LONDON —The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton Friday at Westminster Abbey was a brilliant success.
It was a perfectly timed display of majesty and tradition, the kind the British do best, leavened with enough intimacy and informality to beguile and impress a new generation.
But something bigger seemed to have shifted Friday, at least among some of the millions of Britons who want the monarchy to survive but have felt a peculiar sense of dislocation in recent decades as the royal family’s dysfunctions played themselves out publicly.
“After the death of Diana, and all the difficulties of the divorce, I wasn’t really sure about this family, but today I feel as though something has been put back in place,” said Ann Priestman of Yorkshire, England, who had watched the ceremony on a jumbo television screen in an “eerily quiet” Trafalgar Square with her family.
The last time “we saw those boys [Harry and William] together in Westminster Abbey was at the funeral of their mother. This time, they were there to celebrate a wedding, and we were there, with them.”
A million people lined the procession route, and there were few disruptions, although 55 arrests were made for minor offenses.
Ms. Priestman’s 80-year-old mother was fretting too back home in Yorkshire. “She was really worried people wouldn’t turn out for this, and when I called to tell her the place was mobbed, she was weeping for joy,” Ms. Priestman said, adding that she believes the multitudes embraced Prince William’s wedding because “he’s Diana’s son, and you can see that.”
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The ceremony itself was a celebration of Britishness and the notion of monarchy, filled with sweeping allusions to the outsized grandeur of these tiny islands in hymns, anthems, and readings. That sense of England climaxed, perhaps, as the words of poet William Blake filled the medieval hall: “I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land.”
Before Queen Elizabeth II and under the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the young couple exchanged vows.
Like Diana in 1981, Ms. Middleton refused to say she would “obey” her husband in her wedding vows, but unlike Diana, she got his full name right while reading them out: William Arthur Philip Louis.
The day was a also visual feast for fashion enthusiasts. Guests wore extravagant hats, some costing more than $1,600, but all eyes were on the bride’s dress, the best-kept secret of the day.
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The long aisle leading to the altar was lined with maple and hornbeam trees as light streamed in through the high arched windows. The soft green foliage framed the couple against a red carpet as they recited their vows.
The bride wore her hair down and pulled back from her face, covered with a lace-edged veil and a diamond tiara on loan from the queen. Her dramatic oak-leaf-shaped diamond earrings were a gift from her parents.
Prince William, second-in-line to the throne after his father, wore the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer, reinforcing his image as a dedicated military man. Maid of honor Pippa Middleton wore a simple column dress, while best man Prince Harry chose formal military attire.
The event may have been so beloved because Prince William is, indeed, the country’s favorite royal, even as his father ranks low in popularity polls. If the monarchy has renewed itself after Friday’s wedding, it may be because this young man is perceived as understanding the serious responsibilities of his position without taking himself too seriously — a failing often attributed to Prince Charles.
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Prince William’s performance on a recent royal tour to New Zealand was widely praised, and there are reports that the Queen might step down to allow the Prince of Wales on the throne for a relatively short time so that his son might become king by his mid-40s.
“The specialness is not in the glitz; it’s the fact that the monarchy is 1,000 years old,” said Jonathan Warburton, who drove five hours from a small village in Wales to watch the procession. “There’s a constancy to them that goes beyond the individual who happens to be on the throne. I respect the position the Queen holds as much as I respect the person she is,” he said.
“I think that it’s a historic moment and all this glamour of the royal family and royal wedding is really interesting and beautiful,” said Natiara Lima, 25, a native of Brazil. “It’s fantastic. I can tell this to my children and grandchildren.”
Sarah Cox, from Cambridge, and her friend, Kim Dixon, already had their children with them. They slept on the Mall — the long ceremonial avenue leading to Buckingham Palace — overnight to get a good spot on the parade route. Ms. Cox said she camped out in London with her parents at age 9 to see the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and she wanted her kids to experience the same excitement.
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Along the Mall, sidewalks were packed five or six people deep, or even more. Some clambered up railings or on friends’ shoulders, or, if they were too far back, wielding makeshift periscopes to improve their chances of a good view.
Chris Feathers, 25, of Brentwood, Essex, chattered excitedly to his wife on his cell phone as he stood watching the cars and coaches of dignitaries head toward Westminster Abbey. She was viewing the events at home on the television and telling him who was in each car, he said.
Draped in a huge British flag complete with a portrait of the royal couple, Mr. Feathers said he slept overnight at his office in London so he could get to the parade route early.
“I wasn’t born when Princess Diana and Charles got married,” he explained. “This is my first chance to be part of something like this — it’s really exciting to be part of something so massive.”
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Jason Patterson of Los Angeles appeared to win, with a full picture of the Queen’s new Rolls-Royce and a glimpse of her large yellow hat.
Elsewhere, three Australian women who were taking turns to stand on a section of railings shouted out names to the crowd. “It’s Charles! It’s Camilla!” they cried, and the information was repeated excitedly by those around them.
In St. James’ Park, the Chapel Royal Choir’s voices poured out of loudspeakers, and when the Prince and Ms. Middleton said their vows, an enormous cheer erupted.
Many joined in singing the hymns, creating a church-like atmosphere.
“We have the best seat in the house,” said Margaret Nicols, who hails from the small town of Harlow, in Essex, sitting on a park bench.
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At the end of the ceremony, the newlyweds rode past in an open-topped carriage — predicted downpours never materialized, just soft, slightly cool English spring weather with occasional sunshine. The newly minted Duchess of Cambridge smiled and waved demurely. In the carriage’s wake, police removed the barricades along the Mall, allowing masses to surge toward the gates of Buckingham Palace.
There they waited for the couple to emerge on the balcony for a kiss between husband and wife.
“Kiss! Kiss!” everyone roared as the bride and groom appeared, flanked by tiny bridesmaids and royal family members. And twice, they complied, with short kisses.
“It was beautiful, it was breathtaking,” said Suzanne Smyth, a fashion journalist from Northern Ireland who carried her dog, Bella, with her, dressed in a tiara and wedding veil.
“I think a lot of people see this and believe in the beauty and sanctity of marriage. I hope there’s a lot of proposals following this year.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Claudia Boyd-Barrett is a reporter for The Blade and Mackenzie Carpenter is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Information from The Blade’s news services was used in this report.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6272