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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    But there's something else money can buy: a private education, which can catapult kids, if not their parents, into a higher social bracket. That isn't good news for the majority of British children trapped in a state school system that far too rarely matches the quality of teaching and facilities in the private sector, but it helps explain why it's not so strange after all to see the great-great-granddaughter of a coal miner on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, kissing a prospective King — twice, to the crowd's delight. Kate's parents sent her to Marlborough, a school Elliot Major brackets with Eton and Westminster as "incredibly prestigious." (It's also incredibly expensive, with fees of $47,800 per year.) Kate met her future husband at the university they both attended, St. Andrews, Scotland's most venerable such institution, founded in 1413. If she had pursued a more traditional career path, her degree in art history would have garnished a résumé that at the very least could have been expected to help her secure a junior managerial position or some other type of white collar employment.

    Instead she finds herself breathing the thin air at the summit of British social ambitions. A sign of true nobility, at least in fairy tales, is generosity. Cinderella, ensconced in her castle, doesn't shut the gates to mice. And Kate's Cinderella-like impulses are benefiting 26 charities personally selected by her and her new husband to receive donations that might otherwise have been spent by well-wishers on wedding presents destined to further clutter palace corridors.

    Lessons to Be Learned
    Among the beneficiaries is IntoUniversity, an organization devoted to providing underprivileged children with the motivation and tools to gain higher education so that they too might one day go to the ball. The founders of the charity were startled and delighted to be included on the royal list. "We're working with a whole load of young people who have ambitions and hopes and inspirations," says one of IntoUniversity's founders, Hugh Rayment-Pickard.

    On the first day of a weeklong course in North London for 10- and 11-year-old kids, mostly from the local Broadwater Farm primary school and almost all from minority backgrounds, tongues protrude out of corners of mouths, brows are furrowed, and pencils are inexpertly wielded. IntoUniversity staff are introducing their charges to the workings of the media, part of a broader effort to give them ideas about professions they might one day join. At one table, children struggle to design the front page of a newspaper. your highness amazingly astonished at katwills wedding engagement — gasp, reads an early attempt.

    Despite the breathless headline, the kids appear largely indifferent to their royal benefactors. The wedding "has nothing to do with us. We're not related to them," says 11-year-old Andre Bucknor. He heard (incorrectly) that tickets to the wedding were on sale to people rich enough to afford them. The misapprehensions of a boy may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Still glowing from the excitement of the wedding and buoyed by the expressions of affection it inspired, the royal couple could easily ignore dissenters at the edge of the picture. But though dissent may be rare, consent — the consent that keeps the royals safe in their palaces — matters too. The Windsors require the consent of that boy and his schoolmates to continue the family business.

    As William and Kate embark on married life, they aim to snatch a few more years behind the front lines of royalty. He will continue as a pilot for the Royal Air Force while she plays housewife at their cottage in Wales, emerging for occasional state duties and to quell, if only briefly, the insatiable demand for her image. The two have spoken of their desire to start a family, and the government is already examining the feasibility of changing the laws of royal succession so that any male child they might have does not automatically take precedence over a female.

    That would represent a leveling of the barrier between tradition and modernity. It could strengthen the monarchy by bringing it closer to the world the rest of us inhabit or weaken the monarchy by reminding us that it is part of a tradition based on inequalities — an issue that most Britons appear happy to overlook while Queen Elizabeth remains on the throne.

    Will her successors figure out how to repeat the trick? Peter Morgan thinks they will. "The history of the British monarchy is a history of two parallel and contradictory impulses, a history of diminishment of constitutional power and in parallel an escalation of skills of survival," he says. "Never underestimate the British monarchy's ability to adapt, reorganize its molecular configuration and survive. They'll be here long, long, long after we've all gone."

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