The Royal Wedding

Regent Street ©Ben Matthews

Finally, the media chaos is calming. The headlines have returned to Libya and Syria; Facebook is moving on from inane, sexist comments about Pippa Middleton’s derrière and Twitter has slowed its circulation of the photo which looks like William got more than a kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony. I am now wondering how I should have responded to The Royal Wedding but I am left with an array of conflicting thoughts, none of which rest easily with each other.

It seems honest to begin by stating that I had a genuine sense of excitement last week as the population was hyped up by an unusually effusive British press. I was adamant that I would watch the whole spectacle, which indeed I did whilst clutching a William and Kate mug from which I drank copious amounts of tea rather less ironically than I had intended to. I cannot deny my enjoyment of the footage; I was, after all, an overexcited child in 1981 and this weekend felt like a beautiful reminder of an ’80s summer when life was simpler. I therefore set aside the welcome day off to comment on clothes and hats; to try to lip read the protagonists; laugh at the crazies who camped out; feel a little sentimental for a couple who pledged their lives to each other; and to be amused by the ex-colonies who displayed unadulterated enthusiasm for the old mistress Britannia and her eccentric traditions. My eyes feasted on toffs and frocks and carriages aplenty and, overarching all of that, I could not help but be in love with Britain (London in particular) for putting on a show which was genuinely impressive. Beauty, pomp and ritual was held together by a militaristic precision and a phenomenal security operation. And, even better than 1981, I could amuse myself with the pseudo-connectedness that Twitter and Facebook can create at such moments.

Yet this enthusiasm is tempered by a more thoughtful response. Firstly, I may be impressed by that Britain can still create moments of national identity in a postmodern world but I am not immune to questions about the relevance of the Royal Family. They and many of their guests are immensely privileged and wealthy because of an accident of birth; the monarch still possesses legal powers (albeit largely unused) despite having no accountability to the population; and my taxes simultaneously support the egalitarianism of the NHS as well as the royal lifestyle; and their very existence seems to be a symbol of an outmoded age. However, I also acknowledge the continual revenue they generate, boosted by events like royal weddings. I do not know how much The Firm can actually be credited with bring into Britain PLC, but I assume it balances out the taxes we pay to support their central London residences, polo ponies and designer clothes.  This all leaves me in a terribly reasonable but bland, middling, political position: they are an anachronism but there seems to be no point in getting rid of them for now.

The religious status of Friday’s ceremony also raises complex issues. The world witnessed the Church of England at its grandest and best: an amazing setting, divine music, glorious costumes and admirable solemnity. All as befits the wedding of a man who will eventually become head of the Church of England. Yet this is a denomination of Christianity which has its origins in the groin of Henry VIII and one which still ensures that protestant Prince William could not have married many of his fellow Christians (I refer to the Act of Settlement). In a country where Tony Blair waited until he had left office to finally convert to Catholicism (despite years of being an aspiring Catholic), the historical Christian tensions are still apparent despite being a multicultural society which is largely tolerant of far more diverse religions. Northern Ireland still deals with violent outbursts and recent media attention on Scottish football’s sectarianism suggests that Blair prioritising his popularity over spiritual honesty is part of an unresolved religious antagonism which the Royal Family has historically been at the heart of. Taken further, Britain may well be legally and culturally a Christian country, in that Christianity has been the dominant cultural force for centuries, but we are now in a world where multiculturalism and atheism jostle for power. Friday’s ceremony was William and Kate’s public declaration of religious affiliation but this is a monarchial ritual which cannot survive in the same way as we progress through this century. However, as we have not yet established a spiritual identity suitable for a different age, I again reside in political no man’s land.

Furthermore, the feminist in me wants to rail against the expectations placed on the new Duchess of Cambridge. Her role is appallingly limited and, despite her rejection of the vow to obey, she has been increasingly constrained the closer she has got to full royal status. This university educated woman is expected to be largely silent or to refrain from expressing opinions: the engagement interview showed us an understandably nervous figure who carefully measured every word and deferred to Prince William who frequently spoke for both, clarifying or completing many of her answers. Catherine’s marital status has now silenced her with royal stereotypes and traditions which have long since been eradicated for women in middle and working class stratas of society. Whilst she has been complimented on her poise, discretion and loyalty this really is praise for her silence. She has never berated the press for hounding and judging her and she has never spoken out about the difficulties of trying to establish a career and relationship under uninvited press scrutiny. It is likely that she will now never be allowed her voice in a country which prides itself on freedom of speech. Her story has (and will continue to be) told by others, whether this is William and Kate, the Movie or the books already available on Amazon; the biggest truth of these will be the absence of her voice in her own narrative. We know very little about Catherine but, worryingly, the most significant thing people want to know is about her physical appearance. The media devotes relentless attention to her clothes, style and weight and so has defined her most important role as that of a beautiful appendage. Woe betide her if she ever does anything from now on without perfectly coiffed hair or if anything bar pregnancy makes her larger than a size 10. We expect a highly educated woman to simply fulfil the aesthetic desires of all who gaze. Moreover, there has been much talk about Prince William’s desire to protect her from public scrutiny which, whilst admirable, sees him fulfilling an old chivalric role and posits her as a weak figure. The new Duchess of Cambridge is now shackled to a public life which will not acknowledge the hypocrisy of condemning her if she exhibits too much independent thought whilst berating her if she does not align herself with suitably serious causes.

