The Middletons & the Monarchy

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Yesterday, Kensington Palace confirmed that the wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews would go forward on May 20th at St. Mark’s Church, Englefield and will be attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, with Prince George and Princess Charlotte acting as a page boy and bridesmaid, respectively.

This was an interesting announcement for a couple reasons. For one, the logistical details have already been widely reported, while the attendance of members of the Royal Family has been speculated for months now. Secondly, Pippa, as Kate’s younger sister, is not actually a member of the RF. Thus, her wedding is a private event and no one would have raised an eyebrow had KP and the Cambridges treated it as such and declined to comment on both their attendance and their children’s participation in the ceremony.

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Online this has caused a bit of a stir only because it’s a surprising course of action, particularly from a Palace that has hitherto declined to comment on Pippa’s affairs. Nevertheless, Pippa’s wedding has been in the news since her engagement was confirmed last summer leading to the usual headlines as to what role Kate, George and Charlotte would play. More recently, this has taken a turn and there has been widespread speculation as to whether Harry would be invited and, if he was, whether he would bring Meghan Markle.

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Christmas 2012

Recent articles have indicated that Pippa has implemented a “no ring, no bring” policy which would thus leave Meghan out, with the insinuation being that she had no desire for anyone to “upstage” her on her big day. I’ve no idea whether this is true or not, but to be fair to Pippa, if she has laid down this guest policy, it might be fairer to say it’s on behalf of her rather famous sister and her family in the hopes of minimizing attendees who the Middleton family doesn’t know and therefore whose discretion can’t be trusted.

The wedding has also been in the headlines thanks to two recent rounds of paparazzi shots, the first which showed William and Kate leaving Pippa’s home the other week after a family dinner party and the second showing Kate and their mother, Carole, having visited Pippa one afternoon for what appeared to be some sort of apparel fitting.

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The day before the 2011 royal wedding

Kensington Palace’s confirmation can be read any number of ways, but the fact remains it is unprecedented for the Palace to extend itself this way on behalf of an “in law.”

As Dickie Arbiter noted on Twitter:

A charitable view, and the one I think is the most correct, is that KP is simply acknowledging the public interest in the event and widespread speculation as to whether the Cambridge children would be involved. Their involvement isn’t promotion so much as realism – yes, William, Kate, George and Charlotte will be there and because of Pippa’s celebrity status, the kind and efficient thing to do is step in and offer what press guidance they can.

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In December 2006

A less charitable view, and one that is also ongoing, is that this deviation from protocol is yet another sign of “Middleton meddling,” or worse: Middleton thirst. For well over a decade now, the Middleton women (it’s always the women, isn’t it?) have been accused of social climbing and parlaying their royal connections into money and fame. Frankly it’s a boring narrative only because it’s been around for hundreds of years and happens, without fail, anytime a woman marries into the RF. And it’s women, yes, only because men that marry into the RF receive less press attention, though the last time it’s happened on a scale that affected the succession was 1947 when Prince Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth and you better believe he was dragged across the coals for any number of issues.

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So, if your question is whether or not the Middleton family has done anything particularly unique to warrant such a reputation then the answer is no. Carole and her husband (Kate’s father), Michael, are both business owners of the party supply line, “Party Pieces,” and they have bumped up against the press on a few occasions for featuring products that played off a “princess” theme. To that I would only say, well, if you’re looking to market to little girls and their parents, then, duh. I vaguely remember there being something around the royal wedding…I can’t remember the details, but if the worst thing we can say is that they’ve a good business sense, then I can’t really get worked up about it.

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The day after the 2011 royal wedding

But that’s not true of the Middletons’ critics who believe that Carole has acted like some modern day Mrs. Bennett or Duke of Norfolk by prepping Kate to catch and keep William and encouraging Pippa to marry for money. Frankly I find it all wildly sexist and snobbish, though the criticism usually comes from the general public, which makes it all the more ludicrous.

They’re a well-off family and they’ve absolutely benefited from Kate having married William in terms of connections, publicity and financial opportunity. Is that their motivation? Doubtful.

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Pippa first catapulted into the public’s consciousness during the royal wedding when she acted as Kate’s maid of honor. She wore a cream form fitting Alexander McQueen gown and the internet went agog within minutes of her appearing on screens for having, let’s say, enviable assets. But for those that were paying attention, she had been there all along – by Kate’s side during the “girlfriend” years, including when William and Kate went on a brief and highly publicized break in 2007.

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And much has been made about the closeness of the Middleton clan, a fact Kate acknowledged in the interview she and William sat down for when their engagement was announced in November 2010. William appears to have become close to them, too, which makes sense given that he has essentially been a part of the family since his University days. They appear to have offered him an additional familial environment that is, perhaps, a bit more relaxed, traditional and private than his own. For even if we take for granted that William is close with the Prince of Wales and Harry, life inside Clarence House is certainly not quite the same as an ordinary family home.

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That the Middletons continue to be a presence in William and Kate’s life post-wedding is a good thing – a sign, I think, more of a concerted effort on the Camridges’ part to ensure their family life still includes them and less ambitious maneuvering on the part of Carole. Of course she wants to remain a part of her daughter’s life. Of course she wants to spend time with her grandchildren. That this is a new pattern for a royal wife is true, but one that should absolutely become a norm. Who benefits from being cut off from their family against their will?

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The Middletons’ attitude seems to be resignation towards the interest in them and playing the hand of cards they were dealt. Pippa has published two books, one which came on the heels of the royal wedding and seems to have cemented, for some, her reputation for “cashing in” on her sister. She has done columnist stints for a variety of publications, including Vanity Fair. She has acknowledged the tight rope walk that often comes with her situation – the dance between protecting her family’s privacy and promoting her own career the way anyone else would. For all that her personal and professional life is privileged – and it is – it has also drawn her a considerable amount of unwanted attention, criticism and held her to a certain standard that changes based on the mood of her audience.

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On the balcony of Buckingham Palace

It should come as no surprise, then, that Pippa retains a solid PR adviser, but that fact only makes it more interesting that KP weighed in yesterday. Certainly it wasn’t a service provided to the Spencer siblings back in the day, but I view this purely as a mixture of the Palace making the best of what will become a media “situation” and William and Kate offering what help they can on behalf of not only Pippa, but their children, whose attendance will garner considerable interest.

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Charlotte will turn two on May 2nd. For her birthday last year a series of photos of her taken by Kate were released for the public and I will be interested in seeing if they repeat this practice again this year. William and Kate might take the same stance they did this past Christmas when they skipped a card knowing that the entire family would be photographed leaving church with the Middletons (the same church Pippa will be married in next month). Given that George and Charlotte will likely be seen and photographed later in May at their aunt’s wedding, I’d say it’s very possible there won’t be official pictures of Charlotte released a few weeks before. Possible, but a toss up, in my opinion.

Regardless, if and when George and Charlotte are snapped at the wedding, it will be the first time in five months that the children have been seen. For all that William and Kate are accused of being too controlling of their privacy and family time, they appear to be successfully giving their children plenty of time out of the public eye.

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