Royal weddings rarely diverge from tradition, but Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plan on shaking things up.
As the world eagerly anticipates the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, a recurring theme in the news coverage thus far has been a focus on how their ceremony will diverge from royal wedding tradition. Perhaps this is partly because Prince Harry is quite far down the line of succession to the throne (he will be sixth in line after the birth of Prince William’s third child), and maybe partly because the actress Meghan Markle has shown herself to be a modern woman comfortable with her own agency. Whatever the case may be, as plans for their wedding are slowly revealed, it’s becoming clear that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials — while no Tiki island–themed occasion, to be sure — will be somewhat more relaxed than previous royal weddings, with several deviations from tradition.
But before we delve into the details of the upcoming festivities, and to get a feel for what’s usually expected from such an affair, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable royal weddings of the past.
1. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
At the age of 18, Queen Victoria succeed to the throne in 1837 and, shortly thereafter, proposed to her cousin Prince Albert (as tradition dictated). He readily accepted, and they had a joyous wedding on February 10, 1840. Queen Victoria’s wedding gown was white in order to best show off the detail of the lace — an unusual color choice for the time, and the start of the white wedding gown tradition. The couple had a happy marriage and nine children but, sadly, Albert died at the age of 42.
2. Prince George, Duke of York, and Princess Mary of Teck
Princess Mary had originally been engaged to Prince George’s older brother Albert, who died of typhoid fever soon after their engagement. Shortly after mourning the loss of her fiancé, Princess Mary accepted George’s proposal of marriage, and they wed July 6, 1893. Despite the rocky beginning, the couple enjoyed a surprisingly happy marriage.
3. Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Lady Elizabeth turned down Prince Albert’s proposals several times at first because she did not want to lead the life of a royal. She only accepted after “Bertie,” as he was known, assured her that he was never going to be king. Unfortunately, his older brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne 13 years later and both she and Bertie were thrust into the roles of king and queen during World War II, a turn of events that neither of them could have predicted on their wedding day on April 26, 1923.
4. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Greece
Princess Elizabeth met her third-cousin Prince Philip when she was only 13 years old and was instantly smitten. They wed on November 20, 1947, only two years after the end of World War II, when the country was still rationing items, including clothing. Thus Elizabeth’s wedding dress was made possible by extra clothing coupons given to her by the government and by many young girls across Britain. Their wedding celebration was a welcome change of pace after the arduous years of war, and they have been married for over 70 years now.
5. Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones
Princess Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret suffered heartbreak when she fell in love with her father’s personal assistant Peter Townsend, whom she ultimately wasn’t allowed to marry because he was a divorcée. In the end she married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a photographer, on May 6, 1960. Theirs was the first royal wedding to be televised, with an estimated 300 million viewers from around the world. Unfortunately, they divorced in 1978.
6. Prince Charles of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer
The infamous story of Prince Charles’ unhappy marriage to Lady Diana, as well as her tragic untimely end in a Parisian car crash, had a suitably foreboding beginning. Millions around the world watched July 29, 1981, as Lady Diana made her way down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral with her record-breaking 25-foot-long train trailing her. Several slip-ups occurred during the ceremony, including Prince Charles forgetting to kiss Diana at the end.
7. Prince William and Catherine Middleton
Prince William’s wedding to Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011, was reminiscent of his parents’ 1981 wedding in that he was a prince marrying a beautiful commoner who’d captured the hearts of the people. Thankfully, that is where the similarities seem to end, because they have by all accounts been enjoying a much happier marriage. Their wedding had a guest list of 1,900 people and cost almost $34 million, the majority of which went toward security. Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding gown (which cost $434,000) is single-handedly responsible for bringing back the trend of long-sleeved wedding dresses.
As for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding May 19, 2018, the 600 guests who were lucky enough to be invited can look forward to “a moment of fun and joy that will reflect the characters of the Bride and Groom,” according to a statement released by Kensington Palace. A few surprising deviations from royal wedding tradition can also be expected.
For one, the wedding will be taking place on a Saturday. Most British royal weddings take place on a weekday. This is good news for those in the U.S. who’d like to spend their Saturday morning tuning in (although those on the East Coast will have to set their alarms to 7:00 a.m., and those on the West Coast will be required to get up at 4:00 a.m. if they wish to view the ceremony).
Also of note: there may be a royal newborn present! Prince William and Kate Middleton’s third child, Prince Louis, arrived in late April. Their first- and second-born children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, are likely to be in the wedding as page and bridesmaid, as they were for Kate’s sister Pippa’s wedding. Although William and Kate had Prince Harry and Pippa as best man and maid of honor, it’s traditional for children rather than adults to serve in the wedding party in British royal weddings.
A small but interesting way in which Harry and Meghan are breaking from tradition concerns the wedding cake. Traditionally, royal weddings serve a fruitcake. However, it was announced that Harry and Meghan will be serving a lemon elderflower cake instead.
In place of the traditional father-of-the-bride speech, it’s being said that Meghan Markle will be making a speech of her own at the wedding. This is untraditional not just for royal weddings but for weddings in general, but it’s not surprising considering that Markle is an actress experienced in public speaking (she spoke at the 2015 UN Women’s conference) and her father’s presence at the wedding wasn’t a sure thing until recently. According to Britain’s Sunday Times, Markle’s speech will be an “‘affectionate’ tribute to her new husband and will offer thanks to the Queen, her family and friends.”
Slight differences have also been noted in the couple’s official wedding invitations as compared to William and Kate’s. Markle is referred to as Ms. rather than Miss (which may just be her personal preference) and the invitations are worded as a “request” rather than a “command.”