On a Royal Wedding, Breeding and the Feckless Poor

The announcement of a Royal Wedding in England accompanies debates on breeding at both ends of the class spectrum

This week [Nov 2010] has seen a resurgence of attention to ancient issues of breeding and class consciousness in England. One long-awaited story burst into life with the announcement that Prince William, second in line to the throne, was to marry his fiancé Kate Middleton. The event was marked with much attention to the fact that Ms Middleton was of humble origins. This was, we learned, a further step towards a modern Monarchy, with language of Royal blood and the implications of intermarriage between royalty and commoners.

A turbulent priest?

A bishop weighed in with a republican perspective. The Bishop of Willsdon commented on facebook that media coverage of the engagement was “fawning deferential nonsense”. His quoted remarks were intemperate, including mention of a dysfunctional family (William’s not Kate’s) and added his doubts about the long-term viability of the marriage. Bishop Pete [sic] was summarily removed from official duties.

Meanwhile, the popular press and The BBC offered unqualified enthusiasm for the match. They largely cast Kate Middleton as a Cinderella figure who had escaped from the evil grip of her background. There were hints that her parents would serve as additional figures in this reworking of the pantomime. They were portrayed as masking their time as employees with British Airways through a display of wealth acquired subsequently. A more salacious tale about Kate’s grandmother also earned a brief airing. It is hardly surprising that I found the stories on the web categorised under entertainment.

A Commoner?

Public opinion seemed largely in favour of the match. One phone-in caller captured the view that the Prince should be allowed to marry any young unmarried woman sane of mind and healthy of body. There was little evidence of nuances regarding the religious or prior marital status of the chosen bride (or even of her nationality or ethnic origins, come to think of it). The main point was “Why not? Times are changing.”

There appears to be widespread public approval of a commoner marrying into the Royal family, and the possibility of an eventual Queen Kate. There was some muttering about terms being used such as breeding stock and commoners? In this, there was little acknowledgement that the status of commoners and the house of commons were hard won-rights in the reformation from an absolute monarchy towards one that is constitutionally negotiated.

More on breeding and the blood royal

There has been wide acceptance (from folk experience of working on the land as well as owning it) that a thoroughbred line within a species needs to avoid the dangers of excessive in-breeding. Extending the analogy, Brits have tended to accept the virtue of a little out-breeding even to the blood royal. So welcome to the club, your new highness, and here’s to an infusion of helpful genes for the future.

Coincidentally, the week also saw another public figure in hot water with his political masters after remarks about breeding. This story involved Howard Flight, who remarked in an Interview to The Evening Standard

“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.”

His observations put at risk his elevation to the House of Lords as a Conservative peer, news of which was only recently announced.

What to make of all this?

The stories conceal complex sets of beliefs which have to be examined more carefully to detect the various currents flowing into popular consciousness, helping form the national psyche. The English through the views expressed in the media have sets of beliefs around much-cherished freedoms. One is freedom of speech, and perceived restrictions imposed by those powerful enough to silence a republican bishop or a conservative peer. Another freedom is preservation of a kind of robust egalitarianism. This accepts the notion of a Royal bloodline while recognising as benefits what National Socialists referred to as its mingling with that of an inferior caste.

The other Prince of Wales

And for the record, The Prince of Wales and his first-born William are considered by some to be usurpers of titles rightfully bestowed upon the heirs of the ancient Celtic chieftain Owain Glyndwr. Owain’s attempt to become King of Wales failed in the rebellion of 1400 B.C.

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