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.