Likewise, this weekend normalised marriage in a world of falling marriage figures. It celebrated a cultural construction which huge numbers of the Queen’s subjects have rejected and saw millions of pounds being spent on a rite of passage many feel is too expensive or unnecessary for themselves in our age of austerity.

Thus logic and intelligence tell me that I am a hypocrite for having enjoyed this weekend so much; instead, I should have been utterly scathing about the spectacle. I certainly think that Charlie Brooker takes the prize for the best summative response to a frequently over-emotional media: “So sickly my eyes have got diabetes” was perfect for those who still want to beatify Princess Diana and infantalise William as the tragic, motherless child. Despite my criticisms, I still seem to be able to accept the contradictions in my own response and to let childish excitement coexist with political concerns. My frustration is that I have no alternatives at the moment for our strange but impressive royalty so I shall pause only to resume my over-analysis next year during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.


About tallulahb

a woman who partakes in reading, writing and red wine drinking.
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5 Responses to The Royal Wedding

  1. Boy Done Good says:

    Hmm…an interesting, if not rather muddled, blog entry. In the spirit of fun, let me first address a couple of factual errors amidst some rather polite objections.
    Polite objection no.1:
    “They, and many of their guests, are immensely privileged and wealthy because of an accident of birth.”
    – Their wealth and privilege is neither your, nor anyone else’s concern; anymore than the average progressive’s grammar or private education, class upbringing or economic advantage, is, which gives them the undeniable edge in getting their own good jobs.
    Polite objection no.2:
    “the monarch still possesses legal powers (albeit largely unused) despite having no accountability to the population”.
    1. Just because she cannot be sacked and replaced every five years by the public does not make the Queen any less accountable than say, Tony Blair – an overwhelmingly popularly elected official – who proved his democratic ‘accountability’ during the Iraq imbroglio as well as several other abuses of his constitutional remit during his ten years. The Queen, contrastingly, has served her country for practically her entire life, and has done so impeccably, and without personal scandal or complaint for nearly sixty years. Had that been the average Tory, Labour or Lib Dem cabinet minister, they would probably have managed at least 10 affairs in that time (if you count one for every parliament) and made at least £1m in personal claims and expenses for their three homes, ten cars and general grace and favour allowances with no return to the public purse.
    2. The Royals in this time have brought in untold revenue from various sources (see below for more), and the Queen has been a personal patron to more than 600 charities. Quite apart from the incredible link she still provides to the Commonwealth countries – a remarkable ‘anachronism’, which actually goes to prove that she is still seen as Britain’s strength in many former colonies, recently confirmed in several west indian referenda, in which support remains high for her to continue as their head of state – a privilege which no other former colonial power can boast.
    Ergo, her accountability to Britain (and the Commonwealth) is massive, as she must remain dutiful, well-behaved, and generous with her time to stave off the threat of the abolition of her family by those who would seize upon any pretext. I could continue at length about their use with regards to the constitutional separation of powers – but I think you’d probably kill me.
    Polite objection no.3:
    “my taxes simultaneously support the egalitarianism of the NHS as well as the royal lifestyle…I do not know how much The Firm can actually be credited with bring into Britain PLC, but I assume it balances out the taxes we pay to support their central London residences, polo ponies and designer clothes.”
    Another chronically fashionable, but entirely fatuous, lie propagated by lazy republicans. I think you’ll find that your taxes would go UP rather than down were the Royal family to be axed. The Royal family costs about £40m to the taxpayer every year; but the revenue going back to the exchequer from royal lands is 5 times that at about £200m per annum. This means that from their existence alone, the UK is in profit to the tune of £160m, and you – the grumbling taxpayer – is £2.60 better off for it. If you and your mates kick them out, they get their lands back, and we consequently lose £200m a year for your pains. Thanks.
    And as for those 12million tourists who come to see the royal family and their castles every year…that’s a whole new page of sums. I’m not sure their ‘central London residences, polo ponies and designer clothes’ seem so expensive now.
    Polite objection no.4:
    “their very existence seems to be a symbol of an outmoded age”.
    This is just what those ‘progressive’ revolutionaries thought in 18th century France. When they’d got rid of their hated, despotic, wealthy, peacockish elite, they then went on a decade-long bloodbath at the climax of which they elected…a hated, despotic, (soon to be very) wealthy peacockish dictator who twice attempted to annexe the whole world by violence, called Europe ‘a molehill’, which was beneath him, and whose wife was more royal than Marie Antoinette and her entire wardrobe put together. It just goes to prove that the Vandals who kick out the Huns aren’t always what they seem. I mean who’d come to live and work in uncivilised, antiquated, barbaric Britain with it’s medieval monarchs, castles, and funny red telephone boxes with some irrelevant tyrant’s ‘ER’ graffiti on it? I’d rather President George W. Bush, or the humble and virtuous Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy; and what about that nice Mo’ Gaddafi, and Robert Mugabe? Kim Yong-Nam, or maybe his superior the ‘eternal president’ Kim il-Sung?
    Who’d have a Royal, eh?
    Polite objection no.5:
    As for your observations of Kate, or should I say, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, I advise against the deadly virulent republican strain of double standards. “Her role is appallingly limited… this university educated woman is expected to be largely silent or to refrain from expressing opinions. ..It is likely that she will now never be allowed her voice in a country which prides itself on freedom of speech.”
    And what opinions would they be I ask? Her thoughts on the war in Iraq? Her solution to the midlothian question? Perhaps her forensic analysis of whether Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ at the World Cup actually crossed the line?
    Kate Middleton is not marrying into the royal family to promote her opinions, but because hopefully she loves her husband and wishes to support him in his service of the country. Had she wanted to gift the world with her pearls of wisdom, I’m sure this ‘university educated woman’ could have done very well in the House of Commons or on BBCs Newsnight Review with her Edinburgh credentials. Republicans seem aghast when a single royal dares open their mouth – lest they be seen to be political and abusing their (shaky) right to exist – but if she’s a woman and one of us at that, and she’s being oppressed by an authoritarian, patrician, and patriarchal institution, then how dare they stop her from expressing her opinions!
    Let’s just hope she hasn’t heard of Sally Bercow.
    And on that note I throughly recommend all young career women watch this week’s Life Stories with Anne Widdecombe; a true star, who despite Piers Morgan’s crass and persistently dull line of questioning about her love life, had sterling words for all aspiring career women, who think thunder-faced grievance politics will help them bring down the ‘glass ceiling’. Angela Eagle MP, please note.

