Andrew Roberts

The meaning of a marriage

What happens on 29 April will help shape British life for the next 50 years

‘A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, it rivets mankind,’ wrote the great constitutional theorist Walter Bagehot. ‘A royal family sweetens politics by the seasonable addition of nice and pretty events. It introduces irrelevant facts into the business of government, but they are facts which speak to men’s bosoms and employ their thoughts.’ Bagehot was writing about the marriage of the future King Edward VII to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, but his sentiments equally apply to the coming royal wedding, for he concluded that one half of the human race at least ‘care 50 times more for a marriage than a ministry’.

Intellectuals and political pundits might scoff at the idea that we might care more about a royal wedding than about an elected government, but they would be wrong. For Queen Catherine could well be sitting beside King William V on the throne of England half a century hence, whereas however well the Cameron coalition does — and no one wishes it better luck than me — it will be safely consigned to the history books long before 2061. Since Kate will henceforth be the closest person to William for the rest of his life, she is bound to play a vital role in his reign. When we look at the roles played by former monarchs’ consorts — principally Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Queen Mary and Prince Albert, and of course also Wallis Simpson’s influence on Edward VIII — in each case we see strong-willed people who have advised, encouraged and warned their spouses at key moments in their reigns. Catherine Middleton’s personality, character and views, therefore, will matter in British history.

A new generation of the House of Windsor is coming forward to do its duty, one that will be in place long after all the MPs in the present House of Commons have retired.

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