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Royal engagements: A Spectator history, 1839 – 2010

28 November 2017

12:15 PM

28 November 2017

12:15 PM

A Royal engagement is dominating the headlines once again. Here is how The Spectator has marked royal engagements over the years, from Prince Albert’s 1839 proposal to Queen Victoria, through to Prince Charles popping the question to Diana in 1981:

30 November 1839: Queen VictoriaNow that it is certain the Queen has done with declining and is going to conjugate, Speculation, like a tasked schoolboy, is once more turned down to discover the potential, the imperative, the conditional, and all the other moods of the political future…

All things are possible through marriage; and Prince Albert’s present sigh conjugal putting every affair, as has been said, in the potential, may cause even the welfare of an entire nation to be translated in some unforeseen manner. No class can count on being exempt from the operation of the Prince’s influence. He might bring loops and tassels into fashion, and ruin the Birmingham button-manufacture—or put the Queen up to cutting the Irish tail, and spoil the trade in patriots. Denied all power by the Constitution, he may derive it to himself from every other source than can confer it: in spite of Parliament and the law, Prince Albert of Saxe Gotha may become virtual King of England…

Kings and Queens so seldom marry young, and, when they do marry, it is even so much seldomer that one hears any tender personal reasons alleged for the act, (for the most part a mere diplomatic arrangement and empty ceremonial,) that the idea of a maiden Queen and a youthful Prince—their “united. ages,” as we expect the papers to remark, hardly amounting to forty years—loving one another like any given Jock and Joan in a cottage, putting up free choice in lieu of political expediency, substituting passion for politeness betwixt each other, exchanging not bows but vows—altogether surprising Nature, in fact, by restoring her to court, whence so long banished,—this idea, we say, so charming if true, may reasonably be expected to put all the world and his wife into ecstatics. To what actual height the thing will go, it would be presumptuous in us at this moment to offer an opinion; but some slight forecast of the probable course of our national sympathies may even now not be too rashly ventured.

The world will first of all naturally wait—but especially his wife—to see the bridegroom : then, indeed, if report speak true, (intimating that he is handsome, modest, cavalier-like—in a word, all that he ought to be, to fill such a destiny,) the ecstasies must, and will, at once be gone into. We shall then have in the newspapers a daily average of three-and-thirty entirely exclusive memoirs of the Prince, with facsimiles of the pothooks he made when he learnt writing and accounts under the same master with the future Queen of England, and a proportionate number of superb, and the only genuine portraits, given “gratis with our week’s number,” by editors to whom no sacrifice is too large that enables them to testify the enthusiasm with which they are there and then “rallying” for the hundredth time “round the throne.”

Then shall we have odes, ballads, hymns, epithalamia. Then will the “sphere-born harmonious sisters wed their divine sounds” to produce twenty-and-four celebrated original songs per diem, for Tweedledum, Tweedledee, and Co., adorned on the outside with as many exquisite lithographic illustrations, showing our united Sovereigns, for example, in a bower in the quadrangle of Buckingham House, a sentinel in the background, and over all the conscious moon, for two shillings. Then will the illustrious Priggins, or one other of our world-famous national composers, endeavour perhaps at “Jubilate”—though he succeed best at Tae-dium.

September 1862: Edward VII
The Prince of Wales will attain his majority to-morrow. He is in Naples, and projecting a journey to Rome, and therefore may probably enjoy his birthday better at all events, than he would in this London fog. In the meantime, the Queen has announced officially her consent to the projected marriage of the Prince with the Princess Alexandra, daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark, and the Princess has availed herself of the comparative leisure of the Prince’s tour to cultivate the acquaintance of her Royal mother-in-law. She arrived at Osborne on Wednesday with her father.

6 May 1893: George V

An absurd rumour having got into the papers that the Duke of York was married, the Court Circular on Tuesday announced his betrothal to the Princess Victoria Mary (Princess May) of Teck. It is added that the Queen has given her consent “gladly.” The marriage has probably been arranged for some time past; but it was felt to be graceful that a public announcement should be delayed almost as long as if the Princess had been a widow. The Duke’s choice, for reasons given elsewhere, will undoubtedly be popular, and there are grave reasons why he should be married soon. By a curious fatality, if he died childless, the Crown must ultimately pass to another family; and though the succession which has lasted so long, and passed through so many families, the Norman, the Angevin, York, Lancaster, Tudor, Stuart, and Guelph would not be broken, any change in the name of a dynasty makes a certain impression on the imagination. The Princess May has hitherto been singularly unfortunate; but there are lives in which the necessary share of unhappiness is all concentrated in one great blow, and we may hope this will be her lot.

31 August 1934: Prince George, Duke of KentOn one ground in particular—by no means the only ground—the engagement of Prince George is to be viewed with peculiar satisfaction. Since he has remained single till the age of 31 it is obvious that he has decided to marry now simply because he has fallen in love. This country is a democracy and it likes to see in the members of its Royal Family precisely what it does see in them, human beings like the rest of their fellow-countrymen, devoting themselves to their special duties and discharging them supremely well, and marrying, when they do marry, the man or woman of their choice. The choice may fall, as it did with the Princess Royal and the Duke of York, on a commoner, or, as in the case of Prince George, on a member of another royal house. If the old tradition that royalty can only wed royalty had not been freely disregarded by Prince George’s sister and brother his engagement might be credited with the character of a marriage de convenance. As it is there can be no question of that. Congratulations to the Prince, and to the Princess of Greece who will soon be a Princess of Britain, will be wholehearted and universal. Sympathy can mean fellowship in rejoicing as well as fellowship in sorrow.

