Confession: I’m slightly obsessed with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Not just because we share the same name (and nickname) but it goes deeper than that. I’ll devour anything about her — books, articles, videos. I stalk her on the internet. I even sometimes stalk her in real life (in a non-creepy, totally within-the-bounds-of-propriety way). But then one day, I had the most deep and profound connection with her, doing the most unlikely of things. I read her entry on Wikipedia.
Before you click off of this page because I’ve just lost all street cred with you, hear me out. I am a history lover. I love to read and write about history. I specifically love to read and write about historic royal woman. And I love to tell stories. However, I am not a historian. I leave that to the Alison Weirs, Antonia Frasers, and David Starkeys of the world.
After Google, Wikipedia is the website/search engine that I visit the most. I’m on it every single day reading up on queens, consorts, aristocratic women, and linking up their families, time periods, and achievements. Although anyone can create their own Wikipedia entry, when I was staring at Kate’s entry, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The woman is living, breathing history. And she walks among us. Let me tell you more about her place in history.
First of all, to the people who give Kate a hard time for being a “commoner,” they’re just jealous. Never in the history of Britain has blood line been less important for the monarch’s consort than it is today. In fact, the labels “royal” and “commoner” are not so black and white. Kate’s twentieth century family may be perceived as having humble origins, but Kate does descend from royalty. Like her mother-in-law, Diana, Kate is a descendent of King Edward III. Kate also shares blood with the Queen Mum, which is perhaps why Kate wore Elizabeth’s tiara when she wed her prince charming. But is Kate’s bloodline even remotely significant today? And why has it even been commentated on by the press from when she first started dating William, through when they (finally) got married in 2011?
For the couple of millennia that monarchies have been around, royal marriages were important for political and dynastic reasons. They ensured the safety and stability of kingdoms. For anyone who has read Philippa Gregory’s book, The White Queen, or seen the tv mini-series, you’ll know that King Edward IV’s marriage to the “commoner” Elizabeth Woodville, was a major contributor to the War of the Roses and created huge instability for the country. This instability allowed the Tudors to take the throne by force and Henry VII’s marriage to Edward’s daughter Elizabeth finally united the families and country. Four out of six of Henry VIII’s wives were his own subjects, and following his death, there was huge instability until his third child, Elizabeth I, came to the throne. We are so lucky to be living in the twenty-first century when none of this matters anymore.
Although Kate’s bloodline no longer really matters, her marriage to Prince William was still historically symbolic of great change happening in the British monarchy. The most recent significant royal marriage prior to Kate and William, was that of William’s parents over 30 years ago. His mother, Diana, was a member of the aristocracy at the time of her marriage due to her father being an earl. Under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, both Prince Charles and William had to get the Queen’s consent for their marriages. Otherwise, their future children would not be eligible to the throne. In the early 1970s, Prince Charles’ future second wife, Camilla, was overlooked as a suitable wife for him and it was a sign of the times when they eventually married in 2005.
It is refreshing to see that even in an institution as traditional as the British monarchy is evolving. Further evidence of this can be seen in the Succession to the Crown Act 2013. If Prince George had been born Princess Georgiana instead, she would have been the undisputed heir, regardless of whether or not she had any younger brothers. Likewise, Prince George’s first born will be his successor regardless of his or her gender. This puts a legal framework around gender equality in the upper echelons of the oldest and most important institution in Britain. It also adds weight to Kate’s role as one of the most important women in the British royal family. Her timing in history couldn’t have been better.
Kate has joined the royal family in a very senior position at a time when the whole world is changing at break neck pace. How prepared is Kate for her role? In some ways, she is already ahead of the curve having mastered some of the key components of the role of future queen consort:
- Produce an heir
- Charity work
- International diplomacy
- Get the sovereign’s subjects to love her
And her role will quickly expand as she takes on increasingly more responsibility as the daughter-in-law, wife, and mother of the next three British kings. She will be the most influential woman in the British royal family for hopefully a very long time, possibly even longer than the current queen has been the most influential woman in the family.
These predictions are based on how the world is today. This is a world that has already changed more in the last 10 years due to the internet and information revolution than entire centuries gone before. And it seems that the pace of the changing world is only speeding up. Just like modern day workers might have 6 or 7 different careers in their lifetime, Kate’s role in the royal family will probably change almost as many times during her life time. Kate has secured her place in the history books but her future history is as yet unwritten. My predictions are that she will go down as “Kate the Great.”