Every British Royal Wedding Tradition You Need To Know

Brides

Phillip B. Crook

THE PROPOSAL

The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 requires all royal descendants to seek the sovereign’s approval for marriage. But the requirements don’t stop there—the 1701 Act of Settlement prohibits royals from marrying Catholics. Royals may legally wed an atheist or someone of any faith other than Roman Catholicism. The Queen’s eldest grandchild Peter Phillips in 2008, Autumn Kelly converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism so her husband would keep his place as 11th in line for the throne. Soon after Will and Kate’s engagement was announced, officials from Buckingham Palace said the Queen was “absolutely delighted” for the couple, which can only mean she approved of Will’s choice. Sources have also reported that Harry has already asked Her Majesty’s permission to wed Meghan Markle, and the Queen bestowed her blessing. There has been much speculation about Markle’s religious background, and many publications have falsely reported that Markle is Jewish because of a two-year marriage to Trevor Engelson, a Jewish producer, from 2011to 2013. While we’re unsure of Markle’s beliefs, we’re assuming the couple is well aware of the law and we’re hoping it’s a non-issue.

STAG AND HEN PARTIES

What began as a dinner party in Ancient Sparta has evolved into a party thrown in honor of a bachelor’s soon-to-be-lost single status. But in the UK, groomsmen have taken the tradition even farther, now celebrating over an entire weekend’s worth of festivities known as a stag weekend. While details are scarce, Will’s office confirmed that the Prince’s party took place in late March (about a month before the wedding). Hosted by his brother, Prince Harry, at a country estate, the party included Will’s close friends James Meade, Thomas van Straubenzee, and Guy Pelly. With the dawn of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, women claimed their own night of “farewell-to-singlehood” revelry. Kate’s “hen night” (we call it a bachelorette party around here) was even more hush-hush than Will’s. Her sister Pippa reportedly booked four different hotel locations to throw off paparazzi.

For Pippa’s own hen party, Princess Kate and a few more gal pals whisked her away for a weekend of skiing in the French Alps.

We’re happily dreaming up ideas for Meghan Markle’s bachelorette, though her girls may have quite the task ahead of them if they’re expected to upstage her South African adventure with Prince Harry.

THE LOCATION

The most traditional site for a royal ceremony is the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace, which housed the weddings of Queen Anne (1683), George III (1761), George IV (1795), Queen Victoria (1840), and George V (1893). More recent royal couples have since outgrown the small chapel, which seats 100, as the ceremonies have become more of a public spectacle. For her 1919 ceremony, Princess Patricia of Connaught brought Westminster Abbey (pictured here) back into vogue for royal weddings for the first time in 605 years. Westminster was then chosen for King George V’s daughter Mary in 1922, Queen Elizabeth’s parents in 1923, and the Queen’s own wedding in 1947. Kate and Will were Westminster-bound as well, but two alternatives would have been the much larger St. Paul’s Cathedral where Charles and Diana wed or the much smaller St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’s wedding was dedicated following a civil ceremony at Windsor’s Guildhall in 2005.

Just in case, the Westminister Abbey has confirmed that, courtesy of a 2002 ruling, Meghan Markle can be married at the church despite her previous divorce.

THE WEDDING PARTY

English brides are accompanied by a group of bridesmaids, usually younger girls between the ages of 10 and 12. The Queen had eight bridesmaids, and Diana had five, ranging in age from 5 to 17. Kate’s bridal party was even younger, including Grace van Cutsem (Will’s goddaughter) and Eliza Lopes (Camilla’s granddaughter) both toddling down the aisle at age 3, and then Lady Louise Windsor (Will’s cousin), 7, and Margarita Armstrong-Jones (Will’s second cousin), 8. In a major break with tradition, Kate chose a maid of honor, her sister Pippa, who is currently the oldest main bridesmaid in recent memory at the ancient age of 27…until perhaps Markle chooses an altar line-up?

You may remember the buzz surrounding Pippa’s decision not to employ Kate as her Matron of Honor. Though, Princess Charlotte and Prince George served as flower girl and pageboy—a young attendant who traditionally carries the train of the bride’s dress—respectively.

Prince William’s pageboys included his godson, Tom Pettifer, and Billy Lowther-Pinkerton, the son of Will’s Secretary. Prince Harry acted as best man for his older brother, and we’re betting Harry will make the same ask…as soon as he takes care of that other ask first.

THE GUEST LIST

At an event as exclusive as a royal wedding, the guest list is everything. Fellow royals, foreign leaders, church officials, diplomats and celebrities dot the list along with the couple’s own friends and family. The Royal Family sits on the right-side of the church, unless the groom is not royal, in which case they sit on the left. By the Queen’s command, 1,900 invitations went out to Will and Kate’s wedding guests—including to their friends from St. Andrews University, but notably excluding Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. The celebrity attendees for their nuptials included David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John, Guy Ritchie, and Joss Stone, while Pippa and James counted Roger Federer as one of their wedding guest list VIPs.

Male guests are expected to wear military uniforms, morning dress (single-breasted coats with tails) or lounge suits (what we consider a business suit). Female attire is less specifically outlined, though hats are a must.

We’re betting Prince Harry’s close friends Barack and Michelle Obama will make an appearance.

THE BOUQUET

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, she carried myrtle—known as the herb of love—in her bouquet. After the wedding, Victoria planted a myrtle shrub in her garden at the Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Every British royal bride since has carried a bouquet containing a sprig plucked from the same shrub. Kate carried a small, shield-shaped wired bouquet—designed by Shane Connolly— of said myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, Sweet William, and hyacinth. In an act of love to honor the armed forces, Kate left her bouquet in Westminster Abbey at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, a tradition begun by the late Queen Mum.

