Royal wedding traditions you need to know before the big day
From why the bride wears white to getting cake in mail
We're so close to Harry and Meghan's big day that by now you've planned your viewing party, taken bets on which celebrities have been invited, downloaded our Royal Wedding Bingo card and cried yourself to sleep that he didn't pick you. Now it's time to bone up on your royal wedding knowledge, for any small talk or HQ trivia needs before then.
"Traditions in Royal Weddings are important insofar as they honour the memories of beloved family members of the past", says Dr. Sarika Bose, UBC lecturer in Victorian literature and royal expert, "while also contributing to the larger strategy of maintaining a sense of continuity and decorum in the image of the monarchy".
Here are some royal wedding traditions that have stood the test of time, and changed how weddings among us mere mortals are done as well:
The paradox of Meghan's wedding dress — also known as the most important piece of clothing she will ever wear (ever), that will be studied and analyzed for years to come by white-gloved curators and centuries of fans of fashion, aka The Dress; is simply that for so much interest, there is nothing yet to say about it. The design: secret! The designer: secret! There is literally one only thing we can be (pretty) sure of:
It'll definitely be white.
But probably not for the reasons you think. A bride in white isn't embodying purity or virginity — hell no! (Note to self: thank god.) A bride in white is copying Queen Victoria, who for her 1840 wedding to bae Prince Albert, wore white as a political move. She became Queen during the Industrial Revolution, and British lace makers were losing their livelihood to machines and textile factories. By incorporating favourite handmade pieces into her dress, the message was clear: people over industry. Her official wedding portrait was widely published, and she was the most powerful woman in the world, brides everywhere followed her lead.
Prior to the Victorian era, brides wore the nicest dress they had, in any colour they wanted. Since then, brides around the world — including (presumably) Meghan — have been directly copying a shrewd monarch with good PR.
Brides-to-be will be watching eagerly for Meghan's bouquet, and because flowers are more accessible than a bespoke dress, brides who are looking for wedding flowers may want to emulate her choice, says UBC's Dr. Bose. Floral artist Philippa Craddock is designing the flowers to include white roses (Princess Diana's favourites), as well as Meghan's own favourites, peonies, foxgloves and seasonal foliage.
But even here there is another long standing royal wedding tradition started by Queen Victoria - carrying a sprig of myrtle in the bride's bouquet. Cut from Her Majesty's garden (which has been preserved to this day), from a plant given to her by Albert's grandmother, the Queen put a small cutting into her eldest daughter's bridal bouquet. Every royal wedding since has done the same.
Myrtle is a flowering plant known as the 'herb of love', and symbolizes good luck in marriage. It also produces berries that when dried and ground, creating the distinctive flavour of bologna. Read into that what you may.
In May of 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots married her third husband the Earl of Bothwell — after he kidnapped her, and killed her second husband. And though we all love a bad boy, after the wedding, lines of verse about the bad vibes of marrying in May were attached to the palace gates (as if the month was the problem). The superstition of "Marry In May, Rue The Day" became so entrenched, even Queen Victoria forbade her children from getting hitched in the month — so no royal wedding has been in May since. Until now.
On a more practical/less juju level, says UBC's Dr. Bose, "the wedding is taking place on a weekend, rather than a weekday, which means there will not be a special holiday for the occasion. However, the couple is eager to include members of the public in their celebrations, and has tried to find ways to do so. For example, approximately 2000 members of the public, especially those who have shown leadership roles in volunteering and charity work, will be invited within the walls of Windsor Castle to watch the ceremony on outdoor screens."
The only bridal style obsession bigger than The Dress is The Tiara. It's the done thing for royal brides to borrow one for the big day — I mean, I guess it's normal not to have one lying around? And Meghan's got many to choose from — the Queen is known to have a bunch and is often lending them to younger royal women for events.
One iconic choice, however, would be the piece that Princess Diana wore for her own wedding. The Spencer family tiara, now owned by her brother, was worn by both of Diana's sisters at their weddings as well as by her brother's first wife when she joined the Spencer clan (a young Prince Harry was a pageboy at that wedding). It hasn't been worn in public since her death in 1997.
H & M's wedding invitations included this dress code: For men, military uniforms, morning coats or lounge suits, and for women, a day dress with a hat. And if anyone has ever seen a British rom-com or a worst-dressed list, they'll know that for ladies' hats, there's a fine line between lovely and… crazy? Ugly? Insane? One of those.
Custom demands that ladies keep them on inside the chapel, so they can't be so big they obstruct the views of the other guests. Royal etiquette also demands that it's no bigger than the one worn by the mother of the bride, and as with all wedding lewks, don't distract from the bride herself.
Celebrity milliner Philip Treacy is the go-to guy for those confections — at Will and Kate's nuptials, more than 60 guests wore his creations (including Princess Beatrice's, uh, suggestive one above). But if you're fascinated by fascinators, here are 11 other milliners you should know about.
Let's get real. Beyond the gossip of will-anyone-object and who-will-the-bridesmaids-make-out-with, wedding food is the often the best part of the party. And while Meghan can look to centuries of royal wedding feasts to plan her menu, we already know she's bypassed the traditional fruitcake as her choice of wedding cake, and will serve a lemon elderflower cake with buttercream from London baker Claire Ptak.
But fear not traditionalists!
As a lover of both midnight Amazon purchases and Uber Eats, here's one royal tradition that combines both in the best way: THEY MAIL YOU A PIECE OF CAKE AFTER THE WEDDING. As a thank you. As if being at the biggest party of the year wasn't enough. Bless these people and even if you want to abolish the monarchy can we agree that this is a tradition we can all get into?
This been done for all main royal weddings since 1840 — including Victoria, Elizabeth, Diana — and perhaps most notably for pop culture at the 1937 wedding of King Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson, immortalized here: