To paraphrase Walter Bagehot, a royal wedding is a wonderful occasion for pomp and pageantry. I viewed this grand event all last Friday morning on my mother’s television and would be quite happy to see the Horse Guards prancing along the Mall all day. My sister phoned and said she had planned to celebrate the occasion in her local pub – only to discover it had declared itself republican and was therefore shut. What curmudgeons some people are!
Two things about the wedding ceremony itself particularly interested me: Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, quoting that great (Catholic) saint, Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” And Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, telling the young couple that marriage has been ordained by God primarily for the procreation of children (I think his words were “the increase of mankind” but it comes to the same thing).
As I listened, a negative association came into my mind. I do not want to sound like the wicked fairy at the feast but I’ll still repeat it: it was a news item about Moscow preparing to host the world’s first demographic summit on 29-30 June, with the theme of “The Family and the Future of Mankind”. It is being hosted by the World Congress of Families; the director, Larry Jacobs, states, “By the year 2050 there will be 248 million fewer children under five in the world than there are today.”
The summit is being held in Moscow because Prime Minister Putin is making a desperate bid to raise the Russian birthrate by up to 30 per cent in three years. At present in Russia unofficial statistics state there are nearly four million abortions per annum, as against 1.7 million live births. These doleful statistics speak for themselves. I have blogged before about the “demographic winter” facing not only Russia but also countries in the West.
What does this gloomy news item have to do with the wedding of Prince William and his bride? It is simple: such is the magic and symbolic power of the British monarchy that this young couple’s married life will inevitably set its own standard for the country’s views about the meaning and purpose of marriage. Look at the way the marriage of Queen Victoria gave the name “Victorian” to a whole association of ideas about the strength, stability and fidelity of the marriage and lively family life that she and Prince Albert enjoyed.
So I hope that the newly married couple will set an example of long and faithful married love to our country – something the bridegroom’s parents could not achieve, as well as other members of the Royal Family. I also hope their marriage will be fruitful, as Rowan Williams reminded them, and that they will burst the bounds of the average family size. Six children, I suggest, would be a good number and might encourage others to follow their example. Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh, echoing the environmental brigade, have both spoken pessimistically about the need to curb world population. The fact is, as Putin knows only too well, we need to increase it before too many countries suffer irreversible population decline. William and Catherine: here is your opportunity to “set the world on fire”.