In case you weren’t on the planet and hadn’t heard about it yet, the Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a daughter named Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. The little girl is fourth in line to the throne of England, and unlike heirs of the past has no need to worry about the violent and murderous uprisings of her nearest kin. It is a good time to be an English royal. The baby’s names are brilliant, in that she is honoring her grandpa Prince Charles (Charlotte is the feminine of that name), her great-grandma Queen Elizabeth, and her deceased grandma Lady Diana Spencer all in one fell swoop.
Charlotte’s birth reminded me of her elder brother George’s birth, and the birth of her father and uncle. I was 10 years old when William was born, and 12 when HRH Diana had Harry. I was in awe of the royal love story. I had no clue about politics, the need to marry an Anglican virgin, and tradition. I didn’t think it was weird that Prince Charles was so much older than his bride. Nope. I watched the miniseries about how they ‘fell in love’ and believed every syllable of the hype. Frankly, I was a bit saddened at the time that I was clearly the wrong age (too young on one end and too old on the other) to be ever courted by a royal.
Yes, I was a weird kid with a fixation on Disney; why do you ask?
I’m glad there has been such a titanic shift in protocol in the last 30 years. I am glad William was able to marry Katherine Middleton, without having to worry about tradition, expectations, and parental permission. I am glad no one implied his wife had bartered a hymen for a diamond, the way Princess Diana’s virginity was made so much of when she we Charles. If you think about it, William is very much like his father in that he fell in love young and stayed in love with that one woman. The biggest difference is that William never had to give Katherine up for a more ‘suitable’ bride, as his father had done, and thus William was never forced to endure a miserable marriage with an equally unhappy person.
I probably shouldn’t care (even a little) about people I do not know and even if I did meet them would not take me to their collective bosoms, but my royalism is a side effect of my historical research. They are markers in time, focal points for larger cultural shifts. Although some people argue the British monarchy should go away and take its expenses with it, I concur with Olga Kahzan’s article in the Atlantic:
“I agree that it’s unfair to prop up an uber-rich family in a world full of deprivation. But I’m skeptical that England’s attractions could still draw the same numbers of tourists without the physical monarchs in place. Sure, people would still visit African savannas if they didn’t have elephants, but probably not as many, or as often. Similarly, the royal family acts as a sort of charismatic megafauna for the entire royalty-tourism ecosystem.”
Moreover, the royal family does diplomatic services that head of states usually have to do. Running the White House costs more than a billion dollars annually, and part of that cost goes into receiving and hosting state function. The royal family costs a fraction of that and they have to trit-trot to state functions and be “on show” as much (or more often) that the POTUS. No, they don’t run the country … but glad-handing is so much a part of politics that the positions have some comparability. Moreover, the royal family raises heaps of money for charities: “Research from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) reveals that the Queen is among the world’s greatest supporters of charities and has the helped the many organisations of which she is patron raise over £1.4bn.” They get rich and possibly otherwise selfish people to give up some cash for a worthy cause just to say they hobnobbed with a royal. That’s valuable work, in my opinion.
Welcome, newest member of England’s charismatic megafauna!