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Posted at 12:01 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Prince William, Kate Middleton and 'obsolete' marriage

By Autumn Brewington

[UPDATED: 8:10 P.M.]

It's hard not to notice the juxtaposition when the global excitement sparked by a royal wedding announcement is followed by headlines announcing "Four in 10 say marriage is obsolete."

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?

Not really.

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.

By Autumn Brewington  | November 19, 2010; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Brewington  | Tags:  Autumn Brewington  
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I would start commentating on the british legal system with great care. Henry VIII was conferred "defender of the faith" for his work about the sacraments which was seen as a polemic against Martin Luther. When he had trouble getting his first marriage annulled (Catherine's uncle controlled the Pope at the time), he was persuaded to break from Rome. Over the next few years he was excommunicated and eventually had the defender of the faith title revoked. Parliament then bestowed upon him Defender of the Faith more to stick two fingers up at Rome.

Charles did get divorced under civil law, but after Diana's death he was free to marry again in any Church of England church. Under Roman Catholic rules, this is also true.

Under the marriage act as it now stands in England, there must be a civil registrar. This can only happen on official land for the purpose of marriage. for most people this is their church and a priest would double as the registrar. St George's chapel is actually within the walls of Windsor Castle - the Queen's home. Had a licence to register marriages been granted anyone in the land would have the right to get married in St George's chapel for a period of at least 3 years. Therefore the decision was taken to separate the civil from the spiritual and Charles married in the Town Hall outside and had a separate ceremony in St George's Chapel. English Law is quirky - eg you are not allowed to photograph the bride and groom actually signing the registry.

The issue that does present it's head, but not mentioned in your article is the position of Camilla. She was a divorcee at the time of the marriage.

Posted by: AndyBugden | November 19, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Thank you AndyB for your comments. I was about to point out the exact same flaws in the article. 'Defender of the Faith' was a title given to Henry VIII by the Pope for Henry's defence of the church against Luther.

The problem surrounding the 'validity' of Charles current marriage concerns Camilla and HER divorce that made her ineligible for marriage. Not that of Charles whose wife had died by the time he re-married.

Charles and Camilla are not married according to the rites of the Church of England - blessing or no after the civil ceremony. So the conundrum is - can she receive the title of 'Queen consort' without actually being validly married within the C of E? No , is the answer that was made by a Clarance House spokesperson when the issue was addressed in the recent NBC interview that Charles gave.

Posted by: dub13 | November 19, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I think they're an awfully cute couple, and I wish them all the best.

Posted by: lindalovejones | November 19, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Agreed Dub. As consort she would not need to be crowned and the style "queen" I think would unlikely be used. Queen Consorts do not hold any power and they lose the title consort upon the death of their spouses anyway. Subsequent marriages would not entitle that line to succession.

Going back to the article, I would like to make a couple of further points. Firstly, with regards to the Australian Labour Party - they are the encumbents, they are very strongly republican especially since it was only 30 years ago or so when the Crown governor sacked their prime minister and appointed someone else.

Final point is that the cost of the monarchy is really unknown. Tourists do not flock to the USA to see your presidents. So that is a lot of extra revenue coming in. There are also crown estates and plenty of them. The Dutchy of Lancaster pays a lot into the coffers. When you look at it she probably gives more than she receives on balance - and I think that is good value. Yes, she rarely exercises power, but she can encourage via the privy council. Harold Wilson was the last one encouraged to leave.

The catholic point is valid. It has been looked at in recent years, but to change it would mean to open such a constitutional can of worms that it would mean putting in place a completely new constitution. Will Charles be King? The Queen's mother lived till 102 so there are good genes there. Add another 15-20 years on to Charles - would he have the energy for it or would he pass it up for William?

Posted by: AndyBugden | November 19, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Wow. They *are* cute. I'll bet their secret wedding night videos make more money than Paris Hilton's and Pamela Anderson's put together.

Posted by: roblimo | November 20, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

England needs a Lord Protector now more than ever.

Posted by: Martial | November 20, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Regarding your comment that marriage is obsolete, it is only so because of the British Tax and Benefits system. E.g. If married the income of both partners is considered as one effecting no tax benefits but if one partner becomes unemployed, the income of the other is taken into account and benefit is reduced.

Posted by: shaik1 | November 22, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see that pre-nup!

Posted by: wxyz6200 | November 22, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

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