Royal Wedding

Eira and I are hosting a small royal wedding party at our home on Friday morning. Kate and William are set to be married at 3:00AM Pacific time, and our gathering kicks off two hours earlier, continuing until the couple has returned to Buckingham Palace and we’ve been treated to the sight of the balcony wave. (For an earlier post on this particular union, see here.)

It’s fashionable to appear mystified at all the hoopla surrounding the Windsors. The right sort of people, especially on the left, are expected to engage in the customary round of eye-rolling about American Anglophilia and public laments about the continued cruel appeal of monarchy. It’s acceptable to be interested in the royals from an anthropological standpoint, or if your fascination is presented with a thick layer of ironic detachment. But to be genuinely moved by the pomp and circumstance, to be uncritically joyful — this is said to be a sign of an unreflective and vulnerable mind.

I’m not offering a Palinesque critique of the “cultural elite”. There’s much to question about the continued relevance of monarchy in the 21st century, particularly about the way in which it legitimizes enduring inequality. There’s also a great deal that’s right in the suggestion that what we do to the royals is cruel, a point Christopher Hitchens makes so eloquently in the second link above.

The Windsors don’t represent everything that is British, or even the best of Britain. But they are the public face of one aspect of that country and that people, one for which I am deeply grateful, as I wrote in this 2009 post:

My love for Britain isn’t rooted in ethnic heritage; on my mother’s side, I’ve got some ancestors from that sceptered isle, but far more from the continent. The love I have is rooted in many things, but perhaps most plainly in my family’s history. My paternal grandmother, Elisabeth von Schuh, was born in Vienna to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father; her husband, Georg Schwitzer (the spelling would later be changed) was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism when he married. My father was uncircumcised and baptized, but was ethnically 3/4ths Jewish; that latter fact would have meant a death sentence for him and the rest of the family following Hitler’s takeover of Austria in 1938. My grandfather, a gentle physician, wasn’t eager to leave; like many, he thought things wouldn’t “get that bad” for Viennese Jews (who were used to anti-Semitism as a political prop.) My late grandmother knew better, and she explored every avenue she could to get the family out.

It was Great Britain that welcomed in my father’s family. Not the USA (my grandmother tried that option). Not France (lucky, too, given what would happen to French Jews during the war.) The only door that opened was for Britain, which was willing to take certain Jewish professionals, especially doctors. The family escaped just before the outbreak of World War Two, and after a brief period in London, settled in what was then Berkshire and is now Oxfordshire, in a place called Fawler Manor just outside of Kingston Lisle. Though my grandfather was briefly interned as an enemy alien, he was eventually released and allowed to practice medicine. While my grandmother and her children stayed in the south, he went to work as the staff doctor at the refinery in Ellesmere Port, Lancashire — where he would die in a car accident in 1947.

It was the English who cared for my family before, during, and after the Second World War. My father left England at 24 to go to graduate school at Berkeley, but England never left him. The fundamental decency of that culture stayed with him all his life. He lived 47 years in the USA, but never got an American passport — he only wanted one citizenship, that of the one country that had opened its door and saved his family from the worst mass murder in human history. His California-born children all got their UK passports as soon as they could, and we all use them with varying frequency; we honor our father and we honor the land that became his home.

I know the sceptered isle well, from Caithness to Cornwall. We often visit my brother in Exeter, and I worked on my dissertation in Durham. I don’t have any Hollywood-fed illusions about a land of castles and crumpets. What I do have is a deep and abiding love for a people and a culture that saw (and still see) tolerance and fairness as among the highest virtues. It is unreasonable to make any human beings the embodiments of those values. But both in spite of and because of their lovable, exasperating, often touching imperfections, the Windsors do represent the land that saved my family when none other would.

I was fourteen when I rose in the middle of the night to watch Diana wed Charles (I had a crush on her as so many did, violating my normal rule about not being drawn to blondes). Three decades on, my daughter will be allowed to sleep while her parents and their friends eat scones, drink tea, and unapologetically and unironically stay up all night to watch Diana’s son and daughter-in-law embark on what even the most avid republicans surely hope is a far happier marriage.

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5 thoughts on “Royal Wedding

  1. Since you so famously like brunettes, I bet Kate Middleton is much more your “type” than Diana. Even if you won’t say so.

    I’m going to sleep right through the whole thing and watch the brief re-run in the morning.

  2. as a British citizen and non-consensual ‘subject’ of the monarchy I won’t be appreciating your sentimental ritual. But I won’t try and stop it either!

    It’s just not quite so romantic actually living under the rule of these b****rds. Especially as their wealth is so ugly compared to the hardship suffered by many in the UK (and across the globe) at the moment.

  3. My comment on the previous post was an attempt to try to be fair to the new royal couple, and Di as human beings. Untimely deaths bring that out in me.

    More on my ambivalence: Quiet Riot Girl has a very good point. Watching Cameron making Thatcher’s milksnatching regime look nearly pleasant by comparison, I’m a little put off by the vulgar extravagance, too. NOT by the lack-of-blueblood ‘vulgarity’ your columnist in the linked article was on about. Most of us wish the royals were a little MORE common! They’re cheaper that way! But the current rants in the UK seem to be putting the blame for all of the stupid spending of taxpayers’ money on the poor, and the students. Yeah, sure Mr. Neocon. We believe you :-P

    Go ahead and diss me if you’d like, Hugo. The way Canada treated Jewish refugees during and after the war is a painful embarrassment for most of us.

  4. As someone living in Britain I do get irritated by the US romanticization of the Royal Wedding. I’m sure William and Kate are nice people but so are thousands upon thousands of others who are married every year. The main difference is that the UK taxpayer doesn’t pay for their wedding and to live a life of extreme privilege that still favours white, heterosexual men far over women. If this wasn’t happening in a over a million public sector workers facing unemployment and those on benefits losing them then perhaps we could enjoy this little diversion. Instead it just feels deeply insulting that we are meant to celebrate such mass opulence while our hard-working public sector fears for how they are going to be able to continue to provide for their families. Thank goodness I live in Scotland where even the aristocracy are fairly nonchalant about this wedding.

    In addition, before you credit the British Royal Family with having much to do with your family being helped in the war read this: http://birdflu666.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/the-british-royal-familys-links-to-nazis-and-eugenicists-alex-jones-reports/

    The British have done many great things in the last 100 years (and many not-so-great) but they were accomplished despite the Royals, not in any way because of them.

  5. “It’s fashionable to appear mystified at all the hoopla surrounding the Windsors. The right sort of people, especially on the left, are expected to engage in the customary round of eye-rolling about American Anglophilia and public laments about the continued cruel appeal of monarchy. It’s acceptable to be interested in the royals from an anthropological standpoint, or if your fascination is presented with a thick layer of ironic detachment. But to be genuinely moved by the pomp and circumstance, to be uncritically joyful — this is said to be a sign of an unreflective and vulnerable mind.”

    I’m about the least fashionable person on the planet. :) Seriously, I think you’re reading a little to much in the indifference of so many of us towards the whole thing, Hugo. I mean, I certainly don’t wish them ill! But…why would most Americans really care..? I don’t mind that they’re getting married…

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