April 29, 2011

{The Mystery & Magic of Kate}

It was not only the best kept secret in recent British history, but it was simply astounding—given the scrutiny of media attention—that it could be kept secret. Yet the English author of The Wedding Bible who knows everything about what’s going on in the British bridal industry didn’t know. Indeed, experts worldwide agreed that even in normal weddings, it's hard to keep so many things veiled in mystery.

But a mystery it was until Catherine Elizabeth Middleton stepped out of that gleaming vintage high-top Rolls Royce on her wedding morning. The duchess-to-be bride, a princess in waiting, the lovely Kate—shimmering, joyful, “modernly” romantic—was wearing the glorious “mystery”! Her gown, designed by Sarah Burton for the house of Alexander McQueen. (“What a great day for British fashion!” proclaimed those who know these things and the designer herself later said that it had been a lovely collaboration with the bride.)

A regally white sculpted vision, the gown was a combination of hand-crafted lace (made in secret by a team of skilled embroiderers at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace, a clandestined operation that would have made its original resident Henry VIII proud) and ivory-colored silk gazar that was not home-made because Britain's only silk farm at Lullingstone Castle shut down in 2004.

According to a report in the Daily Mail by Valerie Elliott, the delicate lace pattern “featured the four floral emblems of the United Kingdom—rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock—and was made using the Carrickmacross lace-making technique, which originated in Ireland in the 1820s.” The lace was sheer and fitted over Kate’s shoulders and long arms so her every gesture was like a graceful, queenly command. Then applied over the strapless satin gazar bodice which was narrowed at the waist and padded at the hips, “a hallmark of the McQueen designs.” Fifty-eight tiny gazar and silk organza-covered buttons, fastened with Rouleau loops, closed the back of the gown and a dozen more were used at the wrists.

Both the sweeping, deeply pleated skirt with its arches “made to resemble an opening flower” and the almost nine elegant feet of train were lavishly appliquéd with the same hand-cut English Cluny and French Chantilly lace. “The dress was absolutely ravishing,” gushed Tim Gunn on the ABC News live broadcast about the Grace Kelly inspired confection, updated with Kate’s signature deep v-neckline and a bustle at the back waist.

With a nod to the Language of Flowers, Kate’s small shades-of-white bouquet included, of course, Sweet William (which stands for gallantry), lily-of-the-valley (which signifies a return of happiness) and hyacinth (which means constancy of love.) It also held a few green sprigs of English ivy and myrtle which are both Victorian-era symbols of fidelity. Like the last several generations of royal brides, the myrtle came from the mythological “royal myrtles” at the Fulham Palace gardens, grown from cuttings of the bridal bouquet of William’s great-great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

“When she came in with that veil over her face, it was almost ethereal, like she was coming through a cloud—an angel coming into the Abbey,” said wedding guest Michael Hintze, chairman of the Prince of Wales Foundation for the Built Environment. The single layer of silk tulle, edged with hand-embroidered flowers, was held in place by Kate’s something borrowed “halo”—an heirloom Cartier diamond tiara, circa 1936, loaned from the Queen (which had been an eighteenth birthday gift from her mother.)

It all fit so beautifully in the magnificent thousand year-old stone Westminster Abbey as the bride walked with her father along the “living avenue” of 20-foot high English Field Maples (later to be planted at Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate.) Then as Kate joined her happy prince in his scarlet tunic and blue sash of the Irish Guards, the two beloved friends were standing exactly where they wanted to be. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here....” spoke the Archbishop of Canterbury in those familiar and stirring words from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, calling forth the beloved in all of us to bare witness to this grand, yet deeply personal wedding ceremony.

“In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding,” declared the Lord Bishop of London in his address, and more than two billion viewers world-wide (and a million or so well-wishers on the streets of central London) were invited to share the intimacy and mystery of this royal moment like it was our own. Emerging into their day, chilly and breezy with bits of sun peaking through at right-on-cue moments, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge rode away from the Abbey in the Queen’s open 1902 State Landau, showing why royalty can be powerful archetypes for the rest of us. “Theirs is a partnership of equals that came out of a deep friendship,” expressed author Katie Nicholl on the BBC telecast, “and has blossomed into a royal love story.” Thanks to the legacy of his mother, William married “his rock,” as he called Kate later in the evening when he toasted his bride, and can have a true life partner.

