Frontiers

Tying the Royal Knot

David Wallace takes us behind the scenes at the royal wedding.
April 2011

Chances are no matter where you are on April 29, 2011, barring a storm bunker, you will overhear someone discussing Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding. The event is to be simulcast across practically every news station in the world—it even has its own official YouTube channel. Behind the scenes of the wedding, however, are numerous other storylines, some bound up in historical tradition, and others set in motion by politics and the economy.

"Early marriages in the royal family were made to create dynastic ties, so the spouses were chosen very carefully, from a very limited pool, for strategic reasons," says David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor of English, who is currently editing Regeneration: a Literary History of Europe, 1348-1418. "This tradition continued with Princess Diana, who was herself from an aristocratic family. This wedding, however, is really a break from that mindset, because William is marrying a commoner—this is a woman whose parents both began as flight attendants."

"The royal family has seen a constant diminishing of influence over the years, and because it has always been seen as vulgar for them to involve themselves in business, their product has, in essence, become celebrity. Kate, this attractive Cinderella figure who has made a career in fashion, really connects with people and fills this new role perfectly."
– David Wallace

William and Kate's engagement was announced this past fall, during a period of sharp governmental cuts, which meant hardship for many workers across England. Wallace says it's no coincidence that the wedding was scheduled for the springtime, as it provides a national morale boost to many of those affected by the downturn in the economy. In addition to the timing of the wedding, Kate Middleton's popularity also plays well with the public.

"The royal family has seen a constant diminishing of influence over the years, and because it has always been seen as vulgar for them to involve themselves in business, their product has, in essence, become celebrity. Kate, this attractive Cinderella figure who has made a career in fashion, really connects with people and fills this new role perfectly."

In addition to assuaging economic fears and boosting the royal family's popularity, the ceremony may also help bury a few high-profile controversies. While the Queen generally garners wide support, and will likely only gain in popularity as she gets older, other members of the royal family have not been so fortunate. A recent three billion pound architectural deal to redesign Chelsea Barracks—a historic military building—was effectively nixed by Prince Charles, costing England jobs and squandering a small fortune, while his brother, Prince Andrew, has been under fire for unscrupulous relationships with international arms dealers and an American tycoon convicted of sex offenses. Wallace says William and Kate are a welcome public relations infusion in light of these royal catastrophes.

"Charles, with his public business failings and his remarriage to Camilla—a liaison that preceded and then accompanied his marriage to Diana—has been problematic for the royal family," Wallace says. "There have even been rumors that the monarchy might skip over him in favor of William, who, alongside Kate, is seen as a very refreshing change. But this is very unlikely as it raises major constitutional issues, and Charles is unlikely to volunteer."

Quite possibly the biggest beneficiary of the day will be the media. As with other celebrity families, the media has done the royal family many favors, but has also fueled the fire during times of controversy. Because a network like the BBC is paid for by taxpayers, the government has, in the past, had some say in controlling their funding and terms of operation, based upon the kind of coverage afforded to them. However, this likely won't be an issue on the day of the nuptials, Wallace says, as the media, like most everyone else, will be too enamored with the show to be anything but enthusiastic.