How the royals wed: with pomp and speculation about every circumstance
An FAQ on Kate and Wills
April 17, 2011 4:00 AM
John Stillwell /WPA Pool/Getty Images
Lieutenant colonel Dan Hughes inspects troopers from the Lifeguards of the Household Cavalry at Hyde Park Barracks April 14 in London, England. Members of the Household Cavalry gave a behind the scenes tour of many of the duties performed as part of their daily routine, including special preparation ahead of the forthcoming Royal Wedding.
Dominic Lipinski/AFP/Getty Iimages
Organist and Master of the Choristers James O'Donnell, right, conducts the Choir of Westminster Abbey, who will sing at the royal wedding.
John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images
Ceremonial helmets of the Household Cavalry are pictured at the Knightsbridge Barracks in central London. Members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will escort Prince William and Kate Middleton through London on the day of the royal wedding on April 29.
By Mackenzie Carpenter Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They've made their last official public appearance before the royal wedding (in Lancashire, where she was deemed chic but alarmingly thin in a navy suit). She's said to have commissioned three different wedding gowns in case one of the designs is leaked. His "legendary" stag party and her low-key bachelorette celebration (hosted by sister Pippa, who was said to have booked four different clubs to confuse the media) went off without a hitch.
Now, though, comes the serious business of getting hitched.
The much anticipated royal nuptials of Catherine Elizabeth Middleton and William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor, second in line to the British throne, promises to be many things to the 2 billion people expected to watch it April 29.
"A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and as such it rivets mankind," the great Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot once wrote, and this particular princely marriage could be riveting, either for the sheer pageantry of it, or for unifying a country under tremendous economic stress, or because it's a mawkish display of sentiment.
Yet pressing questions remain, and with a little less than two weeks left before the big day, now seems the time to answer them:
Why isn't William going to wear a wedding ring?
A palace spokesperson said it was simply a matter of personal preference. While men wearing wedding rings is a relatively recent phenomenon -- egged on perhaps by feminists weary of the notion of women as recipient of the groom's largess -- many British aristos don't bother. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William's grandfather, doesn't. But Prince Charles reportedly does -- under a signet ring with the fleur-de-lis crest of the Prince of Wales on it.
On his pinky finger.
Also, in Church of England wedding rites, a wedding ring symbolizes the worldly goods of the groom, whereas in the Catholic Church, the ring symbolizes commitment and fidelity, and the bride and groom present their rings to each other.
Could it be, though, that some British men simply find the wearing of jewelry a tad exotic? "I don't think it is of great significance," said Charles Kidd, a spokesman for Debrett's, the British arbiter of royal etiquette. "The custom of men wearing wedding rings is fairly new in the U.K. It seems to have been more of a Continental habit."
What will happen if Kate and William divorce?
Some have suggested that one more marital failure in the famously dysfunctional Windsor family would be the monarchy's death knell. "It would be rather a major public relations problem," said Robert Webster, a British barrister and director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Whittier Law School in California.
Still, while a split "would ultimately diminish faith in the institution, that wouldn't lead to its downfall," he said, adding that the monarchy survived the 1936 abdication crisis along with, more recently, divorce. "Britain needs the monarchy. It helps define us. Granted we live in a much less deferential age but frankly the monarchy occupies a space in society that would otherwise be filled by some political figure."
Tom Bradby, who covers the royals for ITV News in Britain, was more blunt.
"I'll eat my hat if they ever get divorced," he recently declared on a British television program. "I think they'd rather be miserable than get divorced; they understand their position in life is to stay together no matter what."
Why are so many European royals being invited to the wedding, as opposed to politicians, many of whom (including President Barack Obama) are not?
First of all, Prince William is not the heir to the throne. His father is. He is second in line, and Charles is very much planning to succeed his mother when she dies. As such, this particular royal wedding is not considered a state occasion. But royalty -- including "pretenders" to thrones that no longer exist -- will be there. Why?
Because "they're family," noted Nicholas Lane, former chair of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Series and a native of England.
While most claimants to Europe's defunct royal houses would probably not get seating precedence in Westminster Abbey over commoner friends, such as members of William's Royal Air Force crew, if they're closely related they would.
