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Monday, November 27, 2017

Musings on a Royal Engagement

Today Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding was announced. Not that this is super important news in my circle, but I confess that since the wedding of Prince William I have become interested in British royals, somewhat unaccountably so.

When I was a college student and went to Britain for the first time, my friends and I were on a particular street one day when we saw a lot of police gathering and walking around. We asked one of them what was going on, and he told us Prince Charles was coming along to rededicate the Covent Garden opera house and that we should wait and see him. We were interested enough to hang about and do just that. Prince Charles drove past us as we stood on a curb (kerb if you’re British), and if his car window had been open, we could have touched his shoulder. A few hours later we happened to be back there just across the street from the Opera House entrance when the prince and his party emerged. My friends were screaming “Prince Charles!” and I had my good camera at the ready. He seemed to look right at me, waving, and I took several photos. I was caught up in the excitement.

Then we went to tour Windsor Castle. I was overwhelmed by room after room of opulence to the point that I emerged a firm anti-monarchist. It seemed so very unfair that these people had amassed such wealth for generation after generation on the backs of the vulnerable and suffering poor people of their nation and other nations that they had conquered and enslaved in the past. That they still lived like that when the economy was dismal and so many people were out of work. That they seemed so out of touch with equality, liberty, and democratic and republican ideals that I wholeheartedly believed in (and still do).

The idea of a monarchy surviving into the end of the twentieth century seemed like something out of a fantasy world. Why keep an institution that had outlived its political purpose? A monarchy is supposed to govern; this one did nothing but figurehead duties and I thought how silly it was in today’s world to keep it, to spend people’s hard-earned tax money to support it. I couldn’t believe (and still don’t) that tourists spend enough on monarchy-related things to pay for all the expense they cost the country.

But there was the excitement and charm of seeing something totally different and somewhat alien to my culture—seeing Prince Charles, reading about him and Diana, hearing one morning on the radio news the replay of their wedding vows recited sometime earlier that day in a far-off time zone—it was something out of an old tale. And then the fairy tale went sour and the reality was that these were troubled people who were wildly mismatched and there were children who were suffering through their parents’ war, and I thought again how the monarchy ought to just go away.

Diana died, the young princes grew up, and Queen Elizabeth went on and on and on, doing what she had defined for herself as her duty through decade after decade, with single-minded determination to get it right and pass it along to her wayward children. They seemed to fall in line after all and now mimic her sense of duty, if not her energy at it. To varying degrees they all seem still to live a life of privilege and ease before their devotion to Queen Elizabeth’s version of monarchical duty. It is anachronistic, interesting to watch, and oddly compelling in its charming insistence on being somehow relevant. I came to admire this very old woman whose integrity and grit was so strong. Those are traits I believe this world very much needs right now.

We need honesty. We need integrity. We need a sense of purpose-driven adherence to duty, to what we believe with all our hearts is right and true and proper in this world. We need to inspire the young with the courage to keep on through the hard times until things get better.

It’s not bad to have a figurehead who embodies these ideals.

But Elizabeth is very old. Although her mother lived to be over one hundred years of age, that doesn’t leave Elizabeth at best with much more than one more decade. Now that her husband has stepped back and entered a semi-retirement, her role must weigh on her shoulders more heavily than ever. I cannot think Prince Charles is overwhelmingly popular. There was too much wrongdoing in the Diana years, too much damage to the monarchy as an institution apart from the incredible example of Elizabeth.

But Charles is old too, and he has two sons who are handsome, charming, seemingly kind-hearted and idealistic young men who might still want to carry on the legacy of their grandmother. William married a seemingly kind-hearted, dutiful young woman who is committed to rearing the next generation of royal heirs to the throne in the best way she can (and if she is successful in producing well-adjusted people in that family, it will be something different and almost miraculous after generations of royals with problems, with the exception of Elizabeth).

If the royals are to have any relevance at all, they really must be committed to carrying on the work that Elizabeth has carved out for the monarchy, aside from figurehead duties: that of calling attention to charities and causes that are worth the attention and support of British people and charitable people worldwide, and of supporting the British “brand” worldwide, and of continuing as much soft diplomacy as is possible. They need to work a lot harder at it than they have done up to this point.

Prince William may have gotten on board after all since becoming a full-time royal this past summer. He seems to be carrying out a great deal more work on his grandmother’s behalf than he ever did before; one wondered whether he was going to carve out a private sort of life for himself just in case the monarchy was voted down as soon as his grandmother passed away. Someone seems to have convinced him that it would be better for him and his family if he did all that he could to continue the legacy. However, he and his wife both need to step up their game. They still are not doing even a quarter of what Charles is doing.

The charm of the young and beautiful is great, and Prince William still has that going for him in the picture of himself and his little family. Because of the attractiveness of his family, he enjoys some popularity. It won’t last long, as time rushes by, unless he proves himself invaluable in terms of his service to his country. And not only William must prove himself, but his wife and, and in time, his children. Prince Harry also needs to up his game dramatically. He is popular and charming, but he is not doing enough yet.