TRANSPORTATION

Most royal brides arrive to their wedding in horse-drawn regal style (Diana’s choice: the 1881 Glass Coach purchased for George V’s coronation in 1911), but Kate instead arrived at Westminster Abbey with her father in a car. And not just any car. She’s selected the Queen’s Rolls Royce Phantom for its large windows to allow onlookers the best view. Once married, Kate and Will departed the ceremony in the same carriage that transported Charles and Diana, a 1902 State Landau originally made for the coronation of Edward VII. For their later exit, the newlyweds rode off in an Aston Martin decorated with ribbons, bows, balloons, and a license plate printed with the phrase “JU5T WED” to Clarence House for some downtime before the evening reception. To make their way from ceremony to reception, Pippa and James wheeled around in a Jaguar convertible. Back at Charles and Camilla’s wedding, Will and Harry tied metallic balloons and the words “Just Married” to the back of the couple’s Bentley.

THE CEREMONY

English brides lead the processional down the aisle, with her bridesmaids in tow unescorted by ushers, who stand at the front of the church with the groom. Will and Kate selected the 32-person Choir of Westminster Abbey, the Chapel Royal Choir, the 39 musicians of the London Chamber orchestra, and the Central Band of the Royal Air Force to perform various selections, including including March from The Birds by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Romance for String Orchestra Op. 11 by Gerald Finzi. Kate walked down the aisle to “I Was Glad” by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Some royal wedding staples have been Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, the hymn The Lord’s My Shepherd, and Widor’s Toccata from Organ Symphony No. 5, which was the recessional music at Edward and Sophie’s wedding. (Official recordings of Will and Kate’s music was made available on iTunes on May 5, and a physical album was released May 10.) The ceremony itself was divided between three officiants: the Dean of Westminster conducting the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding over the vows, and the Bishop of London giving the address. Will and Kate exchanged traditional vows, with one exception: Back in 1999, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, caused an uproar for promising to “honour, cherish and obey” Prince Edward, and the newest royal coupled wanted to avoid repeating this public relations nightmare. Instead, they vowed to “love, comfort, honor, and keep” each other.

And speaking of royal drama, the Daily Mail originally reported that for her wedding, Pippa Middleton would be enforcing a “no ring, no bring” policy — meaning Meghan Markle wouldn’t be allowed to attend as Prince Harry’s plus-one. Meanwhile, other news outlets alleged it was Harry and Markle’s call to have her sit out the ceremony in order to keep the attention on Pippa. Instead, Markle arrived at the reception where—per a strict seating chart typical for private, formal dinners in Great Britain—she was seated away from her date.

THE RECEPTION

Most British weddings are held at noon and are followed by a seated luncheon called a “wedding breakfast” (a brunch, basically). The Queen’s luncheon was held in the Ball supper-room at Buckingham Palace for a small party, as was Diana’s for about 120 guests. Following Will and Kate’s 11 a.m. ceremony, 600 guests joined the new couple at the Palace for a buffet-style wedding breakfast hosted by the Queen (the canapé menu was created by Chef Mark Flanagan (pictured here). Later in the evening, 300 of the couple’s closest friends and family enjoyed a dinner dance in another one of the Palace’s state rooms.

The reception also included two cakes: one multi-tiered fruitcake (the traditional royal wedding choice) and one chocolate biscuit cake (at the request of Will). At 1:25 pm, the newlyweds appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony to share a public kiss, a tradition begun by Charles and Diana. Usually, the royal couple then jets off to a honeymoon destination, but Kate and Will stuck around for the above-mentioned private dinner and night of dancing at the Palace hosted by the Prince of Wales.

Pippa Middleton and James Matthews celebrated their reception at the Middleton family home in Bucklebury, where their guests needed a previously determined password to make it through security. The Middleton estate hosts a glass greenhouse in the property’s garden where 350 guests can comfortably party inside. Attendees later received monogrammed marshmallow treats as wedding favors, courtesy of James Middleton, Pippa and Kate’s older brother who owns his own sweets company, Boomf. He reportedly provided personalized cupcakes for Kate and William’s wedding as well.

THE ROYAL TITLES

With a few exceptions, women who marry royal male successors assume their husbands’ titles: The Duke and Duchess of York, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, etc. The most notable exception is, of course, Camilla, who adopted the title Duchess of Cornwall instead of the Princess of Wales out of respect for Diana. If Prince Charles becomes King, Camilla will be the Princess Consort, not Queen Camilla. Prince William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

As James Matthews is heir to the Scottish title of Laird of Glen Affric—a position currently held by his father who owns the family’s 10,000-acre Scottish highlands estate—, Pippa will eventually become Lady Glen Affric. Until then, the royal-in-law has been deemed Mrs. Matthews of Glen Affric the younger, though she is not formally required to use either of these names.

THE WEDDING BAND

Beginning with the wedding of the Queen’s late mother in 1923, all of the royal women’s wedding bands have contained precious Welsh gold from the same nugget mined in Dolgellau, North Wales—a variety of gold that’s three times more valuable than gold from Australia or South Africa. While the traditional nugget is almost depleted, the Queen has since been presented with another large nugget for subsequent weddings bands, including that of Sarah, Duchess of York and now Kate.

Will has decided not to wear a wedding ring. His father Charles is one of few male royals today who wears a band in addition to his signet ring, but Will says he personally just isn’t one for jewelry.

Prince Harry already gave Meghan Markle a gold band of her own, it just sadly wasn’t attached to a marriage proposal.