HERE HAS NOT BEEN such a universal outpouring of grief in at least a generation. Not since the death of President Kennedy over thirty years ago have people been so totally devastated by the loss of somebody as they were by the sudden death of Britain's Princess Diana.
Following the announcement of her accident, all major television channels in the United States continued to report on Diana's death throughout the night and most of Sunday morning. She was truly the "world's most photographed woman," ironically the ultimate cause of her death at the young age of 36.
Why was Diana so popular?
British Prime Minister Tony Blair described her as "the peoples' princess". She was a breath of fresh air in a monarchy that has become increasingly distant from the people in spite of sincere efforts to try and open up more.
The British are famous for sympathizing with the underdog. Diana was in that category. She received a raw deal from the Establishment, including the Royal Family and especially her husband, the heir to the throne, Prince Charles.
Charles' famous television interview following the breakup of their marriage saw him admit that he never loved her. He blamed his father, Prince Philip, for forcing him, at the age of 32, into a marriage he did not want. All along, his life-long love was Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles. Their affair began when both were single. She later married, frustrated by Charles' indecision about their relationship. But the intimacy continued right on into Charles' marriage to Diana. As Princess Di put it, "There were three people in this marriage from the start." When confronted by Diana, Charles is said to have exclaimed, "I am not going to be the first Prince of Wales in history to not have a mistress."
She was a breath of fresh air in a monarchy that has become increasingly distant from the people
This relationship has done great damage to the House of Windsor. Many blame Diana for the problems in the royal household. Some have said that she should have kept quiet about his relationship with Camilla as all previous royal consorts have done in turning a blind eye to infidelity in their husbands. Indeed, Edward VII's wife Queen Alexandra personally invited his mistress, actress Lillie Langtry, to comfort him at his bedside during his final illness, this in 1910 when the public, had it known, would have been appalled.
Is Diana to blame? Ephesians 5: 25 tells husbands to "love their wives." This marriage should never have taken place because Prince Charles, by his own admission, did not love her. Diana at the time was a naive nineteen- year-old, in love with the Prince of Wales and enamored at the prospect of being a part of the world's most famous family. Later she was to say that there was no preparation for her new role and that the royal functionaries (not members of the royal family, but those who run "the firm" as Prince Philip calls it) were against her from the start. They did not like her style, wanting to preserve the monarchy as they had always known it. She was always looked upon as an "outsider" and never accepted.
Those who want to blame Diana for the monarchy's problems should keep in mind that not one of the marriages in the Queen's immediate family, except her own, has been successful. In fact, the Queen, who married exactly fifty years ago, is the last member of the immediate royal family to stay married. This is worse than amongst the people as a whole, so there must be something wrong with the system. The Queen's younger sister divorced as did the Queen's three oldest children. The fourth has never married.
It is not too difficult to see what is wrong.
The almost 300 year old present dynasty is increasingly out of touch with reality. It is important for the Windsors to understand this if the monarchy is to be preserved. And it should be preserved as it has given the United Kingdom and other nations within the British Commonwealth the longest and most stable political system in the world. The Windsors owe it to the peoples of the Commonwealth to make the necessary changes to preserve the monarchy, to adapt it to changing times and the needs of the peoples; just as the people need to give the Windsors time to change, thankful for the uniqueness of a political system that has been of benefit to all. Nations that have broken the tie with the crown have paid a heavy price in terms of political instability, corruption and even violent conflict.
The British monarchy has united most of the freedom loving English-speaking peoples for 300 years. It needs to be preserved if more fragmentation is to be avoided. Any weakening of the monarchy diminishes the ties, the unity of which has preserved our freedoms for over three centuries.
At the beginning of the twentieth century all but two of the nations of Europe were monarchies. Today there are only eight monarchies left, out of about 40 different countries. At the turn of the century, Great Britain was the most powerful nation on earth. Its empire comprised one quarter of the world's people and all were united by a common loyalty to the throne. The throne was truly the symbol that united the diverse peoples of the empire.
