Generous love, scarlet tunics and warplanes

By Jill Segger
May 2, 2011

The incongruity appeared to raise little comment. At a wedding - perhaps one of the most tender of human ceremonies in its manifestation of love and hope - all the principal male figures wore the uniforms of forces whose business is armed conflict.

If we had forgotten that the origins of monarchy are found in dark age warlords, last week's royal wedding was a clear reminder, not only of the warrior tradition, but of the reverence paid to status within that tradition. Across three generations of royal males, only Harry Windsor wore the uniform of his rank and service.

There is something undignified about a man of 89 wearing a military uniform, but the Duke of Edinburgh, a navy lieutenant during the 1940s, was decked out as a senior officer of the Grenadier Guards. His son, who once held a similarly junior naval rank, appeared as an Admiral of the Fleet (bearing a sword into a place of worship) whilst the bridegroom, a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF, wore the uniform of a colonel of the Irish Guards. Presumably because its scarlet and gold is far more photogenic than the understated and relatively plain uniform of the Royal Air Force.

Both the wearing of glittering dress uniforms and the fly-past of the Battle of Britain memorial flight are manifestations of what royalty has learned to do over a century of fluctuating fortunes - to guard its popularity by co-opting the parts of our history which speak to popular sentiment whilst sidestepping the less attractive aspects. Combat fatigues stained with the blood and torn flesh of terribly wounded men are kept as far away as possible from the public imagination by the splendour of full dress order. The sight of a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster bomber passing low over Buckingham Palace, recalls the “finest hour” of 1940 when Britain stood in solitary opposition to the Nazis. It is by identifying itself in the public mind with a selective national myth of our own creating, that the royal family prolongs its survival.

In his wedding address, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, reminded not just the bride and groom, but all who have ears to hear, that we must be “committed to the way of generous love”. That way does not sit well with military display nor with the nostalgia and illusion which welcomes such display. it surely invites us to question the conflation of military pageantry with love of country, and love of country with uncritical adulation of the House of Windsor.

If we are unable to envisage - or rejoice in – a royal wedding in which all the male participants wear civilian dress and are accompanied and escorted by their co-workers from charities, peace-making organisations and humanitarian services, we might ask ourselves why.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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