With the recent engagement of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry, excitement is building for the royal wedding. The world loves a good fairy tale, and the nuptials of a prince to his princess are as close as many of us will get to witnessing one in real life. The life of a royal is full of ceremony and tradition, and a regal wedding is no exception. There are several wedding traditions that are typical. Occasionally , a couple will alter one of these slightly, but in general here is what to expect.
Before the engagement can even take place, the monarch must provide verbal and written permission for it, according to the Royal Marriages Act. Imagine needing your grandmother’s written permission before you could even pop the question! That’s exactly what Prince Harry had to do.
While royalty may marry someone of a different faith, the Act of Settlement of 1701 established that the king or queen is also the Head of the Protestant Anglican Church of England. Anyone who is in line to the throne who marries someone outside The Church of England will lose their right to the throne, so typically the non CE partner will convert their faith. Markle is set to be baptized and confirmed into The Church of England before their wedding.
Another royal engagement protocol is a formal announcement by Kensington Palace. There is then a public photo of the couple with a joint interview. Harry and Meghan held their engagement press conference in the Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace.
As is the case in many cultures, there are several traditions during the wedding ceremony. The royal weddings observe several of the same ones that commoners do, with some very notable exceptions. The bride wears a white wedding dress, as is the custom for most brides. This royal tradition came from Queen Victoria when she wore a striking white gown in her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert. In later years, it became custom for lace to be in the gown design. The bride typically wears a regal tiara on her head.
Since 1840, the groom in a royal wedding always wears a military uniform. Prince Harry will wear the dress uniform from his service as a member of the Army Air Corp.
In yet another tradition set by Queen Victoria, the bride’s bouquet includes a sprig of myrtle. This plant represents love and good fortune in marriage, hence the desire to include it in the bouquet. Victoria was given a myrtle plant by her husband’s grandmother, which she planted at her home. This centuries old plant has been the source of the sprig of myrtle in the royal bouquet of many brides, including Princess Diana and Duchess Kate.
The royal ceremony typically takes place at the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in Westminster, where royals have been getting married since the 17th century. Queen Anne was the first royal to wed there in 1683. There have been exceptions in recent history, with Elizabeth and Phillip, and later Will and Kate, marrying at Westminster Abey. Harry and Meghan have chosen to wed at St. George’s Chapel.
Like in a fairy tale, the couple is traditionally rides to and from the ceremony in a beautiful glass coach. Princess Diana was the last one to observe this tradition, however, as the Duchess Kate rode with her father in a Rolls Royce. Perhaps Meghan will resume the tradition of the glass coach.
Since the 1920s, the royal wedding band has been made of 14 karat gold from a designated mine in North Wales. Meghan Markle is sporting a 14 karat gold engagement ring, so this tradition will ensure that her bands complement each other.
After the wedding vows, there are even more traditions to follow. First, the couple travels from the ceremony to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, where the royal bride will lay her bouquet. This tradition was began in 1923 when Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, bride of King George VI, placed her bouquet in that spot to honor her brother who had perished during the first World War.
Next, there is a formal wedding portrait. The newlywed couple poses with their immediate families and wedding party for official royal photos. More candid photos are taken later, when the couple makes an appearance at Buckingham Palace. Waves to the cameras and public kisses on the balcony delight onlookers.
Post wedding festivities typically include two receptions. As the ceremony takes place early in the day, typically around mid day, the first celebration is a late brunch. Following, in the evening, is a formal dinner and also dancing. Interestingly, there are even a few rules regarding the wedding menu. Shellfish is never on the royal menu, especially at weddings, due to the possibility of food poisoning. Though not a tradition, the Queen prohibits garlic from palace dishes as well. It remains to be seen if that ban will be in place for the wedding menu.
The wedding cake is always a fruitcake, which is also a British wedding tradition. A towering, multi-tiered fruitcake is traditional, and often prepared by award winning bakers. The reception may feature two cakes, the traditional fruitcake plus a groom’s cake.
As you can see, some of the traditions observed by the royal couple are similar to wedding traditions observed in many other places, while others are unique to royalty. It will be fun to see which royal wedding traditions Meghan and Harry choose to maintain, and which personal touches they will add to their ceremony. Looking for more wedding inspiration? Try our picks for designer wedding gowns here.