I’ve been watching the royal wedding with interest, and also reading some speculation on the internet about whether William will cheat on Kate. Over the years, I’ve read quite a lot about the history of the British royalty and upper classes because I find them endlessly fascinating, and all this got me to thinking:
Of course, we would all hope that William and Kate will be faithful and loving, but royalty and upper classes live in a rarified atmosphere that is very different from ours. Throughout history, they’ve been expected to marry for political reasons, to acquire land and money, to solidify dynasties, to produce legitimate heirs. There may have been some love–but often, love and sexual joy were to be found elsewhere. This was just the way it was. Everyone knew it, and the best to be hoped for was to be discreet about it. As one upper-class Victorian lady put it, “You can do anything you want, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”
One of my favorite royals from history was Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII. Bertie was a notorious womanizer, taking mistress after mistress, Lily Langtry among them. But Alexandra loved Bertie, and she withstood his philandering with grace and dignity. Her philosophy was that jealousy is one of the most destructive and evil of emotions. She was a very gracious lady.
Of course, the saddest affair of late was that of Charles and Diana. I always felt Charles was as much a victim of the system as Diana was. He clearly loved Camilla from the start, but he was expected to marry a virgin and produce an heir, so he did. To say he could have done otherwise would be to cavalierly disregard the cold way he was raised and the enormous pressure brought to bear on him as an adult. Some said poor Diana didn’t know what she was getting into, but I find this hard to believe. She was raised in the Spencer-Churchill clan. All she had to do was look around her or discover the way things were by an afternoon spent in a library. But she was only 20 and probably went into the marriage with the hubris and hopefulness of the young: “I’m young and beautiful. Of course, I’ll make him love me!” But no. When she found she could not, it tore her apart, and she wasn’t one to suffer in silence.
I’m not saying William will cheat on his wife. Perhaps he will ponder his mother’s pain and decide that affairs are not worth the anguish they cause. But if he does, he will be bucking the tradition of centuries of an expected and accepted way of life. Even his grandmother, the Queen, said, “Didn’t Diana understand? Men have affairs.”
Money and power, pomp and circumstance–they definitely have their downsides.
Whatever–I wish the young couple all the best in their lives and their marriage.