Friday, June 13, 2014
Marriage and Monarchy
If anything, today it seems rather taken for granted that royals almost have to marry commoners or expect a backlash with accusations of being elitist and ‘too good for the rest of us’. These are the same romantics who used to rail against true love being thwarted by the requirement to marry someone of equivalent status yet who are now applying the same sort of restriction in the opposite direction. The fact of the matter is, although this will certainly be unpopular, that the traditional norms regarding royal marriages became the traditional norms for some very good reasons. There are also, as unpopular as this is nowadays as well, perfectly good reasons for while the royal succession, in the vast majority of nations and cultures all over the world, was restricted to males or at least gave males preference. To think otherwise is to very arrogantly assume that all of our ancestors throughout the whole of human history were simply ignorant savages who were nowhere near as intelligent, enlightened and mature as we are today. This is the sort of astonishingly ignorant sort of arrogance that can look back at the people who invented philosophy, deductive reasoning, built the pyramids and the coliseum, established world empires and conquered continents and still manage to look down your nose at them. These people were not stupid just because they lived at a time before we did and it would not hurt us to at least consider that they might have known what they were doing on a few things.
Obviously, these were cultures that were different from the Christian west which embraced monogamy but it is also just as significant that concubines or harem slaves had no reasonable expectation of ever being anything else. Occasionally, a woman from the harem might come to have some influence but such cases were the rare exception. When it came to someone who was expected to be a full consort, an empress, someone of appropriate rank was always sought after and for the same, common sense, reasons. In addition to those listed above, one should also consider how, on a very basic level, this works to the benefit of the common man. What poor ploughman could ever compete with a prince for the affections of the local bar wench or farm girl? A common man could hardly compete for the hand of a high-born or royal lady and yet, without the traditional restrictions, a royal man could have his pick of royal, noble or common ladies, intruding into the only pool of potential mates the common man has to try his luck in. It also cut down on the difficulty (seen more than once in the history of various countries across the globe) of the families of relatively modest means who attain status by the marriage of their daughter to a royal house to then cause a scandal by their effort to enrich themselves and take full advantage of their newfound status. These people are most likely to see such status as an advantage to exploit whereas those born to such status are more likely to see it as an imposition that must be born dutifully.
Today, of course, we have abandoned most such notions but it would be a mistake to think they no longer matter at all. Even today, something tends to change with a Queen and a Prince consort that does not change with a King and a Queen consort. The consorts in Britain and Denmark, Prince Philip and Prince Henri, for instance have both been given assurances that the Royal Family names will be changed to recognize them. No one would come right out and say it these days of course, but effectively it means that the House of Windsor (formerly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha since the time of Prince Albert) will be no more and it will now be the House of Mountbatten or whatever they choose to call it; it is the family of Prince Philip. It is not unnatural for a people to wish their monarchy, and so their country, to remain in one family and certainly the monarchies that have been the most revered in history have been those that have remained steadfastly in the hands of one family as much as possible. And, even if we were to disregard the traditional, Christian understanding of marriage (though it is certainly not limited to Christianity) we would still have the same problem. When two people marry they must belong to one family or another and if the husband joined the family of his wife, rather than the reverse; how is that better?
By not having the top job, queen consorts have often been more popular than their husbands, both because they are not the ones responsible for unpopular policies and because they had more time to devote to charitable activities which had the added benefit of winning over hearts and minds. Today, of course, monarchs nor even generals lead armies onto the battlefield from horseback and a female monarch can fulfill the duties of a male monarch. However, when it comes to doing away with male preference in the succession, one is still left with the same predicament of wives joining the families of their husbands and with the impossibility of changing the fact that sometimes there is no third option. So, for example, even if male preference were done away with, it would only replace a gender preference with an age preference. Just as one can ask, “why should he be first in line to the throne just because he is a boy?”, one could also ask, “why should she be first in line to the throne just because she was born first?”. Husband or wife, male or female, a choice still has to be made. History along with nature in regarding men as more disposable than women, came to a system that seemed to work in making such choices. It remains to be seen if tinkering with the traditions of centuries will be an improvement. Personally, I have my doubts as anytime the popular mindset becomes obsessed with “fairness” and stamping out “discrimination”, I cannot see it being beneficial to the idea of monarchy in the long-term.