Now Meghan Markle is to join this effort as Prince Harry’s wife. I have a lot of curiosity about what it means for a modern American woman to join the British royal family. Will she have to give up her citizenship? Can she have dual citizenship? Would that work if the British public perceived that they were paying this American woman who wasn’t totally committed to being one of them? Would the British people ever accept an American woman as one of them anyway? Isn’t this an ironic revisiting of the Edward VIII – Wallis Simpson situation?

Considering the realities of the daunting task Meghan Markle has undertaken, if she should fail and the marriage break up, will she personally be protected from financial disaster by some sort of prenuptial agreement? How does that work to negotiate with a royal family before the marriage? She certainly isn’t bringing to the marriage real or monetary assets that compare to the vastness of what Harry has behind him, although by all accounts she has been successful enough in her career to become wealthy.

If Meghan Markle is to succeed in winning over the British public, she needs to undertake an immediate crash course in British history and culture, and she needs to study the country in depth as quickly as possible. She must show commitment to supporting charities that will be seen as relevant and necessary. She will have to negotiate the intricacies of the upper social class, the aristocracy, and the wider royal family. There will be many who will snub her and be determined for her to realize their deep and implacable resistance to her every move; there will be many whose noses are out of joint at her audacity in marrying “their” royal prince. She will have to placate those who will be anxious to put her in her place—and that makes me wonder if, as an American, she will be expected to observe every nuance of precedence in British royal society? Traditionally the Queen doesn’t expect Americans to curtsy to her. Will Meghan? There will be anger at her every Americanism, her accent, her American openness, her American attitudes, her religion, her race, her past choices, and her present. Some will hate her for being older than Harry, for wanting to have children or for being unable to have them (should that prove the case). She must be prepared not to win, in order to win.

What she has going for her is her ability to perform well in interviews, to give speeches, to be genuinely interested and able to work hard in the causes that she undertakes. She has already shown commitment to charities and worthy causes. As Harry said in their first interview, she can do the “job” of being a royal, and that will be a great asset, especially to the cause of continuing the royal family’s relevance in this age.

She also obviously loves and is committed to Harry himself, and to their being a couple. She seems to have good communication skills, and they seem to communicate well as a couple. It will be vital for them to grow closer in order to continue to communicate well about the myriad of issues facing Meghan as she makes the transition from her former life to this new life. The difficulties will be much less so if they can pull together in harmony through all the challenges.

The scrutiny and criticism will be daunting. Their supporters are far fewer than William and Catherine had—some of the goodwill generated by that royal engagement and wedding has been squandered by subsequent choices that seemed to suggest that neither William, nor Catherine, nor Harry really wanted to take on the duty-oriented life that their grandmother was asking of them.

If they have all embraced it now, this new royal wedding might generate new levels of good will and popularity that just might see the next generation of the royal family through these times.

I find this story interesting and compelling enough to follow it through for the next several years. Having been culturally conditioned to root for underdogs, I am rooting for them to succeed, just because I see the obstacles growing huge. What do you think?

3 comments:

  1. My personal feelings about Charles continue to be quite negative. He embodies the sort of selfish bad behavior that lead the "colonials" in America to revolt against the aristocrats and royals of that time period. A similar attitude on the part of the "political class" in this country today has resulted in the election of President Trump and is still coloring our political discourse now, with what result we still have not seen. If the royals in Britain and the aristocracy in general, are to continue to exist as an institution and not be driven into obscurity by a socialist revolt, they need to become extremely sensitive to the views and desires of the people. Those in the US who have been viewing themselves as some sort of aristocracy by virtue of their political positions need to do the same or they will be swept away by the tides of popular opinion and contrary ideas.

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    1. I already think that in the U.S. those who have created a political aristocracy need to be swept away! We have far too many politicians who understand nothing about common people and the concerns of those in the lower middle class and of course the poor and desperate.

      I agree that Charles squandered his fund of good will a long time ago, and it's kind of too bad because aside from his huge mistake in not insisting on marrying Camilla to start with, he has had good ideas and has even been ahead of his time in a number of initiatives such as the Princes Trust and his conservation and renewal projects. Of course if he had insisted on Camilla back in the day, he would have been forced by the parliament of the time to step down from his place in the succession anyway. It will be interesting to see if the monarchy survives his reign or if, as soon as Elizabeth is dead, parliament gets hit with a wave of republican sentiment to end it once and for all.

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  2. February 2018 update: Most enlightened people today never imagined the level of racist vitriol and the alarming threats of violence leveled at Meghan Markle and at Prince Harry because they are daring to embark on an interracial marriage. What year is this again? I hope things calm down, and soon! This is intensely worrying.

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