American Culture

A royal wedding

So, like two billion other people around the world, we’re still watching this on television. Imagine. Two billion people. That’s like, what, nearly one third of the world’s population? We have some Republican—i.e., anti-Royal—friends who are probably wondering what the appeal of this is. This is an outdated institution in this day and age, right? Apparently not. Anything that can attract two billion people to stay glued to their televisions is worth comment, and, like the institution or not, commands some degree of respect, if only for the spectacle.

It’s a commonwealth thing, to some extent. The commonwealth, after all, includes about one-third of the global population, and it seems to be well represented, not only at the wedding itself, but in the crowds outside. There are visitors (as well as locals) lining the Mall and the other routes the wedding couple will take, separately or together, and they’re from some of the obvious places—Canada in particular, but lots of other places.

And it’s the spectacle, too. This is a big deal. William is, after all, the heir to the throne, once-removed, and Kate is going to be queen at some point, so the Royal pomp that goes with any such occasion is out in full force. This is a royal event, not a state one, and certainly not a political one, although it’s taken on its share of political controversy (largely manufactured, but still). So we’ve had the hoo-hah over the fact that Margaret Thatcher and John Major were invited, but Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were not. And we just had Simon Schama being interviewed, in his usual blowhard mode, saying that this was a mistake. Well, no, and who cares? This will pass. (Side note to Tony Blair—the next time you write an autobiography, it’s probably a good idea to not include what you thought Prince William’s thoughts were. Another good point about Will—apparently he can’t stand Tony Blair either.) Thatcher, who, like Major, was invited as a member of The Order of the Garter, declined for reasons of health (advancing Alzheimer’s). Major is there, though, as are members of the current government. And the usual gaggle of royals, with much breathless commentary on hats, and fascinators, and dresses, and the endless guessing on the wedding dress.

Yes, the dress, which no one has yet seen, and we don’t even know who the designer is yet, and this seems to occupy an endless amount of discussion time among presenters. Who knew this was as important as it apparently is?

William in his uniform just pulled out of Clarence House, accompanied by his Best Man, Harry. They look pretty snappy in their military uniforms. William, it should be mentioned, is still serving with the Air Rescue unit of the Royal Air Force, with another couple of years to go, and the happy couple are returning to Anglesey, in North Wales, for the duration of his service.

It’s difficult to look at either Will or Harry and not see Diana in them. And, of course, Diana is the great presence hanging over this entire affair. The contrast between this wedding and that of Charles and Diana couldn’t be greater. Partly it’s just the distance in time—thirty years or so, and all the aspects of society that have changed in that period. The past is a foreign country, as they say. But in this wedding, and how it’s been managed by the royal family, and in the persons of Will and Harry, one can actually see how powerfully Diana actually changed the monarchy in Britain. And what a good mother she actually was, keeping the kids away from the press as much as possible so that they wouldn’t be forced to endure what she had endured. And she turned out two pretty good kids, who respect the tradition they were born into, but also treat it as it deserves—as a responsibility, but one to be approached in a spirit of service, not duty. But we also have William marrying someone with no connection to royalty whatsoever—a commoner, as we’re constantly told. And not only that—Will and Kate have been living together the past several years up there in Wales, something unthinkable back in the day of Charles and Diana.

So what will they do? Well, as the Royal family has before them, especially Elizabeth (who is now 85!), and Charles, and particularly Anne, service to the nation. The queen is the Head of State, which Charles will become with Elizabeth’s passing, and which Will will become at some point. And whatever one’s views on the monarchy, one can’t deny that these people take it seriously. I’m reminded of the great essay by Paul Fussell reviewing The Boy Scout Handbook decades ago, in which he remarks that scouting is one of the last vestiges of the notion of service to others that still manages to have society’s approval. I suspect people feel that way about the royal family as well. Yes, it’s an outdated institution, but it knows its role, and takes it seriously.

Kate just got into her car, in her gown, followed by her Dad, who is being a good sport, patiently folding the train on his lap.

And now they’ve arrived at Westminster Abbey, out of the car, and it’s a very pretty dress, I have to say. Nice train, too. Lots of lace.

