Thursday 12 December 2019

Mary Kenny: What royal wedding tells us about modern marriage

IS there something incongruous about Prince Albert of Monaco having a sumptuous Catholic wedding ceremony in Monte Carlo, while it is reported that tests are being carried out to establish whether he has a third child outside of wedlock, and indeed, according to another source, possibly even a fourth?

That the Prince -- who once worked in a New York bank under his simplified moniker of "Al Grimaldi" -- has fathered two children outside of marriage has been established by DNA tests. A former air stewardess, Nicole Coste, has borne him a son, Alexandre, now six, and he has a 19-year-old (very pretty) daughter, Jazmin, by an American estate agent. And now the French magazine 'Public' has claimed that Albert has fathered two more children on the other side of the duvet: one is said to be an 18-month-old infant whose mother is Italian (and preparing to tell all). While other sources in France are claiming that Nicole Coste has had a second child by Albert.

If Princess Charlene had more pre-wedding nerves than is usual, it is entirely understandable. Having walked up that exquisite aisle, she is now committed to standing by her man, faults and all.

But is Albert's position hypocritical -- in going through a solemn religious ceremony which is bound by a ritual implying chastity before the wedding and fidelity after it?

It certainly reflects an interesting area of shifting values.

Princes, kings and feudal lords once commonly had illegitimate offspring, who were acknowledged but barred from full inheritance. Anyone bearing the prefix 'Fitz' is a long-distance descendent of a chieftain's son born outside of wedlock.

Many English kings had progeny outside of wedlock: Charles II had countless such offspring, and when he acknowledged them, he usually gave them a title. (One day his Cockney mistress Nell Gwynn said to her infant son: "Come here, you little bastard!" The King intervened -- "You can't call him a little bastard, Nell. Let's call him the Duke of St Albans." And thus do the present St Albans family trace their roots.)

However, the incidence of 'illegitimate' offspring tended to decrease in the 20th century, partly because the cult of respectability grew, and even more importantly, because methods of contraception and birth control spread.

Respectable women were frightened of getting pregnant outside of marriage; while courtesans were adept at using birth control. (And married women having a fling could ascribe paternity to their husbands -- nobody could prove otherwise until the advent of DNA.)

Until single parenthood became acceptable, a woman who fell pregnant to a powerful or famous man was generally under pressure to "get rid of it". I knew several cases in the 1960s of young women bundled off to Switzerland -- then a destination for abortions for those who could afford it, now a destination for expensive assisted suicide -- so that their pregnancies would not cause embarrassment.

I had a Jewish friend who had an affair with a high-ranking (and anti-Israeli) figure in the Arab world. She became pregnant and was rushed out of the Middle Eastern country and virtually forced into an abortion to save face -- and political dynamite.

But this scenario is much less likely to occur now. Women have gained in confidence; some would say they are more "brazen". Some would even claim that there are sassy women who entrap foolish men into pregnancies to obtain child support -- to which the obvious answer is that men always have the choice to keep their trousers zipped, or get the snip. No man is forced into begetting a pregnancy.

Paradoxically, the new openness which enables a woman to give birth to her child, and prove paternity through DNA, could even be called a victory for the anti-abortion movement. Because it can now be far more advantageous for a woman in this situation to have the child than to abort it.

Paradoxically, too, the fact that Prince Albert has fathered two children out of wedlock, and awaits reports of two more claims, does indicate one very Catholic aspect of His Serene Highness's conduct: it is evidence that he is no practitioner of artificial contraception.

And, no, his religious white wedding is not hypocritical, unless virtually every formal wedding that now takes place is an act of hypocrisy: since most grooms and brides have been cohabiting for some time before they take their vows.

Moreover, a wedding is about vows for the future, and the intention to honour them. If Albert and Charlene mean to hold fast to their wedding vows, they are entitled to have the benefit of the sacramental occasion, festooned with bishops' concelebrating.

The wedding service is also, universally, a fertility rite -- orange blossom and confetti are symbols of fertility -- and there will now be hopes that the House of Grimaldi will produce heirs inside of marriage.

And that will be a real anxiety for Charlene: if there are no children of this union, it will be obvious that her fertility has not matched those of previous relationships. So fingers crossed that her patience and the loyalty she showed by marrying Albert will be rewarded.

Irish Independent

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