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!

One family’s tragedy writ large

Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII of England, was hardly the first woman to die in childbirth. However, her status as the mother of Henry's only son made her death in 1537, probably from puerperal fever, an outsize event at the time. Although she was never crowned Queen of England -- Henry perhaps withheld that honor until after she had borne him an heir -- Jane was the only one of Henry's six wives to receive a queen's funeral.

Jane Seymour

Jane died about two weeks after the long, difficult birth at Hampton Court Palace of her son, Edward, who would briefly reign as King Edward VI. She was mourned by all of England, and by Henry to a singular degree. He wore black for a year, refrained from marrying again for more than two years, and was buried next to Jane -- and Jane alone -- in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle when he died in 1547 at the age of 55.

Even though her importance to the country derived wholly from her status as wife and queen of one of the world's most powerful men, Jane's death in childbirth would reverberate through history.