This lit with magic wedding day was also the festival day of St. Catherine of Siena whose words opened the Lord Bishop’s address: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” And I think that’s just what this Catherine, now Her Royal Highness, and her William will do! I look forward to watching their life unfold in real time.~

April 26, 2011

{Kate's Fairy Tale}

[excerpt from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women]

As a little girl, from all accounts I've read, Diana Spencer had a vivid imagination and a deep intuitive sense about life that continued as an adult. And she used some of these powerful childhood imaginings to escape a stressful life, accepting a proposal for an arranged marriage when she thought it was to be a relationship about fulfilling her fairy tale of love and security. But she also had big dreams of doing something special with her life; a vision of making a difference in the world. Her immaturity and lack of well-being, however, limited her in having her “fairy tale” bring contentment and personal joy.

Fast-forward almost thirty years to the day when another princess-to-be is on the threshold of marriage to a would-be king. Here we have the fiancé of Diana’s oldest son, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton and at 29, older, wiser, worldlier, calmer, more educated and more grounded than the barely 20 year-old, starry-eyed Diana. But I would guess that Kate was not without her own fairy-tale imaginings. Only 19 when she met William during their first term at the University of St. Andrews, I just bet that she had a crush on him from the start and at some point early on in their long, more than eight-year friendship, fell deeply in love. But the difference in her fairy tale is that she fell in love with the man, not the image as it seems her late mother-in-law did.

Thanks to a more open, less rule-bound world (and thanks to Diana’s rebellious nature, deep connection to her sons and an insistence on a more normal upbringing for them), Kate and William have had the opportunity to get to know each other, become friends, fall in love, stay friends, live together, talk about their commitment to each other and their plans for the future (including the reality of a duty-bound royal life) and begin forming a partnership of equals.

A few weeks before Kate and William’s wedding, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled “Citizen Kate”—with a very close-up, casual photograph of a lovely, happy, centered Kate. (And with the caption, "Kate the Great: In a world gone to hell, thank God, a wedding!"). Allison Pearson interviewed friends of the couple for the article and shared this quote from a friend of the young prince: “‘He’s always been keen to live life his own way, and that’s been very evident in the way he’s taken so long about making this decision. They’re very determined not to make their domestic happiness a casualty of royal life. They’ve built up a strong friendship, obviously a strong physical relationship, and they love each other a lot.’”

Protective, loyal, respectful, loving, insightful, patient and calm, the future queen of England knows her man!~

[Other excerpts from the upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, will be posted soon. The next post will be a "report" from Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding!]

April 22, 2011

{Did You Know?} No. 2: "Before Diana, It Was Grace"

[This continues the Did You Know? series which is randomly-regular blog additions highlighting facts and folklore about brides, weddings & courtship.]

Did you know that before 750 million viewers tuned in to watch Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, becoming the largest media event in the world, the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier held the record? In 1956, 30 million people watched the wedding of the film icon and the prince of Monaco on live television. And this was only because the private  Kelly and Grimaldi families had to agree to allow MGM to film the wedding so they would release Grace from her movie contract. 

Air travel was not readily available at the time, so Grace, with her poodle and over 60 members of the wedding party, left New York Harbor on April 4, 1956 on the ocean liner the SS Constitution for the French Riviera. Arriving in Monaco eight days later, 20,000 people lined the streets (there are only about 3000 residents of Monaco) to welcome the future princess consort. 

The pre-wedding days of parties, sightseeing, budding romances, and members of the press attempting to land a story were accompanied by not one, but two cat-burglars making off with expensive jewels of wedding guests. Real life repeats the movies! (Grace's movie co-starring Cary Grant and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief, had just been released the year before!)

Known as "the wedding of the century" until Charles and Diana's nuptials almost 30 years later, the Monaco wedding, an elaborate Catholic Mass, was attended by over 600 guests. Guests included Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, David Niven, Aga Khan, Gloria Swanson, Aristotle Onassis as well as heads of state, diplomats and wealthy business friends of the Kelly family. 

The day before, Grace and the prince were officially wed in a small civil ceremony in the palace which, it was reported, the bride preferred to the stiff, under-harsh-lights atmosphere of the public ceremony in Saint Nicholas Cathedral.

There is a wonderful "falling in love" story about the ocean crossing of Grace, her family and friends, along with members of the press corps, that I've recounted in my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. ~

[Another post in the series Did You Know? will appear soon! You can find past additions highlighting facts and folklore about brides, weddings & courtship by clicking on "Did You Know?" in the Labels list below.]

