more relaxed monarchy than it was thirty years ago, and hallelujah to that.

On Fiday, April 29, a few million people in America will set their alarm clocks for ridiculous times, 2:30 a.m. in California, 5:30 a.m. on the East Coast. If they are lucky, they have BBCAmerica on your cable lineup. No commercials.  In the east, we will try to catch part of the show as we get the kids off to school and get ready for work. We will forget that we fought two wars to rid ourselves of these Royals and drench ourselves in the pageantry, pomp and celebration across the pond. Heavens willing, we can spend the morning indulging in the fantasy and forget all the problems of the world. That’s what Royals are for, aren’t they?

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One Response to Fifty-eight Days and Counting

  1. Catherine Vergne

    March 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    “Even marrying a commoner isn’t new. . . It is unusual for a direct heir to the throne. You have to go back quite a way for the last one who didn’t marry someone with at least a “Lady” in front of her name. Diana’s father was the 8th Earl Spencer, a title that dated back to 1765. How Americans got the idea she was a commoner always mystified me.”

    Even though I am only an American, I have read enough about the British system to gather that there is a distinction between the legal categories of persons (the Sovereign, the peers of the realm, and the commoners) and the traditional social ranks (royalty, the titled nobility, the knights, the gentry, tradesmen and yeomen.) I have read that under some of the Stuart monarchs, wealthy tradesmen were quite often able to purchase peerage titles for themselves. Thus British society included the anomaly of noblemen who were no gentlemen. While they enjoyed the legal privileges and ceremonial trappings of the nobility, socially they were considered déclassé by the “true” aristocracy; even though they had noble titles, they and their descendants were regarded as upstarts and ridiculous even by mere cadets of Britain’s old nobility.
    Legally, the Sovereign is in a class unto himself or herself, and is the Fount of Honour, from whom all other honors flow. The second class is the peerage, members of whom were, until very recently, entitled to sit in the upper chamber of the British Parliament, the House of Lords. The third class was the commoners . . . everyone else. According to this system, the former Lady Diana Spencer was indeed a commoner, and would certainly have been eligible to stand for a seat in the House of Commons, as would her brother have been before his succession to his father’s earldom, at which point he would have been required to give up his seat in the House of Commons in exchange for his hereditary seat in the House of Lords.
    Thus, although as a peer’s daughter, the then Lady Diana Spencer was technically a commoner, she nevertheless enjoyed the very high social rank of a member of the nobility.
    From the early Middle Ages until the 20th century, with only rare exceptions, nearly all British sovereigns, as well as all their sons and daughters, married members of either British or Continental royalty. A notable exception was the then Albert duke of York, who married the youngest daughter of the earl of Strathmore. The marriage of a royal duke, second in line to the Throne after his brother the Prince of Wales, with a mere earl’s daughter, raised eyebrows in some British circles in the 1920s. However, it was believed that the then Prince of Wales would eventually marry some suitable member of the Continental royalty and produce heirs.