Many of them are. Queen Victoria is known as the grandmother of Europe, having spread most of her genes through her nine children to about 90 percent of all European royalty including Spain, Denmark, Norway, Greece, Italy and Austria, not to mention the Romanovs of Russia. Constantine, the former Greek monarch who was deposed in 1964, pretender to that country's throne, is closely related to Prince Philip, as are members of the German house of Hesse. Another pretender to the Austrian throne, Otto von Habsburg, is a well-regarded leader in the European Union and could conceivably be a guest.
The Japanese royal family isn't coming because of the recent earthquake and tsunami crisis, and the King of Bahrain has sent his regrets because of political unrest in his tiny island country.
Mr. Kidd, of Debrett's, said he expected "some reigning and former reigning monarchies will be represented ... particularly those who have been on close terms with the British royal family," including Constantine, the Queen of Denmark and others.
Still, "you probably won't see Crown Prince Leka of Albania there," said Mr. Lane, noting that the pretender to the Albanian throne launched a violent failed coup attempt in 1997 and was later arrested in his home in South Africa, where police found a large stash of weapons and drugs. And one claimant to the French throne, "last I heard, was a municipal electrical inspector in the Paris suburbs."
For the most part, European, Asian and Middle Eastern royals not close to the British royal family "may get parked at the back," said Mr. Lane. "You've got some pretty high ranking people there, and while they may not actually end up sitting next to the municipal treasurer of some small town in Yorkshire, questions of protocol are very tricky. Luckily, though, this not a state affair, so it's just a little easier to tell people, 'Sorry, you don't have a front row seat.' " Heads of Commonwealth countries are more likely to be invited than far-distant monarchies, he said.
While seating arrangements have not yet been released, only (!) 1,900 people can squeeze into Westminster Abbey. Save for perhaps 300 guests up front, most won't be able to see anything and will have to be content with watching it on video screens erected in the church.
Prince Charles' invitees reportedly include bucket loads of mega-rich foreigners, including a Kazakh billionaire. "No Royal event seems to be complete these days without a tycoon from the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan," noted the Daily Mail, which claims to have the inside scoop on the guest list.
How well do the in-laws get along?
We have no idea, really, but British media have come down hard on Kate Middleton's mother Carole, a successful businesswoman from a humble background, for her perceived social ambitions. William is said to adore the Middletons, who provide him with the comfortable, settled domestic life he never knew growing up.
But Ms. Middleton, who owns a mail-order party favor business with her husband, Michael, reportedly toured the former home of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife of the Prince of Wales, which was on the real estate market, prompting the media to speculate that the royals thought she might be trying too hard.
Is Kate taking elocution lessons?
As George Bernard Shaw said via Henry Higgins, an Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him, and the future princess is said to be adjusting hers to conform more with the royals, a unique dialect indeed ("house" is pronounced "hice," for example).
However, Ms. Middleton did attend proper, expensive private schools, and her accent is said to be posh enough.
Is Prince William truly the first heir to the throne -- well, second in line, anyway -- to be marrying a commoner in 350 years?
The answer is more complicated than it seems.
According to Joseph Coohill, a professor of British history at Duquesne University, William is technically a commoner himself.
There are only three types of Britons, he noted -- the Sovereign, peers and commoners. "Lots of people are of noble blood but are commoners, and unless you are ennobled as a peer and given a peerage," such as a dukedom or a barony, you're a commoner, he said. The title "prince" is a courtesy title, but unless and until William becomes a Duke he is, according to the British constitution, a commoner.
Prince Charles, for example, didn't become a peer until he was made the Duke of Lancaster, Mr. Coohill noted. William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is expected to confer a title on him on his wedding day, although the Duke of what is not yet clear.
Nonsense, said Mr. Kidd, of Debrett's.
"British upper class society for me can be very roughly divided into the royal family, the aristocracy and the rest. It seems quite nonsensical to refer to Prince William as a 'commoner' just because he's neither a sovereign nor a peer. If and when he is created a duke, his status as a royal prince and second in line to the throne will remain the same."
Whatever the case, the Queen is said to be pondering various available dukedoms, including the Duke of Cambridge (who, in a royal wedding of his own in the early 19th century, married the mother of his two children who was also pregnant with a third).
The Duke of Clarence is also available, but a note of caution:
The rumor mill connected the last person to hold that title -- Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Albert Victor -- to the notorious East End murderer, Jack the Ripper.