30 Fascinating Facts about British Royal Weddings
And what to expect on Harry and Meghan's big day.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials may be a full six months away, but royal wedding fever has officially taken hold. If you’re obsessing over what she’ll wear, whether or not there will be a pre-nup, or anything else Harry and Meghan-related, allow us to offer up some much-needed historical perspective on what’s to come.
Herewith, we’ve provided a full list of facts about royal weddings from the Victoria era until now. So dust off your finest tea kettle, don your ugliest hat, and enjoy this fascinating trip through history. And for more great royal engagement coverage, here are 10 Things We Already Know about Harry and Meghan’s Wedding.
Royals basically invented the white wedding dress
Queen Victoria, who married Prince Albert in 1840, first popularized the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress.
Royals pioneered cake figurines
Victoria and Albert’s wedding cake was the first to be decorated with figures of the bride and groom on top. The two-tier cake was nine feet in diameter and weighed 300 lbs. And for more royal wedding coverage, here are 10 Secrets the Palace Doesn’t Want Meghan to Know.
Royals have always drawn a big crowd
When Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947, the ceremony was broadcast over the radio to 200 million people.
Even royalty had to make do with the best that they had
Elizabeth’s dress was designed by Norman Hartnell. She used ration stamps to buy the fabric.
Monarchs also have their wedding day snafus
The day of her wedding, Elizabeth’s tiara snapped. The court jeweler was rushed by police escort to his work room and repaired it before the bride left for Westminster Abbey.
They deal with king-size mail bags
Elizabeth and Philip received 2,500 wedding presents and 10,000 congratulatory telegrams.
Princess Margaret’s wedding was viewed by 300 million people
The first royal wedding ever televised took place on May 6, 1960, when Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s sister, married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (who became Lord Snowdon). It was broadcast by the BBC to a worldwide audience of 300 million.
Not everyone was feeling the royal love, though
Most royal families of Europe disapproved of a princess marrying a photographer. Queen Ingrid of Denmark was the only foreign queen to attend the ceremony.
Charles and Diana’s wedding was viewed by 750 million
When Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was attended by 3,500 people. Roughly 750 million in 74 countries tuned in on television.
Princess Diana was secretive about her dress.
The media attention was so intense surrounding Diana’s dress that the designers, Elizabeth and David Emanuel, threw out decoy scraps of different white fabrics each night to throw off the press. The actual dress was ivory colored silk and taffeta lace.
Diana’s dress was extravagant
It had a 25-foot train, the longest ever worn by a royal bride.
Diana did not “obey”
Diana was the first royal bride to omit “obey” from her wedding vows taken from The Book of Common Prayer. Kate Middleton followed suit.
Diana mistakenly called Charles by the wrong name during the ceremony. She vowed to love “Philip Charles Arthur George.”
Diana’s ring was from a catalog
Diana iconic engagement ring, which featured a 12-carat sapphire surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds set in white gold, was not custom made. She picked it out of a Garrard’s catalog. It is now worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
They have awkward moments, too
At the blessing following their civil ceremony wedding on April 9, 2005, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were made to acknowledge their “manifold sins and wickedness” in front of the congregation at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Camilla prefers the title Duchess
Camilla officially became the Princess of Wales after marrying Charles, but because that was the same title bestowed on Princess Diana, she opted to be called the Duchess of Cornwall.
Royal weddings aren’t cheap
Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton reportedly cost $34 million, with $32 million of that going to pay for security. Kate’s dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen cost the queenly sum of $434,000.
William and Kate’s cakes cost $80,000
William and Kate had two wedding cakes which cost a reported $80,000. In addition to the traditional fruitcake covered in white fondant icing (thanks, but we’ll pass), William requested a non-traditional groom’s cake of his favorite frozen chocolate biscuits.
They planted trees for the occasion
William and Kate’s wedding on April 29, 2011 coincided with Arbor Day, so the bride decided to have maple trees line the aisle at Westminster Abbey. The trees were later planted at Prince Charles’ home in Wales.
Kate was hands-on
She did her own make-up on her wedding day.
William and Harry made sure to stay cool
At William and Kate’s wedding, William and Harry wore custom designed military uniforms with built-in sweat guards so they didn’t wilt under the bright television lights in the cathedral.
Some royals aren’t sticklers for traditions
William does not wear a wedding ring. But his father does.
Celebrities can struggle with royal wedding attire
Soccer star David Beckham was wearing his Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal on the wrong lapel (the right side) when he arrived at the royal wedding. When he emerged from the church after the ceremony, he had moved it to the proper left side.
Royals are serious about their hats
Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, made headlines when she broke with tradition and did not wear a hat to the wedding. One outraged Brit called the fashion faux pas “treason” on Twitter.
Royal weddings are never free from familial drama
Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of William’s uncle Prince Andrew, was not invited to William and Kate’s wedding. Her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, attended with their father.
Kate Middleton got the most adorable wedding gift
Kate’s brother, James Middleton, gave his sister and brother-in-law their beloved cocker spaniel, Lupo, as a wedding present.
Royal weddings are an excuse to party, even when people have to work
The wedding days of Diana and Charles and William and Kate were national holidays. Meghan and Harry’s big day will not be a day off for Brits.
Meghan is old by royal standards
At 36, Meghan Markle will be the oldest royal bride when she marries Prince Harry next May.
Meghan has calligraphy experience
Titles are a big deal in the royal family
When she marries Harry, Meghan will automatically become Her Royal Highness, Princess Henry of Wales. If the Queen opts to change Harry’s name to the Duke of Sussex, as expected, Meghan will become the Duchess of Sussex.
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana: A Novel.
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