Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tradition & Transcendence: The Royal Wedding

On the days leading up to the momentous occasion of Friday's Royal Wedding, if you were to frequent your favoured news outlet for updates on anything relevant: our country’s election, political unrest, nuclear meltdowns and ongoing economic woes, you may have had your patience tested. The royal nuptials seemed to take precedence over all other news and continued to captivate over a third of the world’s population up to, and after, the ceremony. Frustrating for many, yours truly included. However, as the day drew nigh, I found myself drawn to the new couple.

Love it or loathe it, the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton went off without a hitch. The grandeur began shortly after 8am London time when the first of the guests arrived at Westminster Abbey. Soon many of the world’s societal elite – among them queens, kings, dukes, emirs and Sir Elton John – all decked out full regalia filled the seats under the magnificent gothic interior. In time for the 11am ceremony, the stunning bride pulled up with her father. In a magnificent white dress - designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen – Catherine walked down the maple tree lined aisle to her Prince. After the signing of the registry the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge bowed to the Queen and departed toward Buckingham Palace in a 1902 State Landau Carriage. They smiled and waved at the crowd of 750,000 cheering onlookers. Finally, they wrapped up a perfect wedding with a perfect balcony scene for the, estimated, three billion viewers.
Despite my best efforts to not care about the Royal Wedding; despite how irrelevant I find the monarchy; despite the fact that I have a doctor’s note confirming my serious allergy to weddings in general, especially anything with gag-worthy fairy tale features; I couldn’t help but let some information seep in these past few months. Touching personal portraits of the Prince and his lady led to not only tolerance, but appreciation of why so many couldn’t help but take a peek at royal vows.

For those who did manage to avoid the back-story, here’s the down-low. Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman, who probably never obsessed over becoming a princess. Catherine Middleton (Kate), while a commoner, revealed that there is nothing common about her. From Berkshire, England, Kate was the eldest daughter of a former flight attendant and a dispatcher. Her parents left the airline industry to start a party supply company, which became substantially successful. The family’s wealth allowed their three children to enjoy certain societal privileges and fine schooling.

Kate met Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, son Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, in 2001 when they were both students at University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. The couple became friends and eventually partners. Both graduated with Masters of Arts in 2005. Kate worked as an accessories buyer and William served in the Royal Air force. After nine years of courtship, while vacationing in Kenya in October 2010, Will proposed with his late mother’s famous sapphire and diamond engagement ring.

So what? How did this, relatively ordinary, love story cause billions to tune in Friday morning? What about it lured thousands of tourists to London this April? Why the souvenir plates, coins, stamps and sick bags? (Well, maybe the sick bags are self explanatory.) A number of things come to mind. Most obviously: they are Royalty. Queen Elizabeth II is still the head of state in 15 countries, and the leader of the 54 member Commonwealth. However, as a new world order continues to evolve, the monarch is becoming more a figurehead than true leader and policy maker. Supporters of a republic government body may like to see the monarchy either phased out or kept as a more subdued formality. That being said, the British monarchy is still deeply embedded in the history and cultural make-up of the country, tracing their origins back over 1,000 years. This brings a strong sentimental sense of patriarchy amongst many and respect amongst others.

There was also a lot of political buzz surrounding the union. The unpopularity of Prince Charles, his aggressive business tactics and lobbying leading to low public approval ratings, has shifted the people’s favour, and focus, toward William. Subsequently the term “hope” has not appeared in headlines so often since 2008. There is a suggestivity of a leap frog of succession, much like George VI’s bypassing of his brother Edward VIII, if you’ve seen The King’s Speech. There is also the alluring story behind the couple themselves. The Prince marrying the commoner suggests that the marriage is more mutual than former weddings where lines of succession and family negotiations took precedence over the heart. There might be a certain pop celebrity about them, but there's also a responsibility, a charisma, a mystique and a strong essence of leadership.

The wedding set a wonderful example of the couple’s ability to balance their great respect for history (as well as tradition), without losing their own individuality. Prior to Friday, Westminster Abbey had hosted 15 Royal Weddings as well as the funeral of the late Diana. It featured the standard uniforms, formal wear, and the royal fanfare which included the carriage and the balcony wave. After all, being a Royal Wedding, there was a certain amount of privileged and ostentatious displays on hand. But the couple seemed down to earth, too, throughout the entire display. They were enjoying it, yet at the same time, they didn't allow it to consume them.

The couple also broke from ridiculous matrimonial traditions. Kate vowed to love rather than “obey” her husband. They also requested donations in lieu of gifts. (I mean does the royal couple really need another food processor?) During his sermon, the Bishop of London also used a Chaucer quote: “When mastery 'comes, the god of love anon. Beats his fair wings, and farewell! He is gone!” Fuelling the hope that the haunted decades past of failed royal nuptials, maybe transcended by a more level headed duo.

With all the unrest and uncertainty in the world, it was serene to witness a little hope. Those who made the walk from the Abbey to Trafalgar Square likely felt this the most. While it was a formal and highly secure spectacle - guarded by over 5,000 police - the people were close and still part of the history. It was also wonderful to see 8,500 of the world’s finest journalists and not fear for their lives. Just a country with a great past. And they came together to celebrate.

So why did (almost) everyone tune into this special day? Because it offered a little something for everyone. With all the junk food entertainment and sound bites that we consume in a day, it was just wonderful to indulge in a home-cooked feast.

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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