Ideas@TheCentre

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A ‘Royal Wedding’ the Victorians might approve of?

Jeremy Sammut | 29 April 2011

The last princess whose wedding I watched on telly ended up dying in car crash in Paris. So for Catherine Middleton’s sake, I won’t be tuning in to the Royal Wedding in London tonight.

However, there is much to interest those who are concerned not with dresses and fairytales but with the future of an important institution. For on the fate of Prince William’s marriage could rest the future of the British Crown.

Whatever one’s feelings about the monarchy, for a long time the royal family was respected as a good role model. This is because since the mid-nineteenth century the House of Windsor, nee Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, self-consciously promoted itself as a typical, traditional British family.

When Victoria became Queen, the British Crown, together with the rest of aristocracy, had a reputation for excess to rival their counterparts in pre-revolutionary France. To build the esteem of the monarchy, Victoria and her politically astute husband, Prince Albert, tied its fortunes to the rising force in British society.

The royals won favour with the masses by aping the respectable social values of ‘moral middle class,’ which the Industrial Revolution and Protestant religion summoned into existence. Out went debauchery and in came ideals such as duty to family and nation.

Queen Elizabeth is rightly held in high regard (even among Australian republicans) because, in word and deed, she has continued to model the exemplary behaviour expected of royalty. However, the reputation of the monarchy has been tarnished in recent years, mainly due to the breakdown of the marriages of two of the queen’s three sons.

One hundred and fifty years of PR was destroyed when Diana gave an unprecedented television interview in the mid-1990s and told the world about confronting Charles over his straying ways. Charles’ insouciant response – ‘Do you seriously expect me to be the first Prince of Wales in history not to have a mistress?’ – was hardly the prerogative of a modern-day British king-in-waiting.

This might have sufficed in more deferential times when the media ignored royal indiscretions. But in this intrusive age, exposing the gap between private acts and the public image exposed the Crown to ridicule and charges of hypocrisy.

This is ironic given the permissive attitudes to personal morality that otherwise prevail today. Contemporary society expects royalty to model values that the rest of society is free to disregard!

Nevertheless, one senses that Prince William has grasped the double standard and understands that the monarchy would struggle to survive another scandalous divorce.

Having realised he will be held to the high standards of the past (and keen not to repeat the heartache of his parents), William appears determined to have a ‘Royal Wedding’ in the conventional Victorian senses of both those terms. After a long courtship that included a shared university education, it seems he is marrying for life a woman he loves and respects.

I guess this is a fairytale of sorts. But if ‘Will and Kate’ can use their long and happy marriage to help shore up the shaky foundations of the monarchy, their political achievement will rival that of their famous ancestors ‘Vicki and Bert.’

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.