This marriage should never have taken place because Prince Charles, by his own admission, did not love her.
I still remember, living in Rhodesia in the 1970's, listening to an African tribesman who was telling me that his father, in 1947, had wanted to meet "the great white chief that rules the world" (King George VI), who was about to visit the Rhodesian city of Bulawayo. Accordingly, he prepared his family for a ten-day trek through the bush to see the "chief." His father carried a live goat on his shoulders as a gift, an expression of thanks, to the King. Non-British people identified with the Empire and related on a personal level to the King-Emperor. Monarchy was a system of government based upon the family that ordinary people of all races could understand.
It was during this tour of the empire that the young Princess Elizabeth, now Queen, turned 21 and dedicated herself in the South African city of Johannesburg "to the service of the great imperial family to which we all belong." Only fifty years ago.
In the following two decades Great Britain divested itself of its empire. Some of the newly independent countries maintained close ties with the throne. The Queen today is Head of State of more than a dozen countries. Most nations in the Commonwealth are now republics, but all still recognize the Queen as the non-political Head of the Commonwealth, a multinational organization with more than fifty members.
The Empire and Commonwealth have changed, but the monarchy has changed very little. The royal household still maintains its old costly size even though the international responsibilities are no longer as great. Even now, more than thirty years since the empire vanished, public servants are still rewarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) and other similar medals of honor. This obsession with antiquated and meaningless titles led to Diana being stripped of her H.R.H. (Her Royal Highness) title upon divorce -- an "official" act of disapproval made with no consideration of public sentiment. In an age of increasing democratization, in which class barriers have diminished throughout the world, the monarchy remains aloof and is perceived by many as part of an anachronistic aristocracy out of touch with reality.
Prince Charles could still do irreparable damage to the institution.
Remembering the fate of the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns and all the other European monarchies, all ultimately similarly out of touch, emphasizes the dangers of atrophy in the Windsors. Queen Victoria (1837-1901) created the "modern" British monarchy, with its heavy emphasis on formal duty and strict observance of protocol. The Windsors have hardly begun to enter the twentieth century. No wonder Diana didn't fit -- she was preparing her son for the twenty first.
Perversely, Diana's death offers breathing space and some sobering lessons.
Breathing space because of the groundswell of sympathy and feeling for her children, the Princes William and Henry. Public opinion and fond memories of Diana will ensure William's succession to the throne following the death of his father. The throne is secure for the foreseeable future, at least in Britain if not in the constitutional monarchies of the Commonwealth.
But Prince Charles could still do irreparable damage to the institution. He is, frankly, eccentric. Increasingly devoted to fringe issues he is out of touch with his future subjects, whose major concerns are more down to earth. Diana realized this and tried to ensure that her boys would be exposed more to the realities of the contemporary world. There is a danger now that the family will retreat back into the cloistered world of the royal court. Hopefully, Diana's influence will persist and William, the future King, will follow in his mother's footsteps, immersing himself in the people, the only way of securing the monarchy's future. There's an appropriate Biblical principle here, "Let him that is chief among you be your servant" (Matt 20:26-27). The outpouring of grief for Diana should force the royal family to realize some of their own shortcomings -- not one of them is as popular as Diana, though the Queen and Queen Mother are greatly respected. Diana has shown the way for the monarchy to go if it is to be relevant to future generations.
Diana showed the way to win the peoples' hearts.
Diana showed the way to win the peoples' hearts. She took on unpopular but important causes such as AIDS and the global abolition of landmines. But above all she knew how to relate to people, to make every single person she talked to feel special. Not because she HAD to, out of some Victorian sense of duty that has guided the royals for generations, but because she WANTED to, because she truly cared. Her short but difficult life had bred sensitivity and empathy with a modern world full of lonely people, united by a common bond to their princess, Diana. As a sobbing close personal friend of Diana's, actress Elizabeth Taylor, described her, "She was the world's princess."
She was truly one of a kind and will not be replaced. Appropriately, she was awarded, in the words of Buckingham Palace, "a unique funeral for a unique person."
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