It’s a sad but true fact that the British royal family has never had a history of happy marriages. Just look at Prince Charles and Diana, or Princess Anne and Mark Phillips. And going much further back, everyone knows how many failed marriages Henry VIII accumulated!
Now, of course, Prince William could never have Kate Middleton beheaded. But the fact that the couple never seem to touch much may still set some alarm bells ringing. They don’t even hold hands! So is there trouble afoot for the young royals, or is there something else going on?
When Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot in 2011, their wedding looked like it had come straight out of the pages of a fairytale book. There was, however, still the odd cynical naysayer – not least because Kate, despite her family’s wealth and status, was still technically a “commoner.” And it didn’t go unnoticed.
As any scholar of even recent British history will no doubt know, Britain has always been very divided along class lines. And so people wondered, could a marriage between a normal, if wealthy, girl and the heir to the throne really work out?
“I’m not against the middle classes as such but I do query – I always have done – whether [Kate] has the background and breeding to become queen,” wrote upper-class royal correspondent James Whitaker in The Mirror in 2010. And he wasn’t the only one to voice concerns, either. Yet, there was still one upper-class person who seemed to have no quibbles whatsoever about Kate.
That person was Prince William, of course. As the figurehead for a new, cooler, more liberal breed of royal, the world would certainly have known if he’d expressed the slightest doubt over marrying a “commoner.” Instead, he seemed to have nothing but love for Kate.
Meanwhile Kate, for her part, had to have known that the life of a princess wasn’t going to be an easy one. Although she was gaining a husband who she loved, she was also giving up a lot of her freedoms. The paparazzi would hound her and the media would report on her every waking move. She’d also have to be constantly composed and polite when in public. Such is the world of modern-day royalty.
She would also take on what was, basically, an extremely difficult full-time job. The British royals are expected to attend constant state engagements, be present at charity galas and speak publicly at official events – and that’s just for starters. Take Queen Elizabeth II, for example: she still works very hard despite being well past retirement age.
All this was a sacrifice Kate was willing to make, but it really was a big sacrifice. She would essentially be under scrutiny for the rest of her life – all the more so, perhaps, because she hadn’t started out as a member of the aristocracy. And so people would keep a watchful eye on her clothes, her public speaking engagements and, of course, her marriage.
Before too long that marriage produced two children, George and Charlotte. People oohed and aahed over the official family photos, which showed the young Royals looking as close and as happy as could be. But they were starting to notice that the William and Kate in public were very different to the William and Kate seen in the photographs.
Quite often, William and Kate looked very awkward around each other in public. In fact once, while posing for photographers at Uluru in 2014, William had even jokingly asked Kate, “So what shall we talk about?” Except, was it a joke? Did these two young people really have nothing to say to each other?
Others also observed that they barely even held hands in public, even in situations when it would have been perfectly natural and appropriate for them to do so. And while they had no shortage of physical affection with their children – something royals famously tend to have a deficit of – it was very hard to spot them actually being affectionate towards one another.
However, there was a good reason for it. And it took a royal expert to explain it. “The likely reasoning is more that while traveling on a tour such as the India trip, technically the couple are working representatives of the British monarchy,” Myka Meier told People in 2016, shortly after William and Kate visited India.
Meier continued, “The couple are likely to show very little PDA, if any, to remain professional during their designated roles abroad.” However, she also mentioned that there was no official protocol saying the pair should refrain from holding hands – and who would stop them? – but that it was generally regarded as a good idea.
Royal correspondent Judy Wade also gave her opinion to People, referencing the fact that William and Kate had visited the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum. “Going to somewhere like the mausoleum is very much an official, strait-laced kind of event and you wouldn’t hold hands there if they’re there on an official visit,” she said.
Indeed, eagle-eyed fans of the royals may have noticed that the Queen and her husband Prince Philip rarely hold hands in public either. It seems the ability to have intimate moments with your spouse in public is one more thing you have to give up in exchange for being a figurehead.
But at least now we know that Kate and William refrain from hand-holding because they feel like they have to, rather than because they can’t stand to be close to one another. And to be fair, they do sometimes let the mask slip in public.
“I noticed they did let their hair down at the sporty occasions on the tour, and there was a great deal of fun, and he kept putting his arms around her,” Judy Wade told People. “Different types of occasions call for different types of behavior.” So at least they don’t feel that they have to adhere to strict rules all of the time.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the unofficial rules surrounding royal PDA will ever be relaxed. On the one hand, the points about professionalism are well made. On the other hand, it’s got to be fairly annoying for William and Kate knowing that even their hand-holding is under scrutiny.
It’s possible, however, that royal behavior may change as the institution grows older. After all, in 1953 Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth, was forbidden from marrying her lover Peter Townsend because he was a divorcee. But in 2016 Prince Harry began dating divorced actress Meghan Markle, with seemingly no censure from his family.
And of course, a few hundred years ago there was no way an heir to the throne could possibly have married a “commoner” with no royal title. At least, not without risking serious and possibly deadly consequences by doing so. So times do change, and there’s therefore still a chance that we may yet see some royal PDA in our lifetimes.