April 20, 2011

{End of the Myth} Part Four: "The Beginning of Chivalry"

[excerpt from the upcoming book - The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women]

Author and mythologist Joseph Campbell explained that the troubadours were considered pioneers of love. At first, the troubadours were the nobility of Provence; then as the movement spread, nobles from other areas of Europe joined in. These minstrels and poets “weren’t just telling mindless tales of romance and dalliance,” Scott Farrell, founder of the Chivalry Today Educational Program, explained. “They were spreading a radical, almost subversive concept: That men and women could pursue their own destinies, fall in love and relate to one another as equals under a groundbreaking concept known as ‘courtly love’.”

We are more familiar with this “revolution” through the retelling of stories and dramatizations of the lives of King Arthur and Queen Genevieve and the chivalrous court they created in Britain. One of the troubadours who joined them was Lancelot du Lac, creating the infamous “love triangle.”

The legendary Code of Chivalry—calling for the practice of temperance, courage, love, loyalty and courtesy—“helped break down the repressive gender roles that existed at the time,” a brutal time with no central law, yet women were not on the sidelines, nor were they helpless. The practice of chivalry gave women power and influence. “In the days of knights in shining armor, women weren’t put on pedestals to be admired from afar,” Farrell wrote. “Instead, women of medieval society were expected to play an active, intellectual role in the culture of chivalry that transformed the violent warriors of the Gothic tribes into the noble gentlemen of the High Middle Ages.”

How did these heroic, spiritual quests and times of empowered and beloved women of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries become the skewed idealized “damsel in distress” fairy tales that have been handed down to us today? “This perception,” reported Farrell, “is largely due to the attitudes of the neo-Gothic revival of the 19th century.” Authors and painters “melded the stories and images of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table with a Victorian sense of gallantry, which delineated a passive role for women. But this role would have been quite alien to the audiences of the Middle Ages….”

Embedded in worldwide cultural attitudes, this inaccurate interpretation created popular fairy tales and an entertainment industry of  “once upon a time” novels, songs and cinema. Diana Spencer was certainly not the first little girl to become tangled in the superficial, sentimentalized versions of these poetic renderings. And since then, girls and boys grew up in societies that believed the female’s worth was “less than” and therefore she could not help herself and had to be “rescued.” ~

[Other excerpts from the "End of the Myth" chapter of The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride upcoming book can be found by clicking on End of the Myth in the Labels list.]

April 17, 2011

{Did You Know?} No. 1: "The First 'Spectacle' of a Royal Wedding"

[This is the first of the Did You Know? posts which are randomly-regular blog additions highlighting facts and folklore about brides, weddings & courtship.]

Did you know that Victoria, the great-great-great-grandmother of Prince William, was the first reigning British queen to be married? And after the grand spectacle of her wedding celebration, weddings world-wide were never the same! Queen Victoria "became famous in wedding history for setting a new standard," explains the book, Planet Wedding. "The white dress and the orange blossoms she wore became instant traditions" and set the vogue for future brides.

"On the day of the wedding, February 10, 1840, thousands braved damp weather to witness a wedding procession that traveled from Buckingham Palace to the chapel at St. James's. The event captured the imagination of the public and the press alike, leaving us with many eyewitness accounts of the spectacle, including this one from Victoria, Queen of England (1868) by James Parton:"

The queen, as brides generally do, looked pale and anxious. Her dress was a rich white satin, trimmed with orange blossoms, and upon her head she wore a wreath of the same beautiful flowers. Over her head, but not so as to conceal her face, a veil of honiton lace thrown. She was sparingly decorated with diamonds. She wore, however, a pair of very large diamond ear-rings, and a diamond necklace. Her twelve bridesmaids were attired in similar taste, and they were all young ladies of remarkable beauty.

Princess Helena, 1905.
"By the second half of the nineteenth century, girls everywhere strove to follow in Victoria's footsteps, publicity and all. Weddings became public affairs, church weddings became the norm, and for the first time ever weddings were defined not by ritual but by romance." ~

(Thanks to Planet Wedding: A Nuptial-pedia for this contribution.)

[This is the first of the Did You Know? posts which are randomly-regular blog additions highlighting facts and folklore about brides, weddings & courtship. Another will be posted soon!]

