Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton, the woman of the hour, will marry Great Britain's Prince William tomorrow in a spectacular wedding that has that portion of the world that cares about these things in a perfect tizzy.

Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton

Kate was born at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, Berkshire, England, on Jan. 9, 1982. Her father, Michael, was a pilot and her mother, Carole, was a flight attendant when they met.

The Middletons went on to make a fortune with their own mail-order party-goods company, and that allowed them to send Kate and her two siblings to the kind of schools that have made it possible to imagine Catherine, as she is now officially called, handling the role of the future Queen of England.

Kate and William met at one of those schools, University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland.

The romance between Prince William and Kate, a commoner, is a charming story of two college students whose friendship grew over a decade into love.

But their marriage may say more about lessons learned inside Buckingham Palace than about any real freedom members of the royal family have gained in choosing whom to marry.

In 1772, King George III, disgusted with what he deemed the inappropriate marriages two of his brothers had made to commoners, insisted that Parliament pass the Royal Marriages Act, a complicated tangle of regulations that boil down to the fact that the reigning monarch must approve royals' prospective mates.

It was the ultimate meddling in children's lives, and it was the law.

It still is. Queen Elizabeth gave her consent to William and Catherine's marriage on Feb. 9.

The Royal Marriages Act has caused no end of heartache and drama over the centuries, in recent history with the abdication of King Edward VIII to marry the divorced American Wallis Warfield Simpson, Princess Margaret's reluctant breakup with her dashing Capt. Peter Townsend, and Prince Charles's marriage to Princess Diana rather than to his longtime love and present wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

But tomorrow is about two people who really seem to love each other pledging to remain together forever — with a whole lot of fancy trimmings.

Enjoy the show!

The birth of Prince William

Prince William, set to marry on Friday, was born in the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital in London on June 21, 1982, more than a week before his due date.

He was the first male of the British royal family to be born in a hospital. Prince Charles also broke with tradition by attending the birth.

Prince William and parents leave the hospital

Prince William and his parents leave the hospital

Prince Charles and his first wife, Princess Diana, William's mother, arrived at the hospital very early on the morning of the day William was born.

George Pinker MD, the royal gynecologist, attended Diana. She had also been coached by Betty Parsons, a nurse and natural-birth advocate who had helped Queen Elizabeth with a couple of her births.

Many accounts present the birth as "natural" and drug-free, while at least one insider book holds that the princess had an epidural during her 16-hour labor.

William was born at 9:03 p.m., and weighed 7 lb. 2 oz. A 41-gun salute was fired off in his honor. Princess Diana was back home the next day.

Prince Charles, always restrained, was clearly thrilled. He wrote friends, "I can't tell you how excited and proud I am," adding that he found the newborn William "surprisingly appetising."

Princess Diana

Princess Diana, shown here pregnant with Prince William, brought a human touch to the British royal family.

Born July 1, 1961, at her childhood home, Park House on the royal family's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, a longtime family friend, in a "fairy-tale wedding" in London in 1981, when she was 20.

Princess Diana

Princess Diana

Prince William was born less than a year later. Prince Harry was born in 1984.

Zillions of words have been written about the fascinating and ultimately tragic Princess Diana, who was separated from Prince Charles in 1992, and divorced in 1996. She died in a horrific automobile accident in 1997.

Diana was known for her beauty and charisma, and for her unbridled affection for her children. Her foibles were visible even to a mostly adoring public, but she had warmth as well as sparkle.

In 2001, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said this about her:

"In 1987, when so many still believed that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with AIDS and held his hand. She showed the world that people with AIDS deserve no isolation, but compassion and kindness. It helped change world opinion, and gave hope to people with AIDS with an outcome of saved lives of people at risk."