Family Fortunes

That infinite wisdom of God, which hath distinguished his angels by degrees, which hath given greater and less light and beauty to heavenly bodies, which hath made differences between beasts and birds, created the eagle and the fly, the cedar and the shrub, and, among stones, given the fairest tincture to the ruby and the quickest light to the diamond, hath also ordained kings, dukes or leaders of the people, magistrates, judges and other degrees among men.
Sir Walter Raleigh, History of the World (1614)
What is actually being celebrated on April 29th? Martin Hickes considers.

Whether you are a republican, a royalist, vehemently secular or devoutly religious, the historical significance of the Royal Wedding, on April 29, simply cannot be ignored.

It’s highly possible that no other event in 2011 will polarise the nation quite like the Royal Wedding – notwithstanding Her Majesty’s forthcoming Diamond Jubilee; both events being this year’s proverbial No.10 buses of pomp and ceremony.

But the marriage of William and Catherine also underlines ultimately a universal message - the triumph of family – and a genuine hope for true love, that rarest of commodities, when you think about it.

Even the greatest curmudgeon among those who may or may not be watching on Friday could perhaps be labelled as being churlish in not wishing them well in the hope of finding a personal happiness.

It’s easy to understand why royal weddings are often viewed with a pied appeal.

Very many people in this country do not like the Royal Family. Not so much the personalities involved, but the very notion of a magisterial overlordship existing, albeit as part of a democracy.

Equally, there are very many who think the Royals represent the very best Britain – post WWII, post Suez and post Empire – has to offer to the world.

The fact that the latter outweigh the former – though not by as much as you would think – and the fact that a rainbow of opinions exists in between the two extremes of this political sandwich - perhaps explains why the British equivalent of Robespierre or a George Washington is yet to take to the stage.

Whether out of republican aversion, apathy, a hatred of regal cornucopia or the usual heady over-froth of national effervescence– the tea-towels, fluffy slippers, HRH pinnies, silver spoons et al – royal nuptials, nevertheless can be the most saccharine of affairs.

A bit like the British crowd at Wimbledon when Tim Henman or Andy Murray is on centre court, they seem to bring out the best - and worst - of the normally quiescent/repressed British psyche.

Poorly held-in-check patriotism bordering on jingoism fermented with years of finest English reserve brought to a heady consummation in the sunshine of togetherness.  With the odd flag thrown in.

But Wills and Kate’s wedding operates on a deeper, synecdocheal level. The part standing for the whole etc.

At best, arguably, such weddings represent the highest sublime of country, family and public in supreme mutual adoration; a celebration of the triumph and continuance of our  - quite rare -  constitutional monarchy, underpinned by a democratic state.

In the vast gamut of governmental possibilities – of which there are at least 52 – ours arguably isn’t that bad.

Presented with the bewildering alternatives of despotism, interregnums, fascist states, plutocracies, regencies, tyrannies, empires, oligarchies, military juntas, totalitarianisms and even enlightened absolutisms which exist in the world, worse cards could, perhaps, be drawn in the global shuffle for power. (There are those who believe we are not that far off a new fundamental theocracy, but that’s a side issue).

Those of even older sensibilities might prefer to see the emblem of a royal wedding as the being the last echoes of ceremony instigated by such archaic - though still resonant philosophies - as the Divine Right of Kings and the ‘hierarchical pyramid of the Tudor and Stuart courts, which had the king at the pinnacle and all the broad peasant classes at the bottom.

Some today even see royal weddings as being the last vestiges of a long forgotten feudal system; or even such elevated bondings as being the icing on the cake of a spiritual, temporal and religious union of people of crown.

Others of course abhor the merest whiff of royalty.

While not especially wishing to bring back a Cromwellian absolutism, nor advocating the ways of the fascists of the late unpleasantness of WWII, some reckon the French, or the seemingly egalitarian philosophies of the pioneers of the early United States, had or have it right.

Dinner party thinking perhaps, but the thoughts of Thomas Paine normally crop up in such conversations now and again; and something vaguely along the lines that the rights of man spring from nature not government. Eden meets the ballot box etc.

To such sensibilities, the idea of royal couple atop any sort of social pyramid – iced with piping or not – has all the attraction of a surfeit of force-fed political marzipan.

But it also perhaps presents a chance to for us to pause and to focus on the family, whether capitalised or not.

The Press for years has dubbed the Royal Family as being ‘The Firm’, and at their most basic level, the Windsors have endured the kind scandals and tragedies which would make the best plots of Dallas or Dynasty seem as prosaic as the Test Card.

A royal fire, divorce, affairs, car accidents, alleged assassination involving the secret service, an attempted kidnap, cross-faith transfers, over-tiddlyness, vegetative discourse; mock party-esque retro-extreme Fascism. Short of a UFO landing or someone telling us it has all been a dream in a shower, we’re not been far from, to date, the best imaginings of US soapland.

What of course sets all this aside from the ‘normal’ family is the Royal’s regal heritage and how they got there; and thus whether we should cheer them on or not.

It’s perhaps worth remembering that the Royal Family – and the impending celebratory nuptials of grandeur this Friday– whatever your political views - are the product of a combination of pure chance, power, war, corruption, Machievellianism and all what Shakespeare described as being the turning wheel of fortune over the course of years. 

Family and the family name have always lain at the heart of such turmoil – and has arguably been the touch paper for such generations. (Hotspur (Henry Percy) knew he was losing more than his life – but his family name – when stabbed by Hal).

The Normans only came to power thanks to a chance victory at Hastings; the Tudors were a Welsh farming family of note before the bloodbath of the War of the Roses wiped out the flower of English nobility across many sides, propelling them precipitously to power; and the Stuarts arose thanks to a chance happenstance of a lost bloodline.

Somewhere among this turmoil lies the associated history of every other family name in this country – some lost, some extant, some thriving and some becoming extinct. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

(My family for example were, allegedly, originally a Protestant Huguenot family and escapees from the terrors of revolutionary France who settled in Yorkshire, hence the unusual surname spelling).

Were it not the history of own country, such a saga might be easily be confused with the familial push and shove of Rome, or the snake-pit-like intrigue of a Mafia power struggle.

But to some, the old hierarchical pyramid of old still exists; and maybe that is what is being subliminally celebrated this week.

Maybe it is too deeply rooted in our socio-psyche and national identity to even notice these days. The Windsors at the top, everyone else a few blocks down? To others, perhaps it is still a monstrous carbuncle on the face of society.

Friday’s shindig, to some, will literally be the party at the top of the world. Or at least a chance for those invited 1900 people and associated families to dance around the capstone of the pyramid of privilege.

Perhaps at best, Sphinx-like, we can but look on, on this April 29.

But when the bunting is stowed, ready for the Diamond Jubilee, and the street party tables are stacked, over a hastily grabbed vol-au-vent or the amuse-bouche of your choice – a nice pyramid of Ferrero-Rocher perhaps - maybe we can also take some succour, when the hurly-burly is done, in contemplating the time old story of the fate of kings and queens - and of nations.

And, as someone once said, whatever it may mean, maybe hope that love, actually, has something to do with it.