|A radiant Princess Elizabeth on her wedding day,|
with her groom Philip Mountbatten.
This week marks the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They’ve joined a rarefied group of human beings who've been married to each other for seven decades. Their Platinum Jubilee represents a remarkable achievement and one that’s unmatched in the history of the British monarchy.
The royal pair married on November 20, 1947, in the first “wedding of the century.” (Almost 34 years later their son, Prince Charles, would wed Lady Diana Spencer in a ceremony that was also dubbed “the wedding of the century.”) World War II had just ended, and Elizabeth and her sister Margaret used rationing coupons to buy the fabric for the bride’s pretty wedding gown.
That was a lifetime ago, before most of the world’s current population was even born. Since those two tied the knot in Westminster Abbey, astronauts have landed on the moon, the United States expanded by two states, and the use of personal computers and cell phones (both devices unheard of in 1947) has spread to every corner of the world.
And that’s just a tiny sample of the events and accomplishments the world has witnessed over the past 70 years, along with (unfortunately) more wars, global environmental and economic stress, and anxiety over international and domestic terrorism, no matter where you live.
In the face of such change and turmoil, it’s comforting and even astonishing to see such a solid and enduring union in Buckingham Palace. Only one royal couple has even come close to the Queen and Philip’s marital record, and that was a marriage that took place 186 years before the Queen's 1947 ceremony (more on that subject in this week's Friday Follies).
Prinny, the Prince Regent, had one of the most dismal marital records; his marriage to Caroline of Brunswick in 1795 barely lasted long enough for the two of them to conceive one child. The birth of their daughter Charlotte was followed by many bitter years of recrimination and separation until Caroline died in 1821.
|A miniature of the future Prince Regent|
and King George IV in 1792
You could argue that even King Henry VIII, with his many wives, divorces and wifely beheadings, enjoyed more periods (though brief) of marital harmony than our Prince Regent.
But they are a few factors, besides its longevity, that sets the union of Elizabeth and Philip apart from those of their royal predecessors.
One is that it was clearly a love match – the 13-year-old princess was apparently smitten by her handsome cousin when she first met him, and over the following years she couldn’t get her future husband out of her mind. That sort of attraction isn't common among royal couples, especially for monarchs of the past who married for dynastic reasons.
And what I think is even more important, it looks as though the Queen and her Prince Consort have forged a good, working partnership over their many years together, and that they still enjoy each other’s company. I know she probably has more important things to do, but I’d be interested in any book the Queen cared to write offering advice to newlyweds on the secrets of a long-lasting, happy marriage.
|On the balcony of Buckingham Palace in June 2012|
(Photo by Carfax 2, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Unfortunately, the four children of Prince Philip and the Queen haven’t followed in their parents’ footsteps. Here’s a quick run-down of their marriages and divorces:
Charles, Prince of Wales. His fairy-tale marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 produced two sons but ended in a spectacular divorce in 1996, followed by the tragic death of his ex-wife a year later. Charles rebounded by marrying his long-time mistress Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, and their union is at 12 years and counting.
Anne, Princess Royal. She divorced her first husband Mark Phillips, with whom she had a son and daughter, in 1992 after almost 20 years of marriage. She remarried the same year, to Timothy Laurence. That union seems to be hitting its stride – they will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary next month.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York. He also had a highly-publicized marriage, in 1986 to Sarah Ferguson. That marriage, which produced two daughters, didn’t quite make it to the 10-year mark, though Andrew and his ex-wife appear to have remained on good terms following their split.
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. The Queen’s youngest seems to be learning from his siblings' marital missteps and is still married to the lovely Sophie, whom he wed in 1999. Their marriage appears to be a happy one, and they also have a son and a daughter.
So, if you’re keeping score, from their four children Elizabeth and Philip got eight grandchildren but also a few former sons-and daughters-in-law to keep track of. They’ve also been blessed with four great-grandchildren, including little Prince George and Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, and there's another Cambridge baby on the way.
Clearly, the legacy of the Queen's long marriage is the family it’s produced. Like all married couples, Elizabeth and Philip have had their marital ups and downs, no doubt complicated by being under the steady gaze of the public eye. (If you’re interested in a fictionalized account of the love lives of Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, catch the popular Netflix series, The Crown, which will air its second season on December 8.)
So, here’s toast to Elizabeth and Philip! And as a further tribute I've attached a video clip of their wedding ceremony, held 70 years ago this week:
Images from Wikimedia Commons