The XX Factor

Why It Doesn’t Matter That Kate Middleton Is Not an Aristocrat

What is striking about the long-rumored engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton is how much they seem like any modern couple, at least in the superficial details. They met in college, broke up for a while in the intervening several years, and have been, according to the New York Times , “virtually living together” recently. That sounds like the trajectory of lots of other contemporary lovebirds, ones whose fathers are not slated to be King of England.

They may be like any modern pair because one-half of the couple is actually a pretty regular person. Kate’s parents are a former pilot and a former flight attendant who now own a mail-order company. Though there were tabloid rumblings that the royal family was irked by Kate’s “common” background (U.K. papers termed one notorious incident ” toiletgate ,” because the queen allegedly thought Kate low class for using the word “toilet”), it doesn’t actually seem to be that big a deal that Kate is not descended from European aristocracy. Why?

There is actually no imperative for British royals to marry a titled spouse , says the Sydney Morning Herald . In the ‘30s, King Edward had to abdicate the British throne to marry American Wallis Simpson , but he didn’t have to give up his title because she was a commoner-he had to give it up because she was divorced. At that time the Church of England did not approve of divorcees remarrying when their exes were still alive, as Simpson’s were. ( They’ve since reversed their position .) The Herald notes that other European royals, like Spain’s Prince Felipe, have been marrying non-titled women in recent years. Denmark’s crown prince even met his Australian wife at a bar. Princess Diana herself was technically a commoner, as the precise definition means someone who is not a member of the royal family or a peer. However, both Diana and Sarah Ferguson were descended from British aristocracy, unlike Middleton.

Though they’re entering into a distinctly strange life as a couple, with the world’s scrutiny already on them, the normality of their dating path is a good thing. Think of William’s mother, Diana, who was barely 20 and hardly knew his father Charles when they had an insane spectacle of a wedding. William and Kate, by contrast, are both in their late 20s and have been dating for many years, and they’ve learned to handle the media attention. This will likely serve them well as they navigate their own insane spectacle.

Photograph of Kate Middleton by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images.