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The ring cycle by Liz Hodgkinson. Prince Harry’s got one but the King and Prince William haven’t.

Features | By Liz Hodgkinson

Prince Harry’s got one but the King and Prince William haven’t. Liz Hodgkinson says men shouldn’t wear wedding rings

Lord of the Ring: newly married Prince Harry, 2018

Should married men wear wedding rings? At the Coronation, an interesting game to play was spot the wedding ring on the male participants and guests.

Among British royalty, King Charles, Prince William and the Duke of Edinburgh weren’t wearing one but Prince Harry, the royal rebel, was. The late Prince Philip never wore a wedding ring either.

Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, husband of Princess Anne, doesn’t wear a ring, but her daughter Zara’s husband, Mike Tindall, sports a big, thick band.

When it comes to male heads of state, the situation is mixed. President Macron wears a wide wedding ring, as does Barack Obama, but current and past American presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have left their ring fingers bare.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has a wedding band, but Boris Johnson doesn’t.

In my youth, you rarely saw a wedding ring on a man. It was considered common, working-class or, at best, a northern or foreign custom. You never noticed one on professional, middle-class or upper-class men who, if they wore a ring at all, wore a signet on their little finger, as does King Charles.

Otherwise, jewellery on men was considered vulgar. It never for a minute occurred to my husband to wear a ring when we married in 1965. That would have seemed extremely naff.

Wedding rings on men were pretty much a class-indicator until the 1960s and ’70s, when British men began wearing chains and bracelets, copying their Continental counterparts. This was the era of the dreaded ‘medallion man’. Male wedding rings followed the fashion for men to be loaded down with jewellery of all kinds. When Prince William declined to wear a ring at his 2012 wedding, it made national news.

David Miller, director of etiquette guide Debrett’s at the time, said, ‘It used to be uncommon for men to wear wedding rings, but it is now becoming accepted practice.’

That is true. I see wedding rings on men of all ages and classes, including men who should know better. It is now rarer for a man not to advertise his marital status in this way.

Some family men, including my two sons (among them The Oldie’s Town Mouse), are holding out. Will, my younger son, reckons that a wedding ring on a man says, ‘I may be ghastly, but somebody wanted me.’

Perhaps my age is showing, but I still feel queasy when I see a big, fat wedding ring on a man – especially a very ugly man, as it makes me wonder what on earth his wife saw in him in the first place. If he isn’t wearing a ring, such thoughts never enter my head. I find wedding rings on men a distraction and a sign that they are under the thumb and consigned to petticoat government.

It was always different for women. In the olden days, a wedding ring was a symbol of ownership – you had been ‘bought’ by a man. It also, crucially, indicated that your children were legitimate.

A pivotal moment in Margaret Drabble’s 1965 novel, The Millstone, has the unmarried heroine, Rosamund, having just given birth, looking round the maternity ward to see which of the other new mothers is wearing a wedding ring. She is astonished to find that one young mother, who looks about 16, is married, as shown by her ring.

Wedding rings dated back to the days when married women enjoyed a higher status than single women. It was a moment of pride for a young woman to flash a shiny engagement ring at her friends. When the wedding ring was clamped on her finger and she became a Mrs, her triumph was complete. Marriage then was an important rite of passage. Now couples live together for five years or so before getting married, and single mothers are no longer stigmatised.

Since gay marriage became legal in many countries, gay men often exchange rings at their weddings, although I’m told they are frequently worn on the third finger of the right hand rather than the left. Wearing the ring on the left hand goes back to the days when it was believed that the vein on this finger went directly to the heart.

When marriage was supposed to be for life, the ring was a sign of permanence in a relationship. In these days of divorce and multiple marriages, wedding rings may be put on and taken off several times. One man friend, on his second marriage, said, ‘No to rings, especially if you have to cut off your finger to remove it from a previous marriage. You can always put a ring on a chain round your neck if you have to be reminded that you are married.

‘Men’s rings are just daft things to keep jewellers in business.’

I can’t help agreeing with him.

This story was from June 2023 issue. Subscribe Now