    • tallulahb says:

      Well that’s a long one! Here’s a briefer riposte:
      1. The structure of society is and should be my concern: sadly I’m paid to give a shit about that.
      2. No argument that Queenie has been great but she’s there by accident (naughty uncle’s abdication and all that) and whilst her record my be unblemished, the behaviour of her heir, Princess Di when she was alive and senior royals like Andrew has, at times, been scandalous and lacked decorum and intelligence over the years. Republicanism isn’t advocated above but we have to admit we’ve been bloody lucky w/ Queen Betty and separation of powers is great w/ her at the helm but she’s getting on now.
      3. I did say I didn’t know the exact figures but acknowledged that their contribution outweighs ours.
      4. I did say that we should keep them in the absence of a suitable alternative. The flaws of democratic systems and structures is the subject of a whole different essay!
      5. What opinions? On anything she likes related to her own life. Sally Bercow is a foolish woman but she has the right to express her opinions as I have the right to disagree with her. Her inability to conduct herself with what I perceive to be with good grace and wisdom is an entirely different matter. As stated, Kate can’t even tell her own autobiography let alone be heard commenting on anything political. It doesn’t matter whether she’s a genius or not: it’s the fact of her gagging I object to.

      And finally, Ann Widdecombe? Really? Not an aspirational figure for most women b/c she fulfils a well-established the stereotype: that of the old harridan who can be clever and successful in her work but is an eccentric, religious, physically unattractive spinster otherwise. She’s a bright woman, even if I disagree with many of her opinions, and she not entirely unlikeable but the idea of ending up like her is the stuff of nightmares.

      And thank you for your long response, Boy Done Good. Keep it coming!

      • Boy Done Good says:

