Why do roy­als pre­fer to marry com­mon­ers?

Princess Eu­ge­nie’s wed­ding was the lat­est bid to move the monar­chy into the 21st cen­tury, says Han­nah Betts

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features & arts -

Well, it’s done, then. Princess Eu­ge­nie Vic­to­ria He­lena of York has mar­ried some chap who sells tequila, in a three-hour This Morn­ing spe­cial that will en­ter the an­nals of Hello! magazine, if not his­tory.

As that pub­li­ca­tion noted, Euge (to her friends…) was “the first princess bride since 1992, when the Princess Royal mar­ried Ti­mothy Lau­rence”. For the first time in more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury, we had pomp, fairy-tale, proper princess­dom – a “princess of the blood”, to use a phrase that’s been well-worn by her fa­ther.

And Princess Eu­ge­nie proved her­self more on trend than usual by mar­ry­ing a com­moner.

For Jack Brooks­bank may be a posh boy, with a back­ground in­clud­ing those Sloane bas­tions that are Stowe and Mahiki, but he is a com­moner none the less.

There had been spec­u­la­tion that Brooks­bank might be handed an earl­dom on get­ting hitched. How­ever, like ev­ery royal love match since Lady Diana Spencer – think Sarah Fer­gu­son, Ti­mothy Lau­rence, So­phie Rhys- Jones, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Au­tumn Kelly, Mike Tin­dall, Kate Mid­dle­ton and Meghan Markle – he is not of royal, nor even blue-blooded stock.

As the bride’s mother, her­self a com­moner, some­what op­ti­misti­cally stated be­fore the nup­tials, it was a wed­ding “about love, fu­ture and in­clu­siv­ity”. Sarah, Duchess of York added: “The York fam­ily em­braces the magic of Jack to­tally.”

And the magic of Jack is that he isn’t Lord Jack, but “Bar­man Jack”, as the Chelsea set re­fer to him.

And what of it, one might ask? Even within liv­ing mem­ory, a royal mar­ry­ing a reg­u­lar type has raised eye­brows; a shock­ing step rather en­joyed by Princess Mar­garet when she wed plain old Mr Antony Arm­strong-Jones in 1960. More­over, even the Queen Mother’s union with her Ber­tie proved con­tro­ver­sial back in 1923, de­spite her be­ing a lady and he merely the Duke of York, the idea that he might be­come George VI yet unimag­in­able.

Re­gard­less, the union was seen as a strik­ing move to­wards moder­nity for the House of Wind­sor.

For the law had been weighted

‘Cather­ine will be our first mid­dle­class Queen’

against royal/com­moner unions since the Royal Mar­riages Act of 1772, which en­sured that mem­bers of the Royal fam­ily could only marry with the per­mis­sion of the monarch, in or­der to guard against nup­tials that might di­min­ish royal sta­tus.

Bril­liantly, this at­tempt by George III to se­cure the Hanove­rian line pro­duced a sit­u­a­tion in which he spawned more than 50 grand­chil­dren, with only one le­git­i­mate heir among them, un­til the death of the Re­gent’s daugh­ter spurred his broth­ers into mar­i­tal ac­tion. The Mad King’s mad­dest move may have stopped his rel­a­tives mar­ry­ing com­mon­ers, but it didn’t stop them fall­ing for them.

Even be­fore this, the need for royal matches to be used to se­cure po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances and ter­ri­to­rial gain made wed­dings be­tween roy­als and non-roy­als a rar­ity. The most no­table ex­cep­tion was the coup de foudre that took place be­tween Ed­ward IV and El­iz­a­beth Woodville in 1464. His­tory tells it that the blonde widow sprang out from beneath an oak tree, im­me­di­ately en­snar­ing her beloved with her “mourn­ful beauty”. It is said they mar­ried the next day with all the lust­ful fer­vour this im­plies. The queen’s mother was later ac­cused of sor­cery in in­vei­gling the monarch to suc­cumb to her com­moner daugh­ter’s charms.

His­to­rian Clau­dia Gold, au­thor of the Henry II bi­og­ra­phy, King of the North Wind, ex­plains: “For the most part, unions be­tween com­mon­ers and roy­alty have proved in­cred­i­bly con­tro­ver­sial. The ex­cep­tions were mar­riages to the great English heiresses, which brought a lot of money to the Crown; mar­riages to heal civil war (no­tably Henry VII and El­iz­a­beth of York); or mar­riages to women such as Jane Sey­mour, who was so seem­ingly in­nocu­ous that no one could pos­si­bly hold any­thing against her.

