29 years ago July 29, 2010, Lady Diana Spencer was driven in the famous Glass Coach from Clarence House with her father, The Earl Spencer, to St. Paul’s Cathedral, London for her wedding to Charles Arthur Philip George, the Prince of Wales. Later, in her nervousness during the service, Diana did not say his names in order – a bad omen perhaps.
One commentator said of her as she emerged from the vehicle at the Cathedral steps: “The door opens and now we see in all it’s glory THAT dress.” But much more than a pretty dress emerged that day; a key agent of change in the monarchy itself officially presented herself. There to attend her as she descended, her two senior bridesmaids. One of them, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, daughter of Princess Margaret the Queen’s late sister, has been remembered by all as the one who coolly negotiated Diana’s 25 foot train throughout the Cathedral that day.
As she entered the great doors to a trumpet fanfare, Diana appeared a willowy, fragile yet regally gracious figure enveloped in a sugary puff confection of a silk taffeta dress that she settled with a gentle sweep of her hands. From her tiara to her toes, she met all of our fantasies of what a princess should look like at such a moment. Most remarkable was that this 20-year-old young woman had such confident control of all that was unfolding as she glided slowly to the waiting area. While the dress’ designers added the finishing touches, Diana remained calm and smiling.
The Spencer tiara nestled in her veil [her brother later confessed that it had given her a splitting headache] capped a figure who embodied a centuries-old aristocratic line. She was the “genuine article – the real deal.” She had more native English princely blood in her than the royal family and she was giving it up to a nation who welcomed its own as the future Queen. Diana’s insecurities that were just beginning to reveal themselves never had to do with her position relative to the royal family; they had to do with her position relative to her place in her husband’s heart.
Deeply interested in music, Charles had chosen the loud and regal Trumpet Voluntary and Prince of Denmark March so that, according to some sources, one could not hear ankles creak as people rose to their feet in deference to the procession.
Quickly, all of the bridesmaids and pages were gathered together; Lady Sarah handed Diana her exquisite cascading bouquet; the Cathedral bell began its toll and with the first musical note the little party was launched on their progress to the altar. [See video below]
What we did not know was that we were seeing perhaps the last great wedding of a Prince of Wales in Britain. It was fittingly underscored later in the ceremony when Charles and Diana moved to the high altar as the choir sang the Parry anthem “I was Glad,” composed for the coronation of King Edward VII. Edward was the last Prince to be married as the Prince of Wales. The anthem continues to be used at coronations and as the couple passed the Queen we had a special sense of living history.
Certainly Diana’s own historical function soon would be fulfilled. She provided the expected royal wedding, the hoped for royal heirs but then it all went terribly wrong and suddenly she was dead and the center of another historic service – the funeral of the former wife of a Prince of Wales. The gossip and the controversy were over but so was a kind of magic.
It is and has been Queen Elizabeth’s duty since her coronation to pick up the pieces of matters familial and royal and to carry on. Not entirely comfortable with the ways of modern society or with Diana or with her untimely death, it took her a while to come to a balanced and regal handling of the situation. But she did exactly that. Everyone’s focus shifted to two young sons and to their upbringing. Like her Great Grandmother, Queen Victoria, Elizabeth had once again turned the royal craft into the wind and had sailed into calmer waters. The monarchy did not sink. And few will ever know how easily it could have over the past roughly 175 years.
Rumblings about the cost and value of the Royals increases with each year. Loved as Prince William is, the cost of keeping him in a private cottage with his girlfriend exceeds what it would to keep him on his military base. With priorities and the ethnic mix changing on the “sceptered isle,” the royal chapter may be coming to a close with this last great Queen, Elizabeth. Keenly aware of all of this, William has determined that his own wedding will be quiet and low key and within the church itself, it will be primarily for family. He is also aware that, unlike his father, he will not be the Prince of Wales when he marries. It’s quite possible that another century will have passed before there will be another wedding of a Prince of Wales but the chances that it will be as grand as that of Charles and Diana are slim. Theirs was truly the last grand wedding of a Prince.
Diana left her mark on the monarchy in what she did not or could not do within its bounds. Instinctively, she knew what it would take to be Queen and that she either didn’t have it or didn’t want it or perhaps a little of both. But she had that last truly royal bright spark that went with her and is not evident anywhere in the British monarchy today – not even in her sons or their girlfriends. This is what engaged the public in a closeness to her. This is what Charles envied. Ultimately, Charles can never hope to make his mark with Camilla at his side. It is beyond comprehension that the two figures who broke Diana’s heart and who, as unrepentant adulterers, have lowered the monarchy to a level not seen in our time, are functioning in official roles.. For all of their efforts, they are just “dead common” as the younger sales girl in “Are You Being Served” used to say. Stripped of even the facade of its moral authority, the monarchy may see its last days under Charles.
Meanwhile, Diana’s sons have continued bearing the imprint she has left on the institution through her training of them. You would never have seen a picture such as that below of Princess Charles and Andrew galloping through the badlands of Lesotho fresh from a visit to a charity they supported. Diana gave Harry and William more than a “common touch to enhance the roles they inherited, but she has given them many of the tools they would need to live more normal lives. She opened the doors to the vast outside world to them and made them feel comfortable in it. Far from wanting to shut the monarchy down, she wanted it to be more relevant. Happily for her boys, Diana left them off at a stop back in the real world where I suspect the rest of the royals will be headed one day.
The recessional and departure from St. Paul’s.
©On My Watch…the writings of SamHenry. Registration Pending.
And the real stars of this day: