A fairy tale with a rotten core

The Canadian media (especially its more gossipy venues) have made much of this weekend’s marriage of Peter Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s eldest grandson and Autumn Kelly, a Canadian girl from a working-class Montreal family. On some level, of course, the wedding had all the elements of your traditional magical fairy tale romance—colonial girl of humble roots gets swept away by handsome prince and marries into royalty at Windsor Castle. On another level, however, the story has a number of awkward and unpleasant aspects that highlight just how decidedly un-magical the British Royal Family can often be.

For starters, it’s worth noting that Mr. Phillips, despite his royal blood, is not a prince, nor will his bride be a princess. According to the oddly sexist rules of royal titles, only the grandchildren of the monarch’s male offspring receive titles. So, being the son of Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, Peter gets nothing, even though he’s the eldest grandchild in the entire royal family. The various children of the Queen’s sons, by contrast, are all automatically entitled to become princess or princess and be called “Your Royal Highness.”

Secondly, in order to make herself fit to wed this non-prince, Ms. Kelly was forced to convert from Catholicism, the religion she was baptized and raised under, to Anglicanism, the official church of the Royal Family. This conversion was necessary for the sake of Mr. Philip’s royal career; if he married a heathen Catholic he would forgo his place in the grand order of succession to the British throne (currently number 11), according to the terms of the 1701 act of succession. As is so often the case, Ms. Kelly’s individual sovereignty was quickly compromised for the sake of the firm.

As children, we are raised with the idea of royalty as a sort of magical, wonderful thing, with pretty princess and palaces and all the rest (the Barbie people have certainly been milking this perception for decades). But monarchy has a dark side, as well, with institutional racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and absurd superstition, not to mention a hearty dose of politics and bureaucracy.

The marriage of Peter and Autumn is a jolly enough episode as a personal event in two people’s lives, but as a symbolic event with larger relevance to the Canadian nation, it’s only a sad reminder of all the weirdness that rules the institution of monarchy.

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15 responses to “A fairy tale with a rotten core

  1. It’s worth noting that Ms Kelly’s converstion came the day after Gordon Brown’s Cabinet announced it would not amend the Act of Settlement 1701 to remove discrimination against Catholics and women.

  2. Warp Factor One

    This is just another bit of polish on a monarchist platform that has been left out in the weather for centuries. It may look a little shinier but that doesn’t mean the structure’s any more sound.

    Also, J.J., have you seen that opinion piece the Globe and Mail ran the other day trumpeting Senator Segal’s support of the monarchy – in particular, the comment thread? I had no idea that monarchists could be so frothing-at-the-mouth *insane*.

  3. She wasn’t a practicing Catholic, so I don’t really think there was any pressure to change. I’d doubt that was even the primary reason for her change.

    As a monarchist, I don’t get why the wedding was such a big deal, though. A non-royal who undertakes no royal duties and lives a completely private life got married. Big deal.

  4. I would agree that the question of who gets a royal title or not is sexist that will hopefully one day be fixed.

    But your point about Mrs. Kelly conversion to Anglicanism as an affront to her individual sovereignty is absolute nonsense. It’s an entirely common practice for one spouse to convert to a different religion (or to find religion all together) so they can marry in their partner’s church.

    Mrs. Kelly made her choice by her own free-will. If her Catholic religion was that important to her then she could have said no. I believe the saying goes, “marriage is the art of compromise.”

    And let’s be honest: there’s not that huge of chasm between Catholicism and Anglicanism. What differences exist are mostly about who holds the authority in the Church and not the texts. If she held any strong religious beliefs before her marriage then it’s unlikely her conversion is causing her much, if any, of a spiritual crisis.

  5. Compromise? A nice compromise would have been for the ceremony to be done by both Catholic and Anglican ministers, which is what most modern couples do. What was done here wasn’t a compromise at all. And if she’s not a practicing Catholic, she’s doubtful to be a good Anglican, so why devalue the religion by joining it when you have no intent to practice it anymore than your birth religion?

