William and Kate - A break with British tradition but part of a new European trend
Since the announcement of the engagement of HRH Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton, I have had to field questions from many journalists and reporters, all of whom have been keen to understand the implications and consequences of a marriage that will unite the heir to the throne with a woman from a vastly different social background with whom he has already been living for several years. "Is this a stark break from European tradition?", I have been asked. "Will this forever change the Monarchy?" "Given their different backgrounds, can the marriage survive on love alone?"
The success of the existing European monarchies has been their ability to adapt and change with the times; those that were unable to evolve, perished. The British Monarchy, with its close ties to the Church of England, has traditionally been the most institutionally conservative of Europe's royal houses. Prince William and Kate Middleton are not breaking with European tradition, they are following in the wake of their continental counterparts. The Crown Prince of Norway married an unwed mother, the Crown Princess of Sweden married a personal trainer and gym owner and the Crown Prince of Denmark married an Australian whom he met in a pub in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics.
To remain relevant, monarchies must reflect contemporary society. Traditionalists may not approve, but they are not the ones who need to be convinced of the value of monarchy. The British Royal Family learnt this lesson in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I am certain that Prince William and Kate Middleton will refashion the monarchy and forge a new relationship with the nation, a nation whose priorities and attitudes may be starkly different from those of earlier generations.
As for the happy couple themselves -- although love is essential to a happy marriage, given the pressures of modern royalty and the constant scrutiny of a global media, a successful royal marriage also requires many other qualities, not least of which are commitment and sacrifice. Having been with Prince William for several years, Kate Middleton has a clear advantage denied to her predecessors: she has been given time to understand the duties required of a Queen, she has had the opportunity to contemplate the experience of previous royal brides and she has had the benefit of her partner's guidance. Kate Middleton is not entering into this marriage as a naive, young girl but as a mature and fully-informed woman.
In an egalitarian 21st century, Kate Middleton's unexceptional middle-class background is an asset. She is a person to whom the average person can relate, even more than they could to Diana, Princess of Wales or Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother both of whom, though technically commoners, were daughters of aristocrats. Kate Middleton is living the fairy tale dream -- her story could be anyone's. That is where the magic of monarchy comes into its own.
In 2010, Miss Middleton's background is irrelevant to her ability to fulfil the duties required of a Queen. Prince William clearly does not see her background as an obstacle and the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Royal Family are extremely fond of her. That should be enough to satisfy anyone. So long as she demonstrates a clear commitment and dedication to the task before her, and we have no reason to believe she won't, the people will accept her. I wish the happy couple every success in the world -- may they both live happily ever after!