April 11, 2011

{End of the Myth} Part Three: "Shadow & Light"

[excerpt from the upcoming book - The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women]

Was this royal “fairy tale”—with both its light and dark aspects—all part of a divine plan that revealed the true origin of this damsel and knight mythology? Were we to discover something deep and unspoken within ourselves? Perhaps the story is a metaphor in the lineage of ancient traditions that confirms, what author Frank Joseph calls, “myth’s unsuspected power to preserve high truths.” What is the “high truth” that is wrapped up in the Diana and Charles story?

The romanticized, filtered-down versions of these inherited damsel and knight folktales actually came out of ancient “high truths.” Many of the original stories were derived from goddess cultures where people lived in respectful accord with nature. There is a legend from pre-Celtic times of the imprisonment of the Goddess Ethlinn that Joseph shares in his book Atlantis and Lemuria:

Lugh [Bronze statuette]
Ancient Irish tradition tells the story of Ethlinn, a goddess, who was confined in a ‘crystal cave’ by Balor, King of the giant Formorach, earliest inhabitants of Ireland. With her imprisonment, the world grew ever dark, cold, and barren. She and the earth languished for just one day short of a year, until she was freed by Lugh, whose name means ‘light,’ leader of the Tuatha da Danann, ‘Followers of the Goddess Danu.’ For his heroic act, the gods rewarded him with the secret of eternal life. On every anniversary of his rescue, the longest night of the year, he returned to the crystal cave, where he transformed himself into a coiled snake. When dawn light entered, Lugh unwound himself and rose up a young man again.

In this winter solstice story, we have the ‘masculine light’ releasing the abundant feminine energy out of the darkness, revealing the full vibrant life that is then possible. Shining light into the darkness to bring balance back to the earth and releasing the “imprisoned” consciousness that gives it life.

These metaphorically rich ancient stories explaining the natural world manifested in human form were especially compelling in the harsh aftermath when goddess loving matriarchal societies (where both the divine feminine and divine masculine energies were honored) were overrun by the more dominion-focused patriarchal cultures over two thousand years ago. As a result of this imbalanced and fractured world that was created (a cycle of civilization that is coming to a close), women were more and more suppressed into their limited dark boxes, squelching the nurturing light in everyone.

This discrepancy grew even darker for both men and women until the suppression ignited the bold actions of valiant troubadours, courageous knights and enlightened women and men of the royal courts in the Middle Ages. These revolutionary troubadours were storytellers who created a Code of Chivalry “releasing” the nurturing, compassionate nature for both men and women.~

[Other excerpts from the "End of the Myth" chapter of The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride upcoming book can be found by clicking on End of the Myth in the Labels list.]

April 3, 2011

{End of the Myth} Part Two: "The Charade"

[excerpt from the upcoming book - The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women]

We are at the end of the fairy-tale bride. The end of the belief that a woman needs to be rescued and that a man’s job is to come to the rescue. Although we may continue to be enchanted by folktales of earlier times featuring, as David Cohen in Circle of Life calls, “marriageable maidens with exquisite desirability and mortal men with the chivalrous urge to protect their honor,” this damsel and knight archetype hardly serves the deeper desires of women and men for happy and fulfilling lives.

The fairy tale always ends at the “point of rescue,” notes author Dr. Caroline Myss in an article in the New Age Journal. “Indeed the shadow side of this fairy tale is that the woman is taken from one form of containment—her maiden palace—to yet another form of containment—the knight’s palace.” Buying into this damsel and knight notion or the fairy princess myth still imbedded in today’s culture usually results in a rather fractured fairy tale—limiting and disempowering for all involved.

In the royal “reality show” that began in the early 1980s starring Lady Diana Spencer and HRH Prince Charles, we got to see the damsel and knight illusion played out on a larger-than-life screen. All the elements were there for a great story: a dashing prince in uniform and a lovely demure heroine, a royal courtship, a grand wedding, a marriage of privilege, and beautiful healthy children. However, given that Diana and Charles, the two main characters in this real life drama, were not living their own truth—stuck in the paradox of their heritage and both searching for emotional grounding—their individual illusions clashed. The charade was quickly revealed under the searing spotlight of world attention as well as under the pressure of a new world order cracking open. A deeper truth demanded to un-conceal itself and be recognized as just that: what was real and what was the illusion. ~

[Other excerpts from the "End of the Myth" chapter of The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride upcoming book can be found by clicking on End of the Myth in the Labels list.]