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Prince William and Kate Middleton royal wedding: Do monarchies still matter?

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The wedding of William and Kate highlights the principal role of the modern European monarchy. It's symbolic, a family and institution that embody the hopes, dreams, and virtues of a nation.

"Before the 20th century, a royal wedding was a largely private thing. They really weren't public spectacles," says Noel Cox, chief of the legal department at Aberystwyth University in Wales. "The reason it changed was, with lost political power the monarchy reinvented its function, no longer political but symbolic. It provided entertainment."

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This wedding of Prince William and Kate – a commoner who would one day be queen if William takes the throne – won't be the most lavish royal spectacle of them all, and certainly won't match the grandeur of William's parents' ill-fated walk down the aisle. The 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer at St. Paul's Cathedral was big in every way, from the bride's 25-foot-long train of ivory taffeta and antique lace to the worldwide television audience of 750 million.

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