Ed. note This is the final installment in London-based journalist Alex Aldridge’s series of stories for Above the Law about the royal wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton. You can read the prior posts here and here.
Well, they got married.
Best man Prince Harry remembered the ring. None of Wills’ disgruntled exes opted to speak now rather than forever hold their peace. And Kate — who has been made a Duchess rather than a Princess — even smiled. So now for the party!
Unless, that is, you work at one of London’s U.S. law firms, where lawyers staffing American deals are missing out on the public holiday everyone else in Britain is enjoying. “There are no celebrations here,” one cheery soul told me this morning in that weird Madonna accent Yanks acquire when they’ve been in London too long.
Don’t worry, though, the joke will be on us on next week, when we enter the existential crisis that customarily follows royal hysteria.
“What the hell happened there?” we’ll mutter, warm beer still on our breath.
“Oh no, we’ve only gone and got over-excited about that bunch of royal weirdos again,” we’ll groan, as we remove our commemorative Wills & Kate mugs from view and pour our tea into alternative vessels.
“Why do we, the country that brought the world the rule of law, have a royal family at all?” we’ll wonder indignantly, gnashing our yellow teeth and feeling a touch murderous….
You see, we’re not entirely comfortable with this monarchy thing. Lingering in our collective subconscious are Thomas Paine’s words about a hereditary governing class being “as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wiseman, and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet laureate.”
Certainly, all that quaint arbitrary privilege we grant them is a bit embarrassing: the right to mint coins, immunity from prosecution, unconditional license to mine for precious metals, ownership of all swans — the bizarre list of British royals’ powers goes on. And thanks to our practice of adding to it whenever our fickle mood takes us, it keeps getting longer. A couple of years ago, for example, Wills was made an honorary barrister (an elite type of British lawyer who specialises in advocacy), for no other reason than because we liked him that day.
Happily, despite Britain’s lack of a written constitution, our monarchs have a strong sense of what’s acceptable; on being made a barrister, a bemused Wills made a sweet speech promising not to practise “except for the odd speeding ticket.” We know the deal, too: whenever the loose cannon that is Prince Charles voices personal views that challenge the advice of democratically elected government ministers, he is promptly slapped down by the media.
As our royal wedding hangover lifts, we’ll be soothed by this knowledge. “It’s a strange system,” we’ll reflect , “but basically it works.” Then we’ll confer upon Harry the right to ride a horse through Heathrow Airport — and look on proudly as he refrains from using his new power.
Why bother? You might ask. Wouldn’t life be simpler in a republic?
Yes — for a bit.
But, like you, we’d probably just end up making new royal families. Come on: the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Bushes… don’t think we haven’t noticed. Humans, it seems, have a thing for the hereditary transfer of authority.
At least our quirky constitutional model means we can exercise this irrational yearning in a relatively benign way — even if we have to go through all that stuff with swans and horses. While family dynasties actually run your country, we keep ours as harmless national pets.
Alex Aldridge is a London-based freelance journalist specialising in law and education. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and contributes regularly to specialist legal publications. Previously Alex was Associate Editor at Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeAA or email him at [email protected].