Royal Wedding Traditions: Meghan Markle’s Wedding vs. Queen Elizabeth’s Wedding

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Prince Harry Meghan Markle Royal Engagement Photo

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s official royal engagement photo.

Harry and Meghan, Kate and William, Charles and Diana. Names that instantly conjure a Royal union.

But as millions, perhaps billions, of people around the world speculate over what Meghan Markle will wear, what her bridal bouquet will look like, et al, when she marries Prince Harry on May 19th, it’s worth remembering another royal wedding and marriage, one that has lasted more than 70 years: Queen Elizabeth II (Harry’s grandmother) to Prince Philip.

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Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the Commonwealth Realms is now the longest reigning monarch in the history of the world. But in 1934 when she met her future husband Philip Mountbatten (at a wedding, no less) she was simply Princess Elizabeth, the 12-year-old eldest daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It was 13 years before the couple would become engaged.

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In anticipation of Prince Harry and Meghan tying the knot, let’s look back at what a royal wedding was like more than 70 years ago, and how some of the more recent royal unions stuck with, or sometimes strayed from, tradition.

The Location

St. George's Chapel Photo

The interior of St. George’s chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire, circa 1990. The chapel has been the site of many royal weddings. 

Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947, at London’s Westminster Abbey. The Queen was the tenth member of the royal family to be wed at the Abbey. The Queen’s parents were married there, her son Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer there in 1981, her second son Prince Andrew wed Sarah Ferguson there in 1986 and grandson Prince William married Catherine Middleton at the same location in 2011. Unlike his father and brother, Prince Harry will be married in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the location his uncle, Prince Edward, married Sophie Rhys-Jones at in 1999.

The Wedding Date

Traditionally, British royal weddings occur during the work week, granting the populace an extra day off from work to celebrate the happy event. Breaking with that tradition, Harry and Meghan will be wed on a Saturday – May 19th.

The Invitations

Meghan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Invitations 2018

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19th. 

Royal protocol requires invitations of Harry and Meghan’s wedding to be sent out on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. King George VI was responsible for invitations to the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip. Two thousand guests were invited to the 1947 ceremony, including foreign Royals such as The King of Iraq, Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and The Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg and Princess Elisabeth of Luxembourg.

As heir to the British throne, the wedding of Charles to Diana was considered a State occasion. First Lady Nancy Reagan represented the United States of America at the nuptials.

Only 1,900 invitations were sent out for the wedding of William and Catherine. Alongside traditional invitees including family members, diplomats and religious clergy, William and Catherine were wed before celebrities such as Sir Richard Branson, Rowan Atkinson, David and Victoria Beckham, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, film director Matthew Vaughn, singer Joss Stone and photographer Mario Testino.

St. George’s Chapel has a maximum capacity of 800 and with a rumored guest list of only 600, an invite to Prince Harry’s wedding is even more highly prized, though more than 2,000 members of the general public have been invited to be present for the ceremony on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Celebrities rumored to be invited include Serena Williams, James Blunt and members of the Spice Girls.

The Wedding Party

Elizabeth and Philip Wedding Party Photo

King George VI (1895 – 1952), Princess Margaret (1930 – 2002), then-Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth (1900 – 2002), and Queen Mary.

Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids: Princess Margaret (her younger sister), Princess Alexandra of Kent, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Mary Cambridge, The Hon. Pamela Mountbatten, The Hon. Margaret Elpinstone and Diana Bowes-Lyon. Philip’s best man was David Mountbatten.

Charles was supported at his wedding by his brothers, Andrew and Edward, and Diana had four attendants. Harry was best man at brother William’s wedding to Catherine, who broke with tradition and had her sister Pippa Middleton in the role of maid of honor, as well as four attendants and two page boys.

While Harry has recently chosen brother William for best man, there has been no official word on Meghan’s choice for maid of honor, although tabloids and bookmakers speculate the actress may ask longtime friend, stylist Jessica Mulroney to fulfill the role.

The Wedding Attire

Queen Elizabeth II: Elizabeth met Philip when she was 13 and was smitten from the start. They married on the 20th of November 1947.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Elizabeth met Philip when she was 13 and was smitten from the start. They married on the 20th of November 1947. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A tradition dating back to the 1847 marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert is for the bride to wear a white gown, usually made from or incorporating lace.

Elizabeth’s wedding gown was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell. A decision on the design was approved mid-August 1947, which was less than three months before the wedding. According to Hartnell, he took inspiration for the design from Botticelli’s famous painting Primavera. Only two years after the end of World War II, Elizabeth had to use clothing rations to pay for her dress, which featured a fitted bodice, heart-shaped neckline and had a 15-foot silk tulle train attached at the shoulders. The dress was decorated with crystals, and 10,000 seed pearls imported from the United States of America. Elizabeth’s jewelry for the day consisted of a diamond fringe tiara (the frame of which broke as the bride was putting it on and had to be hastily repaired), and two pearl necklaces left to the Crown by Queen Victoria which were gifted to Elizabeth as a wedding present by her father.

Diana’s wedding dress was made of ivory silk taffeta and decorated with embroidery, sequins and 10,000 pearls. Designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, it featured a 25-foot taffeta and antique lace train and was rumored at the time to have cost £9,000. Diana wore the Spencer family heirloom tiara.

