COMMONERS IN ROYAL HOUSES....CAUSE OR CONSEQUENCE?
The problem is more complex than one might think. Some just reduce it to the trivial debate that relates to how “stylish” or how “vulgar” the new princesses and consorts appear to be. Discussions about dresses, hats, purses, and shoes mostly hide a personal sympathy or antipathy for a commoner who becomes a royal, but this avoids the deeper issue of why so many of us identify emotionally with these new royals. There are people who let their heart go out to one of those commoners, for they see Cinderella’s story made real. Seeing a commoner elevated to the rank of a princess is a little like becoming princesses themselves. They can’t help seeing themselves wearing a tiara and a beautiful dress at a gala dinner...and they like the feeling. There are other people who hold the opposite but equally romantic view: princes and princess must be born royal. “Blue blood” casts a special aura around this kind of nobility and marks these individuals as special. However, this is another “fairy tale.”
My view is slightly different: in this article I will focus on the changes that this new development could bring to monarchy as an institution in the very near future. Might these commoners be a danger for this institution? And if they are...exactly why? In which way could they harm the concept and institution of monarchy?
The issue of members of royal families marrying commoners arose as a problem when King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom was forced to renounce his dynastic rights to marry the twice divorced American commoner Wallis Simpson. People from all around the world, especially from republican countries, generally supported the couple’s cause in the name of true love. They couldn’t understand why Parliament would deny its approval to the wedding of two persons who loved each other. Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson became a romantic symbol of two lovers who put aside social conventions to be eternally together. For many people, the “anachronistic laws” governing the love relationships of the United Kingdom's royals made no sense.
But love is far from being the only reason why a royal would marry a commoner. To fall in love with someone, you must be acquainted with them. Royals in the past were in many ways constrained to interact almost always among themselves. They had royal celebrations, official duties they were required to attend, and political interactions with each other since they really ruled their countries. Their children did not mix with commoners' children. It was somewhat natural that they knew each other better than anyone else, and planned their marriages accordingly - or fell in love as Nicholas and Alexandra did after meeting at the wedding of Alexandra’s sister Elizabeth of Hesse to Russian Grand Duke Sergei. Nowadays, royals have a more "open" schedule: they go to normal public schools, they work outside the royal or imperial palace, and they attend different kind of parties and events with or without commoners. It is not so strange that during the course of these events they might meet and get to know someone with similar tastes and that this person should be a commoner.Other important reasons for this phenomenon could be that royalty and nobility are setting aside the deep feeling of being different from, and superior to, the rest of society. This could be good in the sense that it could end the proud behavior and sentiments of some haughty royals, but it could be dangerous for monarchy because the lack of this feeling could push the royal to think that he or she has nothing specific to do in royal life: in other words, that he or she is no different from a rich industrialist or jet-setting celebrity. Having studied this issue for a while by now, I have reached the conclusion that part of the reason for royals marrying commoners is due to changes occurring within royalty itself. The new generations of royal children have a considerable lack of experience of ancient royal values and ways of life, and this has made them forget what they are and why they are in the highest place in their countries' societies.
A good example of this issue is the controversial courtship of Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and the commoner Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby. Even in a country considered “liberal” like Norway, the fact that the country’s future Queen had a rather scandalous and wild youth and was a single mother of a little boy was strongly disliked by the people, and Parliament came very close to forbidding her union with Prince Haakon. But what the people and Parliament were forgetting is where their crown prince had met his future wife: at the Quart Festival in Kristiandsand, the largest rock concert in the whole country. Nowadays (and more so since the Queen of England gave the title of Sir to one of the Beatles) rock is considered to be mainstream music. The international “establishment” accepts and even promotes it. But in fact nobody can deny that rock was born like a rebel movement, strongly opposed to traditional values and aesthetic tastes. Monarchy is supposed to give some protection to these values: monarchy is tradition. Most rock lyrics are fiercely opposed to tradition and classic or folk culture. We may or may not like rock music, but we must also accept that it declares itself enemy to the “family-God-country” trilogy. If a crown prince is found at a concert of this kind of music, he is contradicting what he represents as a member of an ancient family who is the sentimental heart of the nation over which he will reign in the future. A crown prince does not need to be a reactionary, but he must symbolize tradition, at least in some way. If he does not, his role makes no sense at all. He represents the “eternal things” of his nation. This is not to judge rock in itself but the tastes of a Crown Prince and why he married a person who “is not of his world.” The fact is that Mette-Marit is more from his world than a classical, religious, old-fashioned romantic girl, commoner or not. And this is the problem.
To Be or Not To Be
Monarchy is tradition, is history, is the culture of a people in a nutshell. If it ceases to be all this, its reasons for existence have reached a dead end. Vulgarisation and popularisation of royalty and aristocracy is already a problem. The trend toward marrying commoners is only adding to it. Princesses who are dynamic businesswomen, who care so much about “privacy in their family life,” and who carefully hide their children from photographers, without understanding that their husbands, their children, and they themselves belong to their people, cannot be totally royal and are damaging the monarchy. Their children are not actors' or singers' children: they are royals, and some of them will be queens and kings in the none too distant future. And if a crown prince chooses this kind of wife, he is even less royal than she.
However, I don’t want to sound apocalyptic. I think that monarchy can be preserved. We don’t know how the current crop of royal children will turn out and what values will be important in our societies when they grow up. Maybe pop culture will be out of style by then and people will not favor it. Maybe these royal children are intelligent and self-determined and could change the present tendency. Some of them seem to be bright enough and brave enough to do so, while their parents are more like the employees of multinational enterprises, with no strong personalities and somewhat indistinct profiles. My personal hope is that these young children will understand why they are royals, what it means to be one, and what their royal duties are. On that day, there will be no need to worry about them marrying commoners or nobility, for the new royal generation will be wise enough to choose their partners in life based on their own standards.
Page 1: Photo of Nicholas and Alexandra, public domain.
Page 1: Photo of newspaper headline about the Duchess of York and her "financial advisor" taken by Flickr member Mig_R and used with permission.
Page 1: Photo of Princess Aiko with her parents taken by Flickr member Atsu and used with permission.
Page 2: Collage of contemporary royals and spouses created by Royal Forums member TheTruth and used with permission.
Page 2: Photos of Queens Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix from The Royal Forums avatar collection.