Marriages of convenience


Twenty-five years ago today Lady Diana Spencer wed the Prince of Wales.

Looking back on the 25th anniversary, the wedding itself now appears as a silver lining that would soon be overtaken by a very dark cloud. It was the fairy-tale wedding which nobody lived happily ever after; and according to the late Princess, it was apparently all downhill from the honeymoon onwards.

Billed as the wedding of the century, it was more than that. The Waleses would go on to be the world’s most famous couple, and they lived their married life in a manner that would exemplify the century’s greatest social change: the reduction of the status of marriage from sacred institution to lifestyle choice.

The travails of the Waleses are well known, providing as they did quotidian tabloid fodder almost without interruption from the wedding at St. Paul’s to the car crash in the Paris tunnel. There were “three in the marriage,” the Princess would later say, indicating that the Prince never really intended to keep his wedding vows. He would later insist that his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, was a “non-negotiable” part of his life. Would that either of them had thought that the wedding vows themselves were non-negotiable.

The “Charles” phenomenon is growing more frequent. The vows are said, but are not really meant. The older image of the middle-aged man wandering away from his middleaged wife is increasingly replaced by philandering at young ages, well before the wooden (fifth), let alone the silver anniversary. It’s not that the vows are thought difficult, but that they are not thought vows at all.

The Princess was still in her midtwenties when the various adulteries began, subsequently to be confessed on television, first by the Prince, then by the Princess, neither one of them to be outdone in self-indulgence. All that goes into making a marriage work — sacrifice, generosity, contrition, forgiveness, discretion — were mocked as the Waleses schemed to get one up on the other. The idea that the marriage itself was a good to which they had committed themselves before God and the Prince’s future subjects was utterly alien to them; all that mattered was what could be wrought out of the wreckage for one’s own advantage.

When marriage ceases to be something to which both spouses commit themselves to irrevocably and becomes instead a vehicle for self-expression and self-assertion, then marriage is dead.

When marriage ceases to be something to which both spouses commit themselves to irrevocably and becomes instead a vehicle for self-expression and self-assertion, then marriage is dead.

The Waleses lived their marriage in such a fashion. They are not responsible for the broader social change that has increasingly rendered marriage an arrangement of convenience rather than commitment, but they became something of the poster couple for that attitude.

Toward the end, the wilfulness of the Prince and Princess was such that not even the staunchest monarchists could defend the couple. Partisans of either camp would point out their philanthropic work, or their various social causes, as it was impossible to defend them on the grounds that they were good members of the royal family. You would increasingly hear the desperate defence that Diana loved her children, or that Charles did the same, as if that was much to their credit. Loving your children is rather what one minimally expects; it is only worthy of mention if nothing more praiseworthy can be said.

But even that was doubtful. The measure of love is sacrifice, and a person who is not willing to sacrifice for a spouse is unlikely to make sacrifices for the children. A loving father does not parade his infidelities publicly; a loving mother does not cavort around the Mediterranean during the school holidays with disreputable men. In the end the divorce came a year before the Princess and her last boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, were killed in the Paris accident. By that time marriage served no useful purpose for the Prince, who was quite content to set up house with his mistress in the former residence of the Queen Mother. When that became untenable, last year he opted for a tawdry little wedding at the local registrar’s office. It was a far cry from the glorious wedding in 1981, when children all over Canada were awakened in the early hours to watch the ceremony live. It would have been better to have remained asleep dreaming; it turned out that the Waleses were just pretending.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Marriages of convenience." National Post, (Canada) August 22, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2006 National Post

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