William famously proposed to Catherine with his mother Diana’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring. Catherine’s wedding dress was designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and featured lace appliqué for the bodice and skirt as well as hand-stitched lace flowers. Rumors circulating at the time had the dress valued at more than $400,000. Catherine also wore a ‘halo’ tiara, lent by The Queen. Made by Cartier in 1936 it was originally presented to Elizabeth on her 18th birthday by her mother.

In keeping with another tradition dating to the wedding of Victoria and Albert and adhered to ever since, the bridegroom wears full military dress according to the rank and branch of the British Armed Forces in which they serve.

Ever since Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, married her father King George VI, all Royal wedding rings have been created using a nugget of Welsh gold.

The Wedding Flowers

Will and Kate: Prince William, officially the Duke of Cambridge and Kate, now  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, leave Westminster Abbey following their  hour-long ceremony. Guests at the ceremony include musician Sir Elton  John; soccer star David Beckham and his wife, singer Victoria Beckham;  and director Guy Ritchie. (Photo by  David Jones- WPA Pool) (Photo: Getty Images)

April 29, 2011: Prince William, officially the Duke of Cambridge and Kate, now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, leave Westminster Abbey following their hour-long ceremony. Guests at the ceremony include musician Sir Elton John; soccer star David Beckham and his wife, singer Victoria Beckham; and director Guy Ritchie. (Photo by David Jones- WPA Pool) (Photo: Getty Images)

Elizabeth’s bridal bouquet consisted of white orchids and contained a sprig of myrtle, a tradition started by Queen Victoria.

Diana’s massive bouquet was largely constructed of white garden roses (with a sprig of myrtle), while Catherine’s understated (in size) bouquet featured seasonal, local flowers lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth, myrtle, ivy and sweet William.

Though it has been announced high-fashion floral designer Phillipa Craddock will design the arrangements for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, exact information on the bridal bouquet remains under wraps. According to Buckingham Palace, for the arrangements Craddock “will use flowers and plants that are in season and blooming naturally in May, including branches of beech, birch and hornbeam, as well as white garden roses, peonies and foxgloves.” The use of white garden roses is a sweet nod to Harry’s mother Diana, who favored the roses.

The Kiss

Queen Elizabeth II: Happy times on the balcony of Buckinham Palace for Prince Charles and Princess Diana right after their wedding, July 29, 1981.  (Photo by Hulton Archive) (Photo: Getty Images)

Happy times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles and Princess Diana right after their wedding, July 29, 1981. (Photo by Hulton Archive) (Photo: Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest break in tradition at Harry and Meghan’s wedding will be the lack of a kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

Charles famously participated in a somewhat chaste balcony kiss with Diana following their reception, much to the delight of the millions of well-wishers outside the Palace.

William and Catherine also followed their reception with a balcony kiss. But with Harry and Meghan marrying at Windsor Castle (a 45-minute drive from the Palace), those wishing to see a newlywed lip-lock will have to wait – and hope – until the May 19th nuptials.

The Cake

Royal Wedding Cake Princess Elizabeth Prince Philip

A confectioner at McVitie and Price, putting the final touches to the wedding cake of Princess Elizabeth and The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The cake had four tiers and was nine feet high.

Royal wedding cakes have traditionally been fruitcakes, a slice of which is mailed out to invited guests following the event.

Elizabeth and Philip’s fruitcake used ingredients from around the world, including sugar from the Girl Guides in Australia, which gave the cake the name ‘The 10,000 Mile Cake.’ It was constructed of four tiers and nine feet high.

Charles and Diana’s cake took 14 weeks to create and was a five-tiered fruitcake. Two identical cakes were created in case one was damaged and were made by David Avery, the head baker at the Royal Naval cooking school.

An eight-tired fruitcake was created by British cake designer Fiona Cairns for William and Catherine. It featured a British floral theme with sugar paste flowers. Additionally, British cake and biscuit company McVitie’s created a chocolate biscuit groom’s cake for the reception at Buckingham Palace. Made from a royal family recipe, it was reportedly a special request by William.

Breaking with the tradition of having fruitcake, Buckingham Palace announced that Harry and Meghan will cut into a “lemon elderflower cake that will incorporate the bright flavors of spring” created by California-raised but now London-based pastry chef Claire Ptak. It will also feature buttercream and fresh flowers as decoration.

The Honeymoon

Prince Charles and Diana Honeymoon

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997) pose together during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland, 19th August 1981.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip spent their wedding night in Broadlands, Hampshire, the home of Philip’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten. They were accompanied by Elizabeth’s dog, a Corgi named Susan. The remainder of their honeymoon was spent at Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate.

Charles and Diana also spent the first part of their honeymoon at the royal estate in Balmoral before boarding the Royal Yacht Britannia for a two-week cruise on the Mediterranean.

William immediately returned to his work as a search-and-rescue pilot following his wedding to Catherine. Ten days later the couple departed for their honeymoon at a secluded villa located on a private island in the Seychelles. Lasting only 10 days, the respite was limited by William’s Royal Air Force duties and a scheduled royal visit by the couple to Canada and the United States of America.

According to Travel + Leisure, Harry and Meghan have chosen the southwestern African nation of Namibia as the setting for their first vacation together as husband and wife. Though the exact location remains a secret, the couple is rumored to be staying at the luxury Hoanib Valley Camp.

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