The Royal Wedding: The tradition continues
By Daniel M. Ryan
Prince William is now married. Kate Middleton is now Her Royal Highness Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. As advertised, the wedding was relatively austere. As expected, it's proven to be a huge spectacular. In Canada, where I live, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation started the telecast at 2 AM: four hours before HRH Catherine arrived at Westminster Abbey as Miss Middleton. It was still going strong after the wedding party and guests arrived at Buckingham Palace six hours later. Needless to say, the hundreds of thousands of Royal watchers waiting outside the Abbey turned London into a party town for the occasion.
And, of course, the American networks joined in. For that, you can thank the late Princess Diana. Her wedding was simulcast by all three American networks in 1981, but it only garnered 17 million viewers. Her funeral was watched by 33 million. By any measure, leaving aside the tragic nature of the event, it was a ratings spectacular. No wonder why all major networks jumped on board for this event, the wedding of Diana's eldest and surviving son to his commoner bride. There was even a TV movie aired last Friday night about William and Kate.
Normally, the Royal Wedding is viewed as a giant publicity stunt and gauged as a magnet for tourism dollars. I'm sure you've heard the maxim that there's no-one like the Brits when it comes to pomp. It means, there's no-one like the Brits to make pomp a popular attraction. One of the minor joys of visiting London is to see the Grenadier Guards in front of Buckingham Palace: letting the kids try to tease the guards – trained to stand stock-still – into reacting. In miniature, that's good old British pomp.
There is the tourist component, but the Royal Wedding works on different levels too. In a country with a long-standing monarchy, it's expected to set a standard. The relative austerity of the wedding was an acknowledgement of the U.K.'s hard times. It's also indicative of the times in a different way. Back in the olden days, including World War 2, Royal events were opulent when times were tough. Back then, ordinary people appreciated being carried away by the sight of opulence. Not just in the U.K., but in the United States too. How many Great Depression movies featured rich characters and luxurious setting? How many of them, like Mr. Deeds, were portrayed as decent at heart?
Times, however, change. Instead of needing opulence as a spectacular, ordinary Brits prefer the Royals to empathize with them. Hence, the Austerity Wedding.
But there's more than future rulers bonding to their subjects. It's an open secret that William and Kate lived together before they were married. Although Anglicanism is theoretically more flexible with respect to marriage than Roman Catholicism, there's a real streak of religious conservatism in the higher strata. The Anglican faith allowed Prince Charles and Prince Andrew to divorce, but they doing so was still a major blow to Anglican proprieties. As Royals, they were expected to hold themselves voluntarily to a higher standard.
Those proprieties still exist: witness the talk about William and Kate's prior living arrangements. It's Roman Catholicism, not Anglicanism, which condemns fornication as a major sin. Anglicanism does treat fornication as sin, but officially it's less condemnatory than Roman Catholicism is. And yet, some conservative Anglicans were scandalized by the living arrangements.
Hence, the sermon stressing the responsibilities of marriage. Its form reveals the more relaxed attitude Britons have towards sin: instead of condemning sinners as hypocrites, Britons are wont to see them as sheep straying from the fold. Granted that this attitude is less rigorous than American Protestantism; admittedly, it does flow from monarchy. If you're stuck with a Sovereign, it makes more sense to see indiscretions as lapses rather than as character failures. The same sense applies to the Royals and the nobility in general, except when certain lines are crossed. That necessity, plus the Royals' amenability to modifying tradition to the times, makes for a more relaxed society where self-righteousness is more effectively squelched. It also makes forgiveness easier.
Not only did the sermon stress the duties of marriage, including the duty of shucking off self-absorption, but it also held up the ideal of the companionate marriage. Although sometimes dull, companionate marriages tend to be built on rock. Marriages between the good girl and the bad boy, or the reverse, tend to degenerate into non-companionate marriages that are harder to be faithful to and tend to not last as long. Studies have shown that Solid John and Reliable Nellie are at a disadvantage in the dating game. The expectation that Prince William be like Solid John and HRH Catherine be like Reliable Nellie provides a necessary status boost for people who would otherwise be taken for granted. Both John and Nellie are more fit for companionate marriage than are Bad Boy Bart and Wild Grrl Maddie.
The tradition continues. One of the duties of high-status individuals, particularly those born to the purple, is status-lending. Thankfully, status-lending crosses borders and knows not the difference between political structures. There are many Solid Johns and Reliable Nellies that can draw strength from the Royal Wedding without the obligation to be William and Catherine's future subjects. The Royals doing their duty to God made it possible for their status lending to transcend nations and even political systems.