Yet, even here, peo­ple com­plained about her rel­a­tives’ ad­vance­ment.

“Else­where, com­moner queen con­sorts were of­ten cast in the role of witches or jezebels: Is­abella of An­goulême, say, who was said to have kept King John chained to her bed, or Anne Bo­leyn, who was re­ported to have an ex­tra finger on her right hand – surely the sign of a witch. Or women such as Wal­lis Simp­son and El­iz­a­beth Woodville, us­ing their sex­u­al­ity to keep their royal spouses in thrall.”

Old prej­u­dices die hard, and there are still zealots who feel that in­tro­duc­ing a lack of even vaguely blue blood will rep­re­sent a fa­tal wa­ter­ing down of royal stock. Oth­ers – the Queen, ap­par­ently, in­cluded – con­sider not em­brac­ing change more ru­inous.

Af­ter all, one of her favourite fam­ily mem­bers is the Count­ess of Wes­sex, for­merly the res­o­lutely mid­dling So­phie Rhys-Jones. Eu­ge­nie has said that Her Majesty knew that Brooks­bank was the one “right at the be­gin­ning” and “was very happy”.

Ac­cord­ing to royal ex­pert Katie Ni­choll, au­thor of Harry: Life, Loss and Love, it was un­likely rad­i­cal the Duke of Cam­bridge who re­ally broke the mould.

“Prince Wil­liam rewrote the rules when he mar­ried Kate Mid­dle­ton, the first com­moner to marry an heir in likely line to the throne. It was some­thing of a royal rev­o­lu­tion, and has only ben­e­fited the Royal fam­ily.

“Kate will be our first mid­dle-class Queen. She has the ances­try of coal min­ers cours­ing through her veins, and that makes her rel­e­vant and re­lat­able to.”

Ni­choll sees Diana, Princess of Wales’s in­flu­ence, de­spite Lady Diana Spencer hav­ing had blood ar­guably bluer than the Wind­sors.

“Diana broke the royal mould, she pushed bound­aries – and we’ve seen her sons do the same. They are paving the way for the monar­chy to move into the 21st cen­tury.”

Gold agrees: “Diana changed the game. She made roy­alty more ac­ces­si­ble, more at­tain­able. She be­haved like a movie star, but one that needed our love, help and sup­port – and we loved her for it. The Royal fam­ily learned that peo­ple find vul­ner­a­bil­ity at­trac­tive, and they use it in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tively.”

Ex­am­ples of roy­als in ri­val mod­ern monar­chies han­ker­ing af­ter bits of rough no less abound. One thinks of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, their son Prince Al­bert and Olympic swim­mer Charlene Witt­stock. The pic­ture-per­fect Le­tizia Or­tiz, now Queen of Spain, was once a tele­vi­sion news an­chor; Sofia Hel­lqvist, Princess of Swe­den, a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion con­tes­tant.

Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby was crit­i­cised for be­ing a sin­gle mother, whos whose child was fa­thered by a drug drug-dealer, when she mar­ried Crow Crown Prince Haakon of Nor­way. Princ Prince Fred­erik of Den­mark fell in love with ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive Mary Dona Don­ald­son in a bar, while Swedish heir Crown Princess Vic­to­ria pledg pledged her­self to her per­sonal train trainer, Daniel Westling.

Nev­er­the­less, Ne we Bri­tons like to think that we do things bet­ter than the so-called s bi­cy­cling monar­chies and their ilk. If much of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for monar­chy re­sides in its spe­cial­ness, ex­oti­cism, magic, are there dan­gers in mix­ing the pomp with the ple­beian, the queenly with the quo­tid­ian? And might it spell prob­lems down the line, given that the line is so very much the thing?

Gold thinks not: “We live in an age of celebrity. In Cather­ine and Meghan, we have two young princesses with movie-star looks to daz­zle us. And we love them even more be­cause they are com­mon­ers.

“We can as­pire to be like them, and some of their fam­ily mem­bers have is­sues that en­able us to iden­tify with them. It’s all very Jane Austen-es­que: the per­fect princesses with the se­lec­tively chal­leng­ing fam­i­lies. Our fu­ture queen’s sis­ter is known for her beau­ti­ful bot­tom, her mother is teased for be­ing a for­mer air host­ess, and her un­cle pro­vides the req­ui­site black sheep. But we adore Kate all the more for it.”

The com­moner con­sort looks here to stay.

For love is blind – even royal love these days; mean­ing mem­bers of The Firm now stand the same chance as the rest of us of re­main­ing happy ever af­ter.


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