Tuesday, 5 June 2012

In praise of Kate Middleton

Don't panic, I have not come over all Nicholas Witchell

It's been the Jubilee weekend and the obvious topic tonight would be something about the monarchy and the class system or what on any view a demonstration that Britishness does exist means for Eck's fatalled project. Lots of others will however occupy that ground.

I'm prompted tonight however by the remarks of a wee girl, as excited as any, interviewed by the BBC in the Mall. "

"Who did you see?" the obvious question; came and the reply: "I saw the Queen, and Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton"

Now, there are all sorts of reasons buried in royal protocol about why Kate Middleton is not Princess Kate and maybe, in another blog, you might have a go at that ridiculous sort of convention. But that is not my purpose here.

"I put to you", as is the formula of the equally ridiculous conventions of my day job, "I put to you", reader, the question "Who is the wife of Prince William?". And the answer, from the most dedicated republican to the most loyal of monarchists would be "Kate Middleton".

And without thinking about it, you have embraced one of the happiest and quietist revolutions ever to take place under the reign of a sixty year monarch.

When I was growing up, the standard form of any formal correspondence sent to my parents would be addressed to "Mr and Mrs J Smart". My mother, in marrying, had given up not only her surname but even her initial as well.

And as recently as when my own pals were getting spoused up, a very distinguished legal colleague, having moved to a posh area, was invited to meet the local "wives" and then asked, after casually revealing that she and her husband did not share the same surname, if they had any plans to "get married".

But today, if there was ever anybody who did have reason to immediately adopt their husband's surname, then surely the wife of the second in line to the throne would be that woman. But she hasn't, at least not immediately. And that's the only point I'm making.

Now I'm certainly not saying that spouses should not have the same name; patently if you have kids it makes things altogether simpler. And nobody has quite worked out how we're going to cope when the politically correct doubled barrelled weans of liberal parents start having weans of their own. I'm only saying that a surname should be a choice and that it has become a choice is indicative of a wider change in the perception of women's role in society.

Not that everything's perfect but just that in this, not unimportant, way, things are moving in the right direction. And that, as with all things that move in the right direction, there will be no going back.

And that leads me on to the second change. When the Queen took the throne it would have been shocking for people to live together before marriage. Today, it would be slightly worrying if they hadn't. And that's also a good thing.

About six months ago, there was a kind of kerfuffle when somebody founded a campaign in favour of marriage as if this was some sort of reactionary idea. Indeed, there were undoubtedly those on the left who managed, at the same time, to hold an intellectual construct that while same-sex marriage was a good thing, heterosexual marriage was an outdated patriarchal institution!

Patently the human race is not universally monogamous. But an awful lot of us are. And not simply "for the procreation of children". (Sorry, Cardinal) And marriage, in the declaration of mutual commitment, is an important declaration that a place for that monogamy has been found. To that extent it is, in the proper sense, a Sacrament.

But marriage isn't (just) about grand passion. you've got to get on. In the Queen's lifetime we've moved from the point of view that you're stuck with your initial choice, through an acceptance that you shouldn't be stuck, by law or convention, in that way; to, finally, and maturely, that perhaps the sensible thing is that the initial choice should not be made in haste; more importantly need not be made in haste.

So, Kate Middleton, I don't know if you'd still have married the heir to the Throne if he'd proposed five minutes after you'd first met. I do know however that it's a good thing you didn't have to make that call.

And that's progress.

1 comment:

  1. the best article I've read on the Jubilee shenanigans, bar none. I recall a visit to the Burrell many years ago and seeing a portrait of a famous Scottish female caligrapher (so famous I can't remember her name) with an explanation that despite being married, she kept her own name. This was the Scottish tradition then and it was only in Victorian times that women came under pressure to adopt their husband's surname. This was a lightbulb moment - women of independent mind being brought to heel by patriarchy. But it also helped explain why in many parts of Scotland, married women are still referred to in chat by their maiden names, especially by other women. So what Kate Middleton has helped to achieve in a very high profile way is the righting of a wrong and a return to an old Scottish tradition and practice subsumed by the conformist political mores of Britishness and Union. Well done, Mr Smart, for recognising that not all feats of nationalism are undesirable ones! :)