The Royal We

This was not simply a wedding but the clearest indication yet of how the House of Windsor is positioning itself for the post-Elizabethan age

  • Andrew Cowie / UPPA / ZUMAPRESS

    Kate and William on the Carrage down to Buckingham Palace Friday April 29 2011.

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    Yet the royals have made adjustments to the modern world — if not always the right ones or at sufficient speed. In 2006, sitting in Buckingham Palace, Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son, insisted to Time that the monarchy understood the need to adapt. "I think this organization is very good at change management," he said. "We live it, we work it all the time. Change is an almost continuous process," so much so "that it's almost imperceptible."

    The controversies that have engulfed Andrew in the past year highlighted his difficulties with the process. His decision to maintain a friendship with disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein was all his own, displaying an unreconstructed hauteur toward the idea that royals, like other public figures, are accountable to the public. His much criticized contacts with Saif Gaddafi, by contrast, were at the behest of the government, in the prince's role as trade envoy, a job created to give him a function and purpose that he signally lacked. Just being royal is no longer enough to win the support of the British populace.

    The lack of a job description has also bedeviled Andrew's older brother. Charles has spent his whole life preparing to be King, but, despite the screams of fans that greeted him on the wedding morning, few Britons view the prospect of his reign with enthusiasm. Several polls have suggested that a majority of Brits would like to see him bypassed altogether in a convoluted (and improbable) arrangement that would have the royal scepter handed straight from the Queen to William.

    Charles' turbulent personal life dented his standing; it doesn't come naturally to tug the forelock to a man who memorably expressed the desire in a covertly recorded phone call to be his mistress's tampon. And in his earnest efforts to carve out a meaningful role for himself, he has drawn attention to the absence of one. "I find I am often accused of living in the past or of wanting to return to the kind of past that can only be met in the imagination," he complained in a 2002 speech. "I have been branded as a traditionalist, as if tradition was some kind of disease." He aspired, he said, "to level the monstrous artificial barrier erected between tradition and modernity," and he has tried to do so through his sincere campaigning on green issues (where he has been ahead of the curve) and architecture (where he is a dinosaur). None of this has boosted his popularity. The best hopes for the monarchy lie not in its members' ability to reinvent themselves as advocates for worthy causes, like superannuated rock stars, but to renew faith in the Elizabethan tradition.

    The greatest hopes for that renewal rest with William and his new bride — not exactly an unpressurized start to a marriage. "I wanted to give her a chance to see in and to back out if she needed to before it all got too much," William explained last November after the couple announced an engagement that many had expected far sooner. The marital history of the Prince's parents hardly inspires confidence, but Diana — though then nine years younger and incalculably more naive than the daughter-in-law she will never know — entered her marriage with one distinct advantage over Kate: she was a blue blood, the daughter of an earl.

    The new Duchess of Cambridge may look the part — though she has yet to master the Windsors' regal, stiff-wristed wave — but British news organizations revealed that her antecedents were not only modest but plebeian, including miners and manual laborers. Her brief split from William in 2007 was attributed by those same news organizations to class tensions. They mentioned her mom Carole Middleton's lèse majesté in chewing gum in the presence of the Queen; they openly mocked the family's business, Party Pieces, a mail-order company that retails decorations and other "partywares."

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