In June 1215, by the banks of the Thames at Runneymede, the English barons required King John I of England to accept and sign the Magna Carta. This was an attempt to limit the authority of the king by protecting some individual rights and by creating a council to act as a forum for legal redress and political compromise.
In the same year, a legal change to marriage was introduced by the Church: the “banns of marriage” which confirmed that each partner was free and able to marry which were read out in church on three successive Sundays so that anyone who felt they had a legal objection could state it. The proclamations of the banns also meant that the celebration of the wedding was based in the community.
Approval of premises for civil marriage and civil partnership in locations such as Highclere, other castles, hotels or buildings began about 25 years ago in this country and have become key elements of business for many stately homes, Highclere included.
Over the years, we have hosted a number of weddings although perhaps the most publicised was the one that took place between Peter Andre and Katie Price (Jordan) in 2005. Coverage of it took up some 52 pages of OK Magazine as well as pages in Hello and most of the newspapers. There were helicopters overhead and paparazzi in the ha-ha and in a large shrub (found by our dogs).
However, every wedding is special. This is the moment when two people proclaim their wish to spend their lives together, promise that they will love each other for ever and that they accept it will be through good and bad times and that those ties may require them to work at it. I am not sure many of us realise when we stand together to marry that there is not a status quo of immediate and then eternal bliss but that it is the beginning of a journey.
I have always enjoyed the detail, the stories and the characters of Jane Austen’s novels, although she, of course, always left her brides at the church door in a rose-tinted dream. Geordie does not share my passion for Jane Austen but kindly took me to the cinema to see one of the films made from her books. I was suitably appreciative but, nevertheless, he sat down with a bit of a huge and noisy sigh, resting his head on his hand to one side and focusing on the popcorn.
We all wanted the “dream” for the characters so many came to love in Downton Abbey. As it is fiction, of course it happened. Lady Mary found happiness not once but twice, Lady Edith finally, to everyone’s enormous relief, did get married whilst downstairs there was the fortitude and trials for Anna and Bates and the delicate and dignified story of Mr Carter paddling in the seas with Mrs Hughes before finally realising he should ask her to marry him.
Valentines’ day, for all its commercialism and kitsch drama, is a pause in everyday life when you can, and should, turn and remember your partner. Everyone has their own way of doing it but here at Highclere we have created a weekend of afternoon teas in the State Dining Room. The chefs are going to work to produce some lovely details on the food, Sally is thinking roses and garlands and I have produced a little collection of poetry and quotes for the guests to take away. I have enjoyed putting it together and, amongst other sources, I have included some from Mae West, who always makes me laugh but who also has a knack of getting right to it.
“There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time” (Jane Austen)
“Grow old with me the best is yet to be!” (Robert Browning)
“The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves” (Victor Hugo)