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Royal Wedding: Prince William, Kate Middleton juggle something old, something new

April 28, 2011 |  7:00 am

Royal Wedding: Prince William and Kate Middleton

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Like any couple prepping to tie the knot, Prince William of Wales and his fiancée, Kate Middleton, have their hands full. But thanks to his regal lineage, and unlike "any couple," the royal couple have a litany of additional traditions they must adhere to.

The Ministry talked with an expert on the royal family to see how the couple will juggle something old and something new, to make comparisons with Prince Charles and Princess Diana and to check in on contemporary attitudes toward the monarchy.

Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding "The royal family has thought about how to balance tradition and modernity since 1981," said royals expert Susan D. Amussen, a British historian at UC Merced. "Since Diana's death, they really had to figure out where royal tradition got in the way of making sense in modern society.

"When Diana died, there were things they wanted the queen to do which the palace said she didn't do, and that wasn't satisfying to observers."

Timeline: Windsor family weddings

The public is obsessing less over this wedding than they did over Diana and Charles' nuptials, Amussen said, despite the glut of coverage the event has received.

"The monarchy has had a rough 30 years, with Charles' divorce, the death of Diana and Anne and [Andrew's] divorces," she said. "The queen's children have not been great moral exemplars and have been seen often as too much interested in their own pleasure by many critics."

That unfairly puts the pressure on William. But he's smashingly getting away with quite a few modern touches. Since, unlike his father Prince Charles, Wills isn't the direct heir to the thone, it's easier in his case for the monarchy to be more flexible when it comes to embracing modernity. This modernity was instilled in William by his late mother, who "gave him a sense of the world outside the royal bubble," Amussen said.

For example, Kate and William met in a very normal way while away at school at St. Andrews University in Scotland. They're already living together, and they don't have servants in their home -- no clothes valets, chefs or butlers.

Kate will arrive at the ceremony in a car instead of the traditional carriage.

Royal wedding engagement announcements "They're trying to hold on to some normalcy, and it's just a matter of how long they can manage," Amussen said. "They're like any modern couple. ... They don't want all the fuss."

But Kate hasn't been able to escape the comparisons with the late princess Di, who married at the young age of 20, regarding how to deal with the spotlight. Amussen said the overarching similarity is that both of them grew up outside of any royal-family bubble. But Diana, she said, was much closer to it and knew that upon entering the royal family there would be nonstop attention. That attention prompted the off-again parts of her relationship with William during their eight-year courtship, Amussen said.

"Kate is much better equipped than Diana because she's older," Amussen said. "I'd like to think that it bodes well for their future."

Photos: A who's who guide to Prince William and Kate Middleton's crowd

Being a royal, however, comes with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance and a few more hoops to jump through before tying the knot. It's still traditional for the queen to consent to the prince's bride, which she did last week. And thanks to the Act of Settlement of 1701, William would have had to renounce the throne if he had chosen to marry a Catholic, as Prince Michael of Kent did in 1978 and his nephew George Windsor, the Earl of St. Andrews, did in 1988. William also won't be wearing a wedding ring after the ceremony, because Windsor men traditionally don't wear wedding bands.

Prince William and Kate Middleton watch a match between England and ItalyBut the monarchy PR machine is attuned to winning favor with a highly republican public. It wasn't really until the 20th century that royal weddings became public events instead of private ones. 

"It's a shift from thinking about a wedding as a private event to thinking about the public role of the monarchy," Amussen said.

Despite the spectacle of Charles and Diana's wedding, their union seemed to have very 19th century and Victorian nuances, she said.  Whether Diana was a virgin was a huge scandal before that wedding, because Charles was required to marry a virgin. The brouhaha prompted Diana's uncle Lord Fermoy to publicly state that she was indeed a "bona fide" virgin. (Talk about embarrassing.)

Also, when asked in an interview if he was in love with Lady Di, Charles famously said, instead of yes, "Whatever in love means" -- his fiancée had responded in the affirmative.

"In some ways, Charles wasn't thinking of it as a 20th century marriage," Amussen said. "He thought of it as a conventional aristocratic marriage to produce heirs. He was approaching it in a more old-fashioned way. She was thinking of it as a girl in 1981."

The infidelities that played out during their marriage -- enter his new wife, Camilla Parker Bowles -- shook the royal family to the core.   

Commentary: The princess problem

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip"For most aristocratic families through the 19th century, marriages were either arranged, or 'appropriate' within a relatively narrow world," Amussen said.

"When the future George VI was married, his wife was not a princess, but she was from an old aristocratic family. While Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip 'chose' each other, they were distant cousins, and he was appropriately royal. Thus Charles' marriage to Diana was in a tradition: a marriage that is not strictly arranged but within a limited circle of appropriate choices," Amussen added.

"This is where William's marriage is different: Kate's family is wealthy, and she's well-educated, but she's not from the aristocratic network."

[For the record, 4:25 p.m. April 28, and 6:40 p.m. April 30: This post originally gave British historian Susan D. Amussen's first name incorrectly as Sarah. Also, in a quote, "Anne and Edward's divorces" were mentioned. It was Prince Andrew who divorced; Edward is still married to Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Thanks to commenter @Rita Taddeucci Raffanti for that second catch.]


Royal Wedding: Full coverage

Royal Wedding Quiz No. 1: Are you a royal expert?

Royal Wedding Quiz No. 2: Are you a savvy sire or a joke of a jester?

Interactive: Your guide to the royal wedding

— Nardine Saad

Top photo: Kate Middleton and Prince William at St. James's Palace after announcing their engagement. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press

Top right photo: Prince Charles and Lady Diana on their wedding day at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, July 29, 1981. Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images

Middle right photo: Engagement announcements for both couples. Credit: EPA / STR

Left photo: Prince William and Kate Middleton cheer on the English team during the RBS 6 Nations rugby championship match in 2007. Credit: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Bottom right photo: Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II leave after the annual Easter Matins Service at Windsor Castle's St. George's Chapel on April 24, 2011. Credit: Chris Ison / Reuters

Amussen said