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Amid the general celebration that always accompanies the announcement of a British royal wedding (taking place April 29, 2011), two individuals struck a surprising chord of mild exasperation. Prince Charles, father of the prospective groom, said he was absolutely delighted at the news of his son's engagement to Miss Kate Middleton. But added, "They have been practicing for long enough." The British, knowing that Prince Charles' demeanor is often curmudgeonly, will have forgiven the remark.
But later on, Her Majesty The Queen -- the groom's grandmother -- was hosting a reception at Windsor Castle for leaders of Britain's overseas territories. When asked for her reaction to the engagement of a young man who one day will be King William V, she said, "It is absolutely brilliant news," before adding the rejoinder, "It has taken them a very long time." This was an unusually intimate disclosure for Britain's much-loved monarch.
It is true that young Kate, 29 next year, will be the oldest woman to ever marry a future king of England. The youngest was Isabella Valois who was just age 6 when she married Richard II in 1396. More of her later… But far from this being a matter of criticism, Prince William and Miss Middleton deserve commendation for their timing.
In the speculation surrounding every aspect of this betrothal, none would seem more apposite than the fact that Prince William's decision is likely to have been shaped by his immediate experience of marriage as observed between his mother and father. A simple comparison of Lady Diana's life experience with Miss Middleton's gives us some reason to believe that despite soaring divorce statistics on both sides of the Atlantic, this marriage may actually survive the test of time.
In 1981, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer he was 32, she just 20. He had already enjoyed the experience of an undergraduate degree at Cambridge, where he read anthropology, archaeology and history. During the second year of his three-year degree course, he trained with the Royal Air Force qualifying as a jump jet pilot. After graduating he joined the Royal Navy and for the next 10 years would serve on a series of fighting vessels from HMS Norfolk, which carried guided missiles, to HMS Jupiter, which carried Exocet anti-ship missiles.
Lady Diana Spencer left school at the age of 16, without the U.K. equivalent of a high school diploma or any 'O' levels, which were the single subject examinations that one would take at that age in U.K. schools. She had no academic qualifications whatsoever. She was working part-time in a nursery and living in a London apartment with two girlfriends. She had endured a difficult adolescence, describing long bouts of bulimia and had already witnessed the acrimonious collapse of her parents marriage when she was just 8.
Although much has been made of Kate's "humble" middle-class upbringing against the patrician and royal lineage of Prince William, they actually have more in common as a result of life experience.
They were born in the same year, 1982. They both went to St Andrews University, a highly regarded school toward the east of Scotland. They studied the same subject, history of art. Indeed, she scored a higher honors classification for her degree than her royal suitor (a 2:1 as opposed to a 2:2). They even went on the same voluntary service overseas expedition, to Chile, in 2001.
By the accounts of authorized "student friends" they were fun and shared the common practices of student life -- from semi-naked catwalk appearances to playing soccer and rugby. The similarities of their life experience hitherto is in stark contrast to the gulf of difference that was so clearly apparent when the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer almost 30 years ago.
In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes the point that the kind of love that lasts is likely to be one where two individuals are not looking at each other the whole time but instead have noticed that the other is focusing their eyes on something else… something other than themselves. Perhaps a beautiful landscape or work of art. "What, you like that too?" is the rhetorical question that one might ask when acknowledging a shared passion with a like-minded person.
When they marry next year, at the age of 29, both Prince William and Kate Middleton will have given themselves the chance to develop a set of interests that they can share for life. Indeed, Miss Middleton will be the first graduate to marry a future King of England. No small achievement for the modern manifestation of monarchy.
But all of this takes time. Something Prince William and Miss Middleton have taken "in spades" according to the Queen. They should be commended for it.
And what became of young Isabella after her marriage at the age of 6? Thankfully, the union lasted but three years. Her "husband," Richard II, went off to fight in Ireland but when he returned he was imprisoned and murdered. The crown passed to Henry IV who then felt that Isabella -- so early widowed -- should marry his son, the future King Henry V. But Isabella, now so much the wiser, robustly rejected the suggestion and the King eventually allowed her to return home to France.
As Prince William recently said, "We both felt that now is the right time." Bravo to that and Godspeed!
Do you think William and Kate can go the distance? Chime in below!