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What did the wedding tell the world about this nation of ours?
Charles Moore in The Telegraph:
After the tumult and the shouting had died, I found myself wondering what it would all seem like to someone who knew little about it, to some anthropologist studying the behaviour of the British tribes without ever having lived among them.
First of all, it would seem unique. There are other royal weddings – in Spain, or Sweden, or Swaziland – and I am sure they are very nice. But they do not stand for anything much in the eyes of the world. They don’t attract messages of support from the crew in the International Space Station – a particularly surreal touch in yesterday’s reports. They don’t echo in the imagination of humanity. Our one does.
Nor could anything comparable take place in a republic. The French can do splendid parades which express the nation’s high sense of itself. The Americans in their presidential inauguration – especially in that of Barack Obama – find a simple, but impressive way of reaffirming the principles of their constitution. The Catholic Church, when installing (though sadly, no longer crowning) a new pope, offers a ceremony which brings home the power, the loneliness and the humility of that extraordinary position.
But nothing else anywhere has the archetypal quality of what was shown in Westminster Abbey, the same closeness between what is unspeakably grand and what is ordinarily human.
I suspect that my imaginary anthropologist might find it very confusing. We are, after all, confused ourselves. Yesterday, the historian Simon Schama, who provided expert advice on the BBC, told us that kingship and royal weddings had once been all about power, but today “power has nothing to do with it. This is the simple sense of connection.” This prompted Huw Edwards, in a wonderful non-sequitur, to say: “William will be head of the Armed Forces, of course, when he succeeds to the throne.” I love that “of course”. “How can a man be head of the Armed Forces and have no power?” my poor anthropologist might ask. It would not be easy for Huw Edwards, or even Professor Schama, to answer him. Yet the fact is that, in Britain, he can be; and most of us approve.
Just now, an 85-year-old woman is head of our Armed Forces, and it is one of the main things which allow us, in this perilous world, to sleep easily in our beds. Yesterday was a “day of rage” in Syria. The Bishop did not overstate it when he said that, in Britain, it was “a joyful day”.
If the anthropologist got to work on the DVD of yesterday, what values would he find displayed? He would discern a sense of decorum and ceremony. Contained in this is a strong idea that how something is said in words or presented visually has delicate shades of meaning which must be respected and brought out. He would be interested to discover that the exact words used were written down 450 years ago, and that the basic form of the vows, like some of the building, is roughly a thousand years old. He would understand that these were made in the name of a Supreme Being in whose honour the whole building was constructed. He would note that the clothes, particularly of the men, denoted hierarchy, function and history all at once. He would understand that the whole thing was about love, and yet that the interests of the state were deeply engaged.
But at the same time, he would see that people’s attitude to the day was also amused and kind-hearted, and even vulgar. In other cultures which he had studied, he might have expected huge crowds to converge on palaces only when they were angry, or under orders. Here they strolled up laughing and waving, often with painted faces and wearing silly hats. He would observe that their pleasure was family-based and intergenerational, with the old informing the young (including a jolly old couple from Stoke-on-Trent who made people stand up for the national anthem).
Finally, he would notice that this clearly very ancient thing was not cobwebby and hidden, but well-lit and filmic. It was presented with the greatest possible care for the modern medium that would convey it to the world.
What might he conclude then, about the culture he found himself studying? Very complicated, he might think – interesting and beautiful and alive; a high civilisation, perhaps, and even, occasionally, a happy one.