    No real difference between Catholicism and Anglicanism to be sure. After all, the King only created the church so he could switch between mistresses and easily divorce his wives. Nice little disgusting bit of history there to add to the plethora of other disgusting things done in the name of the crown…

    This whole marriage really isn’t very important, but it once again brings to light archaic rules of an archaic system.

    It’s hard to get worked up about the monarchy, until you actually examine it. And when monarchists start spewing their nonsense like beaten dogs instead of human beings with minds of their own, it becomes a little easier. It boggles my mind why anyone thinks birthright should entitle to a group of people massive wealth, power and fame for all eternity as if they were gods on earth. There’s a novel idea out there, it goes something like this: “All men are created equal…”

    God Save the Queen, but please make it our last.

  6. Jon, a spouse converting to their partner’s religion is still very common in today’s society, and therefore just as modern as interfaith ceremonies.

    Clearly, you have plenty of ammo on which to attack the monarchy with, but this isn’t one of them.

    Also, I wouldn’t be so eager to vilify the Anglican Church when you’re point of comparison is the, um, Catholic Church.

  7. Fair enough Johnny, I was really just making observations. In no way would I want to be seen as attempting to support the Catholic Church either. But Anglicanism seems even more transparent, in that its raison d’etre was to allow a filandering King to fulfil his carnal pleasures and still belong to a church, namely one that he had supreme control over.

  8. Despite it’s origins, the Anglican Church has become a one of the more progressive and democratic churches in the world, particularly in Canada.

    One might be so bold to suggest that’s it’s actually quite the success story for the Monarchy…

  9. Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. – Denis Diderot

  10. First: Anne refused the Queen’s offer to bestow a title on any of her children. So, the claim that the rules denied Peter of one is false.

    Second: the Act of Settlement is a law. The monarchy did not create it, the monarchy cannot simply strike it down, so it’s useless to blame the monarchy for it.

    Third: children are brought up to believe monarchy is magical. Children in the United States are also brought up to believe any of them could be president. But, we all grow up, don’t we? Maybe republicans don’t…

  11. Whether or not the Queen eventually offered titles to Anne’s children is irrelevant. The point is that she HAD to make such an offer in the first place, which she did only because the children of the sovereign’s daughter are not entitled to any automatically, unlike the children of her sons.

  12. It is relevant. You stated: “So, being the son of Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, Peter gets nothing.” You did mention soon after that the monarch’s male-line grandchildren are *automatically* granted titles, but, conversely, it’s not as though a princess’ child is explicitly *barred* from holding a royal title, which is what your “Peter gets nothing” statement seemed crafted to imply. Besides, if you feel the rules are still too inflexible as to be undoubtedly sexist, lobby the British government to have them changed; or, closer to home, get the Canadian government to set up their own policies instead of just using the royals’ British titles as a courtesy.

  13. Complaining about ancient, traditional, institutional patriarchy… and then complaining about how Catholicism is being discriminated against… seems a little ironic in my books. When’s the last time a nun got a shot at popehood?

    It would be lovely if we could discard all the trappings of our cultural tradition of patriarchal sexism, but that would pretty much kill 95% of all organized religion, tear down the hiearchies of the corporate world, turn our political system on its head, etc. etc…

    Feminism is far too new on the scene for us to take much older traditions to task for affronts against it.

  14. They COULD have had a title if Anne and her husband chose to accept one – nothing to do with the queen not wanting them to – their mother (and father’s) choice in the end. They are still in line for the throne though, no matter what they are called. Get over yourself, the amount of time you devote to this topic given your disdain for it is unbelievable!

    btw – interesting you complain about the female line here – ummm WHO is the monarch??? a woman!

  15. So explain this-within 10-20 years, Britain will probably have gay marriage. Which means that any children of the Royal family will be able to marry another man-just as long as he’s not a Catholic man?
    ‘Cause you gotta have standards. ????
    How about this for “Modern and Progressive” church-disestablish it?
    Because as of 2011, only the Vatican, Iran and England have clergy automatically connected with their governments.
    Now how about THAT for “Progressive”?

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