And the flower girls are adorable.

Still, you have to wonder why we care. Well, partly the spectacle, tinged with a bit of envy. Who wouldn’t want to live like British royalty? Minor royalty, probably—out of the public eye. And, let’s face, it, no one does royalty like the British. There are kings and queens and princes and princesses all over Europe, but this is the one we seem to care about. I still remember being at a Who concert in 1970 at Wolf Trap. I was stationed at Ft. Meade at the time, and we used to head out there for concerts frequently. 1970 was definitely not a good year in America—it was the second year of Nixon’s increasingly divisive presidency, we had had Kent State, and it looked like the country was falling apart. In fact, it was. And Pete Townshend, in the middle of the show, turned to the audience and said, “Don’t you wish you had a queen?” And the crowd roared.

The British have, and seem mostly comfortable with, what America denies it has—a history. And one of the joys of living here is discovering that history, and the fact that the present is inextricably tied up with the past, and the past is actually thousands of years long. A lesson the British by and large take to heart, but which Americans still have to learn. Perhaps part of the worldwide fascination with this event, with all its pomp and circumstance, actually reflects a desire to stay connected with the past that the institutions of America don’t easily lend themselves to. Fussell was right about this when he commented, in another essay, that American has been spared the embarrassment of titles, thus avoiding the prospect of Sir Caspar Weinberger, or Lord Richard Cheney. But that doesn’t mean that the need to such a historical connection is easily filled. Will and Kate are wildly popular in America, as was Diana before them.

And they are now married. That was quick. For a second there it looked as if the ring wasn’t going to go on Kate’s finger, but it did. So that’s that. Just lots of singing and talking now—actually, for another 45 minutes or so.

So off to the Mall to see what we can see!

Update: So we’re back , and it was great. We took the tube down to Charing Cross, but the crush to get into Trafalgar Square was pretty severe, so we ambled down to the Embankment, then wandered over to Westminster where the service was, and the Abbey was still closed, because they were still removing guests, apparently. If it took three hours to fill the Abbey, it clearly took that long to empty it as well. There were people everywhere–the BBC is saying one million in central London alone. Then over to Buckingham Palace, where the festivities were over, but everyone was still milling about having a fine old time. It’s turned into a lovely day, in spite of fears all week of rainstorms, and the entire city–country, in fact–is having a grand old party. Which was clearly the idea all along.

Mrs W didn’t care for the dress–too 1940s, apparently. Can’t please everyone.

And Mrs W’s photos of our sojourn around London today can be found on Facebook here.

4 replies »

  1. The only thing about this I followed, if in fact “followed” is the right word, was that Kate had to come up with a family coat of arms before the wedding. NPR talked about it yesterday a little, and her’s has lots of acorns since she grew up in an area with lots of oak trees. Oh, and a chevron to stand for a local mountain too. And then the coats of arms are combined, his on one side and her’s on the other.

    Apparently you could have a dinosaur on your coat of arms if you wanted to – very little is Not Allowed. My wife would probably prefer a trilobite or ammonite to a dinosaur, maybe a volcano, while I’d probably go with something more along the lines of a LEGO and some electrical engineering symbols.

    Heraldry can be neat sometimes. 🙂

  2. I’d go with early mammals–mammoths, and a giant sloth. Maybe a sabre-tooth tiger too. Definitely good information to know.

    Kate also did a whole slew of research on British flowers, apparently, particularly wildflowers, for the wedding, and the bouquet had flowers from every British county. And something called a “Sweet William.” Nice touch.

  3. a) Monarchy appeals to the human condition – that is the appeal of the British RF, because they now epitomize what people need in a Royal Family.

    b) Prince Charles is those “boys’ (they are both men at this point)” father. He was there, too. He & Diana *agreed* on *everything* about raising them, & she never had a bad word to say about him as a father. I only mention this because I am sick & tired of hearing about how a woman who died when they were still very young, managed to “raise them so well.” Yes, she did a good job when she was alive (rest her soul) – but the job was *shared*, & *finished* by someone else, who has been forgotten in the rush to beatify her. Let’s be fair, shall we??