Jacob Heilbrunn

A British Wedding

[amazon 0140281185 full]It's nice to see that England is about to get a patch of good news. The engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton will set royalist hearts aflutter and have republicans grousing about the inequities of a monarchy. But at this point, weddings are one of the selling points of the monarchy. It would be foolish of the British to dispense with the monarchy, if only because of the tourist money that they derive from it.

The British should be happy that they have as much of an aristocracy left as they do. Many aristocrats turned their estates into a kind of public museum or sold off heirlooms to pay for the confiscatory taxes that were imposed upon them after World War II. That great chronicler of the grandees, P. G. Wodehouse, has Jeeves explain to an America visitor in Ring for Jeeves that the nobility is in rough shape:

A house such as Rowcester Abbey in these days is not an asset, sir, it is a liability .... Socialistic legislation has sadly depleted the resources of England's hereditary aristocracy. We are living now in what is now known as the Welfare State, which means--broadly speaking--that every body is broadly destitute.

The monarchy has gone through its own troubles--the antics of Prince Charles, the wild behavior of Princess Diana, the donning of Nazi regalia by Prince Harry. William should help smooth that over. He comes across as very polished, reponsible, stiffest of upper lips. It wouldn't be surprising if the example of his father has impelled him to pursue a very different course. The British press has been a bit sniffy about the fact that it will be a morganatic marriage--Middleton's mother apparently runs a business called Party Pieces that sells pinatas and the like--but perhaps the House of Saxe-Coburg, from which stemmed so many marriages, is now depleted as well. Anyway, William and his betrothed, commoner or not, most likely are truly in love--a case that one would have been hardpressed to make about Prince Charles' emotional state toward Diana, as she discovered to her distress.

William's job, in short, is to rehab the monarchy, a project that should occupy his attentions for decades. The monarchy, as all monarchies must, will adapt itself and don new guises without shedding its traditions. As the Wall Street Journal perceptively observes, "The current royal couple seem different, almost throwbacks in our time, remarkable for their apparent ordinariness--the prince's blood lines notwithstanding." Vanity Fair has noted that both Harry and William

are presidents or patrons of more than 20 charities, and the foundation,
which is the culmination of their charitable work so far, will become a grant-giving body in years to come. William said that he and Harry derived inspiration from both their parents, who had “instilled in us, from the word go, that with these great privileges goes an absolute responsibility to give back.

That sense of reciprocal obligation has sometimes been missing among the royals. There are sure to be some fireworks in coming years. But the wedding and the rise of William should prove a restorative for the British as well as triggering a fresh bout of Anglophilia in America.