10 July 1947: Queen Elizabeth II 
The engagement of Princess Elizabeth, on all grounds warmly to be welcomed, creates a situation for which there is no precedent since the time of Queen Anne, who became engaged and was married —also to a Prince of the House of Denmark—before she ascended the Throne. That Princess Elizabeth would in due course enter on that family life of which her parents and grandparents provided so admirable an example has always been naturally assumed, and now that her choice has been made there will be universal satisfaction that she has chosen so well. Though Lieut. Philip Mountbatten was, till his recent naturalisation as a British subject, known as Prince Philip of Greece, he had, of course, no Greek blood in him, being the grandson on the one side of the Danish Prince who accepted the Throne of Greece in 1863, and on the other of Prince Louis of Battenberg, to whom, as First Sea Lord, was due more than to any other man the splendid preparedness with which the Grand Fleet put to sea and sealed up the German Navy in 1914. Lieut. Mountbatten, who has made the British Navy his own career, has, in the eight years since he entered the Royal Naval College, shown a promise in his professional work comparable to that displayed at a similar age by his distinguished uncle, the Viceroy of India. The young sailor’s future will no doubt now be such as befits the husband of the heiress-presumptive to the Throne. He will share her many duties, lighten her burdens and “the care that yokes with empire,” and by his support help her, in the days—still, we trust, far distant—when the Princess is Sovereign, to keep her:

Throne unshaken still,

Broad-based upon her people’s will,

And compass’d by the inviolate sea.

The Princess could hardly have made a choice that would raise questioning or doubt, but there is a special place in English hearts for a sailor and a sailor’s bride.

4 March 1960: Princess MargaretPrincess Margaret made the gossip-columnists look even more inept at their dingy trade than usual when her engagement was announced to a young man that none of them had even hinted at as a starter. A number of amateur journalists suddenly recalled how well they had known, and how highly they had esteemed Mr. Armstrong- Janes, and—it seemed—that they had always called him ‘Tony.’ (Brian Inglis)

2 June 1973: Princess Anne
We join in the general congratulations offered to Princess Anne and Lieutenant Mark Phillips on their engagement. It is very satisfactory that no pressures have been put upon the Princess to choose a husband from the remnants of European royalty or even from the British upper classes of nobility and landed gentry. Princess Anne’s choice has fallen upon a young man of the upper middle class whose chief distinction is his horsemanship. Obviously it is their love of horses that has brought the couple together, and his ability in the saddle will certainly have commended the young dragoon to the Queen.

In retrospect it is unfortunate that the Princess and the Lieutenant were so vigorous in their denials of a romance as recently as March, particularly since we are led to understand that the engagement itself was entered into at Easter. The Princess said in March “There is no romance … and no grounds for rumours of a romance” and Lieutenant Phillips, asked if an engagement was likely, said “It is absolute nonsense. There is no truth in it whatsoever.” The explanation of these statements given by a Buckingham Palace spokesman this week, that “at that time they had not thought of getting married” is also deficient in candour, unless indeed the romance itself blossomed suddenly during last month and this.

The engagement is certainly a lucky windfall for the Prime Minister and the troubled Tories. It is difficult to think of any other conceivable story which would have so happily driven the Lambton affair off the headlines, and so easily and sweetly have removed sourness from the public mood. By the time national rejoicing reaches its due peak with a spectacular Westminster Abbey wedding in November, the present difficulties the Government is having will have become vague and distant memories. (George Gale)

28 February 1981: Prince CharlesI will begin by expressing my one anxiety about the Royal marriage arrangements, confident that it is one which many others share. It concerns the bride’s stepmother and her step-grandmother, Raine Spencer and Barbara Cartland. If they are to be kept safely in the background, I suspect that guarantees no less binding than those imposed on Mr Rupert Murdoch when he bought the Times will be required. If a Special Act of Parliament is necessary, so be it, For it would be more than a little unfair on everybody if these two absurdly theatrical ladies were permitted to turn a moving national celebration into a pantomime. Perhaps I am excessively influenced by the fairy-tale atmosphere which the press always tries to evoke on these occasions, but I am beginning to suspect them of being witches with sinister powers to cast a shadow over the joyous pageant to which we are all looking forward…

But in fairy tales, innocence and goodness normally triumph, and so they will this time. The opinion that Lady Diana Spencer is about as suitable for her new role as it is possible to be is more, or less universally held. She has been publicly extolled not only for her charm and for her beauty, but for clinical attributes to which in normal circumstances it might be thought improper to refer. Her virginity, for example, is, approvingly discussed in the popular press…Her composure and good manners in the face of press harassment have also been rightly praised. She seems, in short, wonderful; and even though, as Queen Victoria said, ‘people really marry far too much. It’s such a lottery after all’, celibacy was never a serious option for the Prince of Wales and he seems to have made an excellent choice. (Alexander Chancellor)

29 March 1986: Prince Andrew
The announcement of Prince Andrew’s engagement to Miss Sarah Ferguson was reported to be genuinely popular at Buckingham Palace, and to be unconnected with an incident in which Prince Charles broke his finger two days later planting a tree. The finger needed hospital attention. The proposed marriage, which will take place on 23 July, interrupted a stream of reports in the popular press depicting an epidemic in Britain of rape and sexual offences against children. (Portrait of the Week)

20 November 2010: Prince William

My only worry about the happy engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton is that both are university graduates. If he comes to the throne, it will be the first time that anyone who has had full-length university education will ever have sat there. Now we know that his queen will be in the same category. This will be a sad day for all those in this country — still the great majority — who have never been to university. It was wonderful for national morale that Diana, Princess of Wales, and John Major only had one O Level each. Today, unfortunately, the myth has taken hold that a degree is a necessary preparation for all important positions. This belief is both anti-monarchical, anti-democratic and makes most people feel inferior for no good reason. The truth is the reverse — a really good university is one whose way of life is as unlike that of the big wide world as possible. (Charles Moore)


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