Stop this humiliation of the Royal Family

If we are to have a Prince of Wales, he should marry in some degree of magnificence
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The Independent Online

Walter Bagehot said that a royal wedding was "a brilliant edition of an everyday fact". This one, however, looks like being as much like any another wedding as the popular press can make it. Shortly after the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles announced their intention to get married in a civil ceremony in Windsor Castle, a tabloid newspaper carried out a little legal research. It discovered that, should Windsor Castle be used for a civil marriage, for three months afterwards, anybody at all could get married there.

Walter Bagehot said that a royal wedding was "a brilliant edition of an everyday fact". This one, however, looks like being as much like any another wedding as the popular press can make it. Shortly after the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles announced their intention to get married in a civil ceremony in Windsor Castle, a tabloid newspaper carried out a little legal research. It discovered that, should Windsor Castle be used for a civil marriage, for three months afterwards, anybody at all could get married there.

The end result was that the Prince's marriage will now take place in the register office in Windsor town centre - very close, as was pointed out, to McDonald's. Though handsome, it is a very public place. Some people pretended to know that the Queen thought this "common", though I think this highly implausible: I doubt that the Queen has ever used so very middle- class, not to say vulgar, an expression in her life.

Yes, I can see that the whole thing is quite funny. From one point of view, it is fairly amusing that none of the advisers involved, either from the household or the Government, noticed that Windsor Castle was not licenced to hold civil ceremonies, and did not wonder what consequences would follow.

What is really making the journalists involved roar with laughter, however, is that they have ingeniously obliged someone as tremendous and dignified as the Prince of Wales to marry where anyone might marry. It is well known that the Prince of Wales personally considers that the heir to the throne ought to live in some conspicuous grandeur: How funny to make him marry in a suburban high street! If they could make him have the reception in a Little Chef, their happiness would be complete.

I'm not so sure. No one, not even a British red-top newspaper, sets out to do something so mean-spirited as to ruin someone's wedding plans without a good reason. Behind the ingeniously contrived legal arguments are, undoubtedly, some larger ambitions. The immediate one, I guess, is that some people still remember Diana Wales very fondly, particularly journalists, who remember how very helpful she could be to them. They think there's money to be had out of abusing the Prince of Wales and childishly insulting Mrs Parker Bowles. If they can't stop a wedding, they can at least make it as undignified as they possibly can. That is the first reason, particular to these present circumstances.

The second is a more general one. Such newspapers had some considerable success, in the 1990s, of a policy towards royalty which has been reported as being "we'll mock them until they wish they'd never been born." Once the possibilities of ridicule, abuse, and crocodile tears over ancient history have been thoroughly exploited, it might be amusing to reduce the whole occasion to something which the Prince of Wales must consider undignified, and against his wishes. This turn of events must be counted a real coup: the next step, surely, must be to see if we can persuade the policemen in charge of crowd control to declare the Diamond Jubilee of 2012 illegal on health and safety grounds.

Now, I have some sympathy with the underlying position, and certainly with the view that it might well be better if we had no Prince of Wales, and in the end no monarch. The generally republican position that lies behind all this is a good one, which many of us will agree with.

But the tactics are terribly distasteful. While we have a monarchy at all, it might as well carry itself with dignity and splendour. Every head of state does: and this is the head of state, and her successor, we happen to have. George V got terribly worked up once, when some innovative stamp designs were submitted for his attention - he cared more about stamps than almost anything else - and said that they might have come from San Marino.

Since then, many small things have chipped away at the monarchy's grandeur; many very desirable changes have taken place to limit the political power of the monarch.

Nevertheless, if we are going to have this debate, let us have the debate. It does no good to anyone merely to humiliate the Prince of Wales in public ways. Anyone would be deeply upset to have their wedding plans altered and jeered at on the front page of The Sun. Some people genuinely don't care, but anyone with any mild curiosity and pleasure in such things will want to see a wedding of a Prince of Wales done in style. And, let's face it, this is going to be one of the few occasions which will arouse curiosity in our doings across the world. It might as well look good.

If we don't want a Prince of Wales, let's declare a republic and let him retire to a private existence at Highgrove as Duke of Cornwall. I would be happy to live in such a country. If we have a Prince of Wales, he should marry in some degree of magnificence, enabled, if necessary, by a short government bill covering the peculiar circumstances and arrangements. The Republican movement has its dignity, too, and if it succeeds, we will certainly want great state occasions to be conducted with some degree of historic magnificence. Jeering at individuals and behaving like gleeful barrack-room lawyers ought to be beneath it.

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