        1. No you’re not. You’re paid to teach the upcoming generations how to read, write and calculate so that they are fit for the workplace – not to speculate on societal structure. It is a sad irony lost on the architects of this crumbling edifice that is modern Britain, that those who have enjoyed some of the best privileges this country has to offer have usually been amongst the most savage vandals of its true conduits to social mobility, namely, the grammar schools. Will we see non-privately educated PMs like John Major and Margaret Thatcher again? It’s doubtful in this era. Thankfully though, British political stability has lasted longer and deeper cuts than those inflicted by the machinations of today’s militants (political and societal), who think they are wiser than accumulated generations of British men and women who gave them our system, and who think their chief responsibility is to snap at the hand that fed them, rather than concentrate on leading a generation almost now entirely ignorant of their own heritage and inheritance.
        2. The Queen’s personal stewardship, however good, is not the issue here. In fact, neither is behaviour full stop, as the powerful misbehave under any system. No, the benefit of the royals is structural, and is largely irrelevant to their personal conduct (much like government minsters it seems). So while I may find their access to power anachronistic/ illogical in a modern world – for me the result is the same. They are a layer between an over-reaching or even potentially tyrannical government and us, and their influence is life-long and, in many cases, devotional. The fact is that while the military, the prosecution service, the civil service and parliament are accountable to our sovereign, they are NOT accountable to the government of the day, which is a checks and balances masterstroke that has been critical to Britain’s stability historically in avoiding tyranny. Needless to say, successive governments, particularly socialist administrations, have attempted to eat away at this impartiality, culminating in Labour’s shameful politicisation of the civil service and prosecution service, thus disrupting a system that has kept Britain the safest place to be in Europe in over 350 years of civil war-free liberty. This is because the royals, however much you may or may not like them, are a bulwark and a frustration against over-powerful governments, and while they may not fit into the EU’s/Guardian/Independent reader’s idea of a modern European constitution, I would much rather keep a system that has included them successfully to date than adopt another that has shown itself to be either no better or often demonstrably worse. “It’s not fair” is not, I’m afraid, a wise argument to propound in the face of a generally amiable and functional system – particularly when there are far more unjust things in this world to get worked up about, as, it appears, you essentially acknowledged in your first entry.
        3. While you did admit an ignorance of the figures, you didn’t acknowledge that their contribution outweighed ours – your words: “I assume it balances out(my italics) the taxes we pay to support their central London residences, polo ponies and designer clothes.” As I demonstrated it not only balances out, but FAR surpasses our gift to the royals.
        4. You did, and I am making the case for their continuation, as I continue to make a case for an unelected Lords. Would you, elect doctors to your local surgery/ hospital? No, because you’d trust that they could make those wise decisions themselves, and I make the same case for an unelected Lords – on merit, based on a lifetime of service. We already have one elected house – we don’t need another.
        5. Kate knew what she was getting into, so clearly she is at ease with the firm’s rules. Moreover she hasn’t been gagged at all, but has been introduced to a rather quaint and old-fashioned principle (that people seem to be unfamiliar with these days) of not having an opinion on everything, and learning restraint in the face of a crass, overzealous, and insidious press intrusion. The royals have had to learn the hard way that people who don’t come from their unique background and lifestyle (i.e Diana and Fergie) are not necessarily the most taciturn when faced with exposure. The Queen guards her family’s privacy jealousy (for good reasons) and does not want a repeat performance from Kate – both in their, and her interest. Again, Kate (older than Diana) would have been well-informed about this long ago.
        6. I won’t go on about this, but suffice to say this: Women howl with rage if you allude to their looks at work, complaining bitterly that it’s their performance, and only that, which should matter. You however acknowledge Widdecombe’s success professionally, but with the same breathe (speaking for women) denounce her looks! I’m afraid you cannot have it both ways. My male heroes were hardly Brad Pitts, but I admired what they did and sacrificed to get where they got. Widdecombe, to her eternal credit, made her decision and sacrificed her family hopes for her career ones long ago; and as a ‘career woman’ who understood the conflict, she should be heralded for it.

  2. litlove says:

    Well I thought your blog was a very thoughtful piece in which you were clearly working through your own concerns without coming to dogmatic conclusions about them. I think the royal family needs to change and shift with every new generation to remain relevant and productive in keeping with the age in which they function. My son, along with all his teenage friends, was not impressed in the run-up to this wedding, and in fact his headmaster made a speech to them all reminding them just how much money the royal family brings in, and that was a revelation for them. But I think it’s perfectly justified to wonder how much money gets spent, too – these days the royal family are as much a business as any other heritage tourist attraction, because that’s the kind of times we live in.

    I suppose my own real gripe is with the media, who persist with all kinds of sensationalist, hysterical and irresponsible stereotyping, and prevent the whole of the UK from moving on in terms of attitude or indeed understanding the issues that face us every day. If I could change anything, I’d so like to see a more honest, accurate and grown-up media – but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas!

  3. tallulahb says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Litlove.

    And yes indeed: the media does need to acquire some integrity. This week’s obsession with the inaccurately named super injunctions is a case in point: cyber bullying of Ryan Giggs, Hugh Bonneville et al for supposedly not being able to control the contents of their trousers is not in mine or the public’s interest and pursuing these truths are certainly not the moral crusade the media has made it out to be. Perhaps Marr needed to come clean when he questions others on their own sex lives and the law needs tightening but, quite frankly, it’s only Gigg’s footballs we need to know about and I’d rather the media cyber bullied fascist dictators and publicised serious human rights abuses than make seedy revelations on Twitter!

    Rant over! And thank you again for reading the last piece.

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