Saturday, April 30, 2011
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.