Saturday, April 30, 2011

love alone

In the countless hours of media coverage devoted to the royal wedding of William and Kate, you would think that absolutely everything has been commented upon: the historic tradition, the dress, the tiara, the ceremony, the simplicity, the grandeur, the remarkable appearance of trees in Westminster Abbey, the adoring crowds and, of course, the outlandish hats.

Oddly, though, I heard almost no references in all those hours of coverage to what is, to me, the most remarkable aspect of this remarkable marriage: the obvious, radiant love between Prince William and his Kate.

British kings, queens, and those in direct line to the throne have traditionally been denied that which we common folk have long taken for granted: the right to marry for love. From the dawn of the nobility, marriage was a strategic political and business arrangement. Noble -- and especially royal -- marriages have been carefully calculated to amass land and wealth, gain control of strategic military positions, and forge political and military alliances. Love never entered the picture.

Predecessors of William's who dared to fall in love paid high prices for following the desires of their hearts. Perhaps the most famous and romantic example is King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. His decision not only shook the British monarchy, but shifted the line of succession to Queen Elizabeth's father and his descendants, including William.

Because Edward made a clear choice to follow his heart, though, he is a far less tragic example of the cost of royal love than is William's own father, Charles. Unlike Edward, Charles chose not to choose. Rather than choose to be king OR to claim Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman he truly loved, Charles betrayed both his aspirations and his heart by marrying Lady Diana, keeping Camilla as his mistress, and hoping no one would notice as he ascended to the throne.

Medieval heirs to the throne could get away with such shenanigans. A prince raised in the modern media glare cannot. Inevitably, the arrangement came to light, but the damage had already been done. Charles' callous conduct not only destroyed Diana, who made the fatal mistake of loving the man she thought loved her, but severely damaged the standing of his family and, in all likelihood, scuttled his own chances of ever becoming king.

Fortunately, the two young men born of that ill-fated marriage are proving to be its saving grace. William, as the eldest, carries the heaviest burden. While Harry, the spare, can be unabashedly playful, William the heir must temper his bright spirit with a certain gravitas. That need, and the painful example of his parents, seems to have forged a young man of extraordinary strength and character. He gives the impression of a person who is fully cognizant of his responsibilities, yet determined to remain true to himself and his principles.

I can only imagine the conversations in the palace when Wills' affections for Kate became clear. A future king? Marry a commoner? What I cannot imagine is that the Windsors, with their long and storied commitment to tradition and the stiff upper lip, graciously accepted the prospect of being the first royals in British history to welcome a commoner into their ranks.

Surely the young prince encountered resistance; at the very least, a comment or two from his father or grandparents that he should cast his eye elsewhere. In such a storied family, such comments can be as chilling to a budding romance as threats of disinheritance are in more everyday clans. Many a young man would have succumbed to the pressure, as Charles did.

William, however, appears to be made of sterner stuff. If he encountered resistance, he stood his ground. That he could remain true to his heart and the woman he loves, despite the fact that doing so required a massive break with centuries of tradition, speaks to a formidable strength of character. It also, perhaps, tells us something about the Windsors as a family. In the wake of Diana's death and out of love for her sons, it appears they have at last learned how to bend to the inevitable.

Yes, the gown and the carriage and the ceremony were beautiful. But to me, the loveliest part of yesterday's wedding is that a commoner succeeded where countless generations of nobles had failed. Kate may not have brought castles, jewels, armies or political power to the marriage. But she gave the heir apparent to the British throne and all who follow him something far more precious: the chance, at long last, to marry for love alone without sacrificing the throne.

8 comments:

  1. Very nicely said, McKenna! Yes, one of the best parts of the day was that they both seemed to enjoy it so much. Even when the ring stuck, they both smothered smiles. With my memory refreshed by the zillion repetitions of the Charles/Diana wedding this last week, what struck me was how much like a frightened child Diana looked so often. (And I remember liking her dress at the time -- now it reminded me of a great cream puff.) But Kate and William seemed plainly to be having a wonderful time together!

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  2. You are so right. I had tears in my eyes because Diana was not there, until I heard the comment that the moment Kate stepped into the Abbey the sun graced the church. I truly feel it was Diana putting her grace and approval on the marriage between her eldest son and Kate.

    I lost my daughter many years ago to cancer and I know there have been times when she's shown me her approval this way. It warmed my heart and I didn't cry anymore because Diana was at her son's wedding.

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  3. Wasn't that an amazing moment, Paisley? I had the exact same thought.

    I'm so sorry that you lost your daughter, but glad that you still feel her presence in your life. I often have the same sense about my grandmother. Even though I never met her, I know she is often with me.

    Love your icon, by the way. It's perfect!

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  4. Oh McKenna! What a fabulous commentary on the Royal connumdrum of marrying for Love or for Crown. In all the 'political correctness' we find ourselve in today, it felt so refreshing to read your honest but blunt review of Prince Charles' fated decision. You nailed it.

    And Paisley, wow. In all the news coverage, it seems everyone missed the point of Diana bringing the sunshine and her blessing, except you. I'm sorry for the loss of your daughter. Only one who's lost one so close to her heart could have this perspective. Thanks for sharing, and Hugs.

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  5. Welcome Jess, Jaye and "Mom" (though not mine, LOL). So glad you popped by to add to the conversation. Hope you'll come back regularly!

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  6. McKenna, what a wonderful post ! And so true. We often think of Diana as the tragic figure, and oh how she was. But I think Charles' inability to stand up for what he truly wanted (Camilla and love) is tragic as well. I like to think that outbid that tragedy came good, namely 2 beautiful children who it seems have been able to make people see what has been a truth all along- without love, life is not complete.

    The wedding was absolutely beautiful and you are right, the most beautiful part was seeing how calm and content Kate/Katherine looked. I pray for the best for them.

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