Royal Weddings, Now and Then

Wedding of William and Kate Windsor, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Strathearn, and Carrickfergus.

The royal wedding this week has me thinking about royal weddings in general. For the modern monarchy, the royal family must be tied to its people in a way that it hasn’t been since perhaps early medieval times. The lack of support and respect given lately to monarchies in the Middle East is related in part  to the people feeling that these families have been imposed upon them and are not of them; they have shallow roots.

With William Windsor’s wedding this weekend the English royal family has solidified its relationship within the United Kingdom (at least as much as  a wedding can).  Kate Middleton is much more of a commoner than William’s mother Diana ever was. Their marriage brings the ‘common’ English people back into the royal family continuing a trend that Charles’ marriage to Diana began. Their children will be over three-quarters English stock, if you will.

The Queen played her part in building William’s future as well. The son of the Prince of Wales was given peerages in all three other kingdoms of the United Kingdom, Cambridge in England, Starthearn in Scotland and Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland.

An organic connection to the people was assumed in early medieval times. The royal houses grew out of the people. The younger sons of the royal houses produced enough children for the royal family to be deeply embedded in the kingdom without the leading members of the house seeking local wives.  Children belonged only to their father’s house where all of their rights were based. Aid from their mother’s family was based purely on personal relationships through their mother, not on rights. A sister’s son was an honored guest or fosterling in his uncle’s kingdom but had no rights. Because their base within their realm was firmly established, they could use royal marriages for other purposes.

Eadgyth and Otto

Royal Anglo-Saxon women held the role of peace weavers between kingdoms. Her job was to foster friendship and reduce violence between the royal houses. Peace weaving marriages often failed spectacularly, as in the case of Queen Alchflæd profiled by Tim of Senchus this week. Yet there is also plenty of evidence that such marriages produced tangible benefits. Marriages between seventh century Bernician-Deiran kings and Kent, Wessex and East Anglia fostered friendship and key links visible within the church, and in the spread of Christian missions. When Alfred’s grand-daughter Princess Eadgyth of Wessex (pictured) was sent to marry Otto I, son of King Henry of Germany, she was able to say that she was of the royal kindred of St Oswald, King of Northumbria through the marriage of her kinswoman to Oswald.  Eadgyth’s own marriage represents another type of royal marriage. In this case her half-brother King Æthelstan was probably seeking recognition from a continental king, in this case King Henry of Germany, of his royal authority more than military or economic gains. Likewise Eadgyth’s saintly heritage from St Oswald increased the specialness of Otto lineage.

As I think about it, the modern marriages of Charles and William both could also be seen as peace weaving marriages. In these cases, out reach to the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth weaves peace between the people and the royal family. Princess Diana and perhaps Duchess Kate will bring the concerns of their people, or at least their point of view,  to the attention of the royal family.

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2 comments on “Royal Weddings, Now and Then

  1. Tim says:

    It’s interesting to think of Kate Middleton as a peace-weaver between monarchy and people. She has the potential, I think. The real test will come when the current hysteria subsides.

    Looking at her wedding through 10th-century sunglasses, I wonder if the closest analogy might be a dynastic union between Northumbrians and West Saxons. Kate has ancestral roots in the North East, so no problem there, but William’s heritage is less easy to pin down. I’m thinking of the Windsors as a family whose ceremonial centre is London, like the later West Saxon kings. But if we follow the male line back two generations we come to Greece. Even if we trace the female line we end up in the land of the Old Saxons, in which case the marriage starts to look like Northumbrians+Ottonians. On the other hand, Kate’s ancestry could bounce around different parts of Britain, for all I know.

    • The more I think about it I think the only patrilinear ancestry that will matter in the future is descent from Victoria, the monarch who ruled over the height of the British Empire. Odd that males still have priority with Victoria and Elizabeth II being the most important monarchs of the last several centuries. Perhaps Charles or more likely William will change that too.

      As for peaceweavers I think that is just what Diana did during the early good years. The peoples princess made them more accessible. Remember William is half English through Diana and his children will be three quarters English via their mother and grandmother.

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