Prince William, Kate Middleton and 'obsolete' marriage
[UPDATED: 8:10 P.M.]
In other words, should those of us following the engagement of Britain's Prince William to his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, worry that this marriage is going to end in divorce?
That is, not more than we would expect a divorce in one of the world's most famous families -- even if the Time magazine article on the Time/Pew poll released this week did start off by noting that the "wedding of the 20th century," the 1981 union of William's parents, "turned out to be a huge bust."
For those keeping score, it's not just the marriage of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana that ended in divorce; of Queen Elizabeth II's children, only Prince Edward is still in his first marriage. Her daughter, Anne, the princess royal, divorced in 1992, and Andrew, the duke of York, divorced Sarah Ferguson ("Fergie") in 1996.
Royal watchers long speculated that William and Kate, who began dating as students at the University of St. Andrews, moved slowly toward marriage partly because of all these failed relationships and William's position as the future king. The British monarch is not only the head of state but
, thanks to Henry VIII, "defender of the faith," or titular head of the Church of England, a title that dates to Henry VIII. The failure of the marriage between Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his global-superstar wife not only damaged the royal family's popularity but also sparked public debate over whether Charles could, and should, one day become head of a church that does not officially recognize divorce characterizes marriage as a lifelong institution and has strict rules about remarrying those who have divorced. When Charles married his longtime mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, he did so in a civil ceremony in part to play down these questions, and they had a church service after. (When Princess Anne remarried in 1992, she cleared this hurdle by wedding in Scotland.) Another divorce, the thinking went, could be the tipping point for a country in which people have questioned the expense of the monarchy and whether to maintain the class system in this era.
William -- whose personal popularity is part of the reason he was the royal representative this year on a trip to Australia, where even the prime minister has questioned the role of the monarchy -- was thought to be taking his time both to avoid his parents' mistakes and to ensure that his bride understood the pressures that came with marrying him. "We've talked about today for a while, we've talked about this happening so Kate wasn't in the dark at all when we were planning it," he said during their engagement interview this week.
Whatever concerns he and Kate may have about their future, the Time/Pew survey shouldn't be among them. Even though 44 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say marriage is becoming obsolete, the respondents were Americans, not Britons. The survey found that young adults were more likely to have liberal attitudes about unmarried couples living together, which William and Kate have already done. Data that likely come closer to home for William and Kate are from the annual British Social Attitudes survey, which has found a relaxation in attitudes toward marriage and which in 2008 reported that two-thirds of its 3,000 respondents saw virtually no distinction between marriage and cohabitation.
Even if the British are increasingly accepting of unmarried cohabitation, it's not an option if William, who has spoken of his strong sense of duty, wants his descendants to assume the throne. British law recognizes only those offspring from Anglican marriages; even today, marriages between British royals and Catholics result in someone either changing her faith (see: Autumn Kelly, the Canadian who married the queen's grandson Peter Phillips last year) or renouncing his claim on the throne (see: the queen's cousin Prince Michael of Kent). Prince William was born into a family that expects a Church of England marriage.
| November 19, 2010; 12:01 PM ET
Categories: Brewington | Tags: Autumn Brewington
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