EMORY (US) — The marriage of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton marks a dramatic shift from royal unions of the distant and recent past, says historian Patrick Allitt.
“The idea that one can marry only for personal considerations really is extremely recent, I would say that probably the marriage of Prince Andrew, Charles’s younger brother, to Sarah Ferguson was the first time that was true,” says Allitt, a history professor at Emory University.
Politics and Marriage
Until recently, royal marriages were almost always based on the foreign policy of the English monarchy. Allitt says Kings spent a lot of time negotiating marriages to suitable European princesses. Just as important was finding a wife who would provide the king a son.
“The kings were very afraid that if they died with no children or only daughters, it would plunge the kingdom into civil war,” Allitt explains.
Love and Marriage
British monarchs started having more choice in their partners around the 1950s and 60s. Queen Elizabeth had a very traditional marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, a member of the exiled Greek royal family. Her sister, Princess Margaret, though, married a commoner, Antony Armstrong-Jones.
“It was the very first wedding to be televised,” says Allitt. “It was also the first royal wedding of the 20th century to end in divorce,” says Allitt.
Kate and Diana
Allitt says there are already major differences in the relationship of Prince William and Kate compared to Prince Charles and Diana.
William is much closer in age to his bride-to-be, and he has had a much less sheltered life compared to his father. Allitt also says William experienced first-hand what his mother went through.
“[William’s] probably going to be very anxious to protect his own wife from the kind of circumstances that afflicted his mother.”
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