The glossy weekly began printing pictures of the recently betrothed in its first issue 100 years ago; these days, the photographs that appear as the magazine's opening plate do not celebrate engagements: a young woman will appear on the page for her qualities alone. This week it was Lucy's turn for the spotlight. Pictured in her natural habitat - surrounded by greenery and looking, at first glance, as though hip-deep in pond scum - Lucy stands, both in her own life and in publishing terms, poised between past and future.
The Country Life portrait has, since its inception as a pin-up page for Edwardian wannabes (the first was of Lord Suffolk: it took a while for the gels to come out on top) represented values that made this land of ours what it is: alliance, inter-family unions, good breeding and good breeding stock. It didn't represent arriviste ideas like passion, or dressing up. That was the job of mistresses. Good qualities in a wife were roughly similar to those of a good gun dog: solidity, loyalty, practicality, low maintenance demands and a lack of neurosis.
All these qualities are represented here. Lucy looks a thoroughly good sort. The smile suggests she can take a joke, the determined jawline that no organisational task will defeat her. She sports the sort of sturdy sweater that made the Princess of Wales look a good bet before therapy- through-couture set in.
But look again. Something is afoot here. Compare Lucy to her predecessors of the Sixties and Seventies. To a girl, they posed in pearls and decent white shirts, suggesting no more strenuous ambition than the odd flower arranging course. Lucy's different. Lucy has a gun. What does this mean? Is it a statement about women's changing roles, that we've strayed so far on to masculine territory that we're even poaching their game?
Or is it something deeper? Look at that triumphant smile. This is a girl who's got what she wants. Could this be a subliminal message that women, tired of the shilly-shallying of manhood and their terror of that c-word of the Nineties, commitment, are finally resorting to the only persuasive means left to them?Reuse content