Hereditas Historiae

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The Guardian (editorial) - 19 May 2018

The Guardian view on the royal wedding: have a lovely day



Today’s ceremony in Windsor will rightly cause great pleasure and will be widely enjoyed. But it should not be weighed down with wider significance

'First things first – and let us say straight away that they are also obvious and sincere first things. We all offer Prince Harry and Meghan Markle congratulations on their wedding day. We send best wishes for a long and happy married life together. We hope, as everyone does before any wedding, royal or otherwise, that the day goes wonderfully well for them in every way. We hope, once the big day is over, that the royal couple and their relatives can look back on it with nothing but happiness. It would also be kind if they were all now allowed a bit more privacy than they have had lately as they get used to these big changes in their lives.

The Guardian is unrepentantly a republican newspaper. We wish the British people to have sovereignty, through parliamentary democracy, over our constitution, laws and alliances. These issues may soon come to a head as the post-Elizabethan era arrives. Yet it would be idle to pretend that royal weddings are not inclusive national events. Today’s in Windsor will be no exception. Royal weddings are always interesting, both as theatre and because they tell us something about the kind of nation we have become. If we can cut through the dense thickets of overinterpretation and sycophancy that attach themselves to such events, they also say something about the condition of the monarchy itself.

Royal weddings are not constitutionally important as such. It does the wedding and the couple no favours to overload a happy day with too much historical weight or cultural meaning. In that spirit, we should nevertheless celebrate many things about both bride and bridegroom. Ms Markle is mixed race, American, a divorcee and a woman with a career. These are not unprecedented attributes in the British royal family, but they may provide new points of connection for the monarchy as it evolves into the mid-21st century. Meanwhile Prince Harry has a special place in the national heart because of the terrible loss of his mother. He has overcome youthful embarrassments to suggest that he may now be the most emotionally intelligent of the Windsors. Admittedly that bar is not set high.

It is wise not to project too much significance or expectation on to the royals as individuals. Ms Markle and Prince Harry are people of today in ways that the prince’s father and grandparents are not. Yet they are not revolutionaries. Ms Markle is giving up her career. Prince Harry shows no sign of intending to have one. They are not exactly a typical young couple. They face no struggle to get a mortgage. They have no student debt. Childcare will never burden their budget. The private school fees will be paid without a thought for the state sector. Perhaps it is indicative of the role they intend to play in national life that, in the absence of her father, it will not be her African-American mother who accompanies the bride down the aisle but the royal family’s very own arch-apostle of neo-feudal values, Prince Charles.

Royal weddings are best enjoyed or ignored and then let go. In that respect, they are a bit like England’s FA Cup final, also taking place today. Late 20th-century Britain – its media in particular – made the mistake of loading too much on to the Charles-Diana wedding in 1981. The country invented a supposed fairytale, which turned increasingly miserable and then tragic. Early 21st-century Britain learned something from that, as it needed to do. The William-Catherine wedding in 2011 was a spectacular occasion, but there was a comparative touch of austerity to it, when compared with that of 1981, as well as much less public hysteria and fawning.

Today’s wedding will certainly have its glamour, colour and crowds. But the fawning is rightly in short supply this time. Prince Harry is sixth in line to the throne. He will not be king. His wedding is not a state occasion or a public holiday. There was no need for heads of state or party leaders to be invited – we are happily spared Donald Trump’s presence in Windsor, while Theresa May will be watching on television, along with many of the rest of us. Perhaps she will even permit herself to forget about Brexit for a few hours. As ever in a wedding, there is a sense of the future, of renewal and even of optimism. Tomorrow, though, Brexit will be back.'

Royals well-wishers take in the atmosphere in Windsor. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images