And you think your wedding is complicated? Try being a member of the British royal family. From the centuries-old rules and regulations to the pint-sized "bridesmaids" and post-wedding "breakfast" served at noon, we dissect the pomp and circumstance of a traditional royal wedding.
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. To wed 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.
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.
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 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 are 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.
At an event as exclusive as a royal wedding, the guest list is everything. Fellow royals, foreign leaders, church officials, and diplomats 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. Male attendees 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.
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 will instead arrive 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 they are married, Kate and Will plan to depart the ceremony in the same carriage that transported Charles and Diana, a 1902 State Landau originally made for the coronation of Edward VII. For Charles and Camilla's wedding, Will and Harry tied metallic balloons and the words "Just Married" to the back of the couple's Bentley. What are the chances bad-boy Harry will try the same on Will and Kate's carriage?
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. In an act of love to honor the armed forces, Kate will leave her bouquet in Westminster Abbey at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, a tradition begun by the late Queen Mum.
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. The couple has 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, which royal officials say will include well-known hymns and choral works, as well as some specially-commissioned pieces. 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 will be available on iTunes May 5.) The ceremony itself will be 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 will likely exchange traditional vows, with one possible exception: Back in 1999, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, caused an uproar for promising to "honour, cherish and obey" Prince Edward, a public relations nightmare the newest royal couple might want to avoid repeating.
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. Breaking with tradition, Will has decided not to wear a wedding ring. Even his father Charles wears a band in addition to his signet ring, but Will says he personally just isn't one for jewelry.
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 11am ceremony, 600 guests will join the new couple at the Palace for a buffet-style wedding breakfast hosted by the Queen. The reception will also include two cakes: one fruit (the traditional royal wedding choice) and one chocolate (at the request of Will). At 1:30pm, the couple will appear 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 plan to stick around for a private dinner and night of dancing at the Palace hosted by the Prince of Wales.
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. Will and Kate's titles haven't yet been announced, but the most likely contenders are: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Duke and Duchess of Connaught, and Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
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