One of the great themes of folk and romantic literature is the
transforming power of love. A handsome prince lifts Cinderella out of a
life of drudgery and bestows on her a royal crown. A persistent frog
wins the hospitality of a princess and turns into a prince with whom
she can live happily ever after. The love of Mr Darcy for Miss
Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice overcomes class barriers and personal foibles to make her a happy wife and the mistress of a grand estate.
Even in our egalitarian age there is an insatiable appetite for this
sort of rags to riches story, which answers to the human need for a
completely gratuitous, or magical, dimension to love. When the myth
actually materialises it is guaranteed to quicken the romantic pulse of
entire populations and lead to outpourings of national pride.
Such was the case a couple of years ago when it became generally known
that a young Australian woman, Mary Donaldson, was engaged to be
married to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, whom she had met in Sydney
during the 2000 Olympic Games. The enthusiasm that greeted the
announcement has attended the couple through their courtship, marriage
last year and the birth of their first child, a son, last month.
Now Mary Donaldson was not Cinderella. The daughter of a mathematics
professor and a university secretary she no doubt had a respectable and
comfortable upbringing in the small provincial city of Hobart. A law
and commerce graduate, she was making her own way successfully in the
commercial world and enjoying her sporting interests when she met her
prince. But a girl from Australia – a place of famously casual manners
and inclined to republican sentiment – fits the myth by virtue of her
commoner status. It’s a long way from a pub in Sydney – where the
couple were introduced – to the Danish monarchy with its aura of
ancient culture and romance.
Above all, her story has the essential element of being discovered by a
prince whose love is able to confer undreamed-of privileges and enables
her to display her natural nobility to the world. (According to Hello magazine,
Danes are so impressed with Princess Mary’s grace, beauty and
professionalism that 75 per cent of them in one poll thought she would
make a good queen.1)
This is far from saying that the benefits of the match have all been on
one side, as Frederik’s happiness and the birth of a child plainly
show. Only that love in this case has brought one party an incredible
bonus of material and social goods that, as countless media reports
agree, puts it into the "fairy-tale" category.
How different things have been for Japanese Princess Sayako, who wed
Tokyo city employee Yoshiki Kuroda this month in such discreet
circumstances that the world’s media could find very little to say
about it. One reporter said this much:
"Far from the fairy-tale extravaganza one might expect for
the only daughter of the current emperor, the streets of Tokyo are bare
of trappings, departments stores are devoid of commemorative crockery,
and even the tabloids are mostly sticking to sports and politics. The
Shinto-style wedding will be attended by around 30 people from both
families at the plush Imperial Hotel, and followed by a press
conference rather than a parade."2
Under current Japanese law, Sayako, the daughter of Emperor Akihito and
Empress Michiko, loses her royal status by marrying a commoner and will
now live as an ordinary, taxpaying citizen, without any palace
allowance. Here is Cinderella in reverse: the princess has thrown away
her crown and courtly lifestyle for love. Though not unprecedented, it
is a rare sort of event and quite as magical in its own way as the luck
of Mary Donaldson.
Sayako and Kuroda knew each other as children and attended the same
university. When they met again two years ago they each felt at ease in
the other’s company. "I was drawn to his sincerity and that he has his
own firm thoughts about things," said Sayako at the time of their
engagement. They shared the same values.
"When I met her after not seeing her awhile I noticed her
thoughtfulness and consideration for others," said Kuroda, who is now
40. "As I spent more time with her, I came to feel great peace of mind.
After meeting her several times, I came to think about marriage…" His
hope, he added, is to build a happy and peaceful family.
Could a prince have offered Sayako a richer prospect than that?
Approaching 35 at her engagement she must have been aware that her
chances of having children were dwindling. And the marriage of her
brother and sister-in-law, Crown Prince Aruhito and Princess Masako,
has not been an encouraging example of happy family life – Aruhito has
said publicly that Masako is being stifled by royal life. Leaving this
rarified atmosphere would be a liberation.
All the same, it is a huge step to relinquish one’s place in the
world’s oldest royal line – being the first princess to do so – and
become plain Mrs Kuroda, a housewife who drives herself to the
supermarket and cooks dinner for her husband – a town planner on a
middle income living in a rented apartment with his mother. Her dowry
will go to buy the couple a three-bedroom apartment.
Sayako has even given up her work at an institute of ornithology to
devote herself completely to her new vocation – a move not entirely
popular with economists, who want to see Japanese women follow the
Western trend of combining work and child-rearing, but one that may do
more for the country’s dangerously low birthrate in the long run.
Not that the former princess is likely to be making symbolic gestures
about such things. The plunge she has taken into ordinary life suggests
a genuine adventure in which love leads the way. In such a life,
greatness is always possible, whether it comes with a royal title or
not. Titles are only reminders of our capacity for greatness – as, no
doubt, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark is happily aware.
Carolyn Moynihan is Deputy Editor of MercatorNet.
(1) Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. Hello!
(2) Bennett Richardson, "A royal bride marries – and quits work". Christian Science Monitor. Nov 14.