St. George's Chapel: Gothic glory surrounds memorials to monarchs – but their marriages didn't always work out

Welcome to The Royal Fascinator, your invitation to royal wedding news and analysis ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials on May 19.

Newsletter: Your invitation to royal wedding news ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in the Quire, the oldest part of St. George's Chapel completed about 1483, at Windsor Castle. (Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

Welcome to The Royal Fascinator, your invitation to royal wedding news and analysis ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials on May 19. Sign up here and it will land as a newsletter in your inbox every Saturday.

Architectural splendour and hints of matrimonial woe

In royal circles, it's one of the "smaller" venues for getting married. But there is nothing modest about the Gothic glory of St. George's Chapel, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will wed.

Soaring stone pillars. Elegant fan vaulting on the ceiling. Stained glass in the famed west window, which has filtered the sun since medieval times. Amid this architectural splendour, there is also a wealth of history. Memorials to 10 monarchs and some spouses lie within the walls of the chapel that sits toward the west end of Windsor Castle.

But those memorials don't all allude to matrimonial bliss. In one case, it's the exact opposite. As Harry and Meghan walk down the aisle, they will pass over a marble slab marking the final resting place of the larger-than-life King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.

"It's interesting that Henry the Eighth is buried there in a comparatively modest tomb," says Toronto-based royal historian Carolyn Harris. None of his children, she says, saw fit to organize anything more lavish.

While Henry had six wives, he didn't have six weddings full of the pomp and circumstance of his Tudor court — or even what we'll see next month with 600 or so guests in the chapel.

Henry's "weddings were comparatively quiet occasions," says Harris, coming as they often did in times of considerable controversy — for example, when he married Seymour in London in 1536, it was 11 days after he had his previous wife, Anne Boleyn, beheaded.

In Windsor Castle's early history, royal weddings were fairly rare. The first one, Harris says, came in 1121 when William the Conqueror's son Henry I married his second wife, Adeliza of Louvain. Centuries would pass before the castle hosted such nuptials again. Queen Victoria, who was very fond of the place, revived it for the 1863 marriage of her son, the future King Edward VII.

Prince Harry, second from right, looks on during a blessing for the marriage of his father and Camilla Parker Bowles at St. George's Chapel on April 9, 2005. (Reuters)

Recently, the chapel has seen weddings of more junior members of the Royal Family. They will gather there again in October when Harry's cousin, Princess Eugenie, now eighth in line to the throne, marries Jack Brooksbank. A blessing for the second wedding of Prince Charles, to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was held there in 2005. Three years later, Harry's cousin, Peter Phillips, married Canadian Autumn Kelly.

Harry and Meghan reportedly have a great fondness for Windsor — their official engagement photo was shot there. So does his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, who spends a lot of time there with Prince Philip. Since the venue was announced, some chatter has suggested the choice was guided in part by the fact it would be convenient for Harry's grandparents to attend.

Fancy walking down the aisle of St. George's Chapel yourself this spring or summer? Well, you can. For £21.20 (about $38 Cdn), visitors are welcome to tour Windsor Castle's state apartments, semi-state rooms and the history-rich chapel. Every Sunday, the chapel is closed, but members of the public are welcome at services — at no charge.

Of course, public tours aren't available on the day of Harry and Meghan's wedding, or the day before, for that matter. But otherwise, the Royal Collection Trust website shows tickets can be purchased pretty much every day in May through September.

St. George's Chapel was built between 1475 and 1528. (Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

Will the father of the bride be there?

Most of the time, you'd expect the groom to have met his future father-in-law somewhere along the way. But if Harry has met Thomas Markle, it hasn't been publicly confirmed — and they certainly hadn't crossed paths in person prior to the announcement of the engagement in late November. "He's talked to my dad a few times," Meghan said in their BBC interview, but Harry "hasn't been able to meet him just yet."

Meghan's parents divorced when she was a child, and reports suggest Thomas Markle, a former television lighting director, now lives a reclusive life in Mexico. Tabloid reports say he may or may not be coming to the wedding and may or may not walk Meghan down the aisle.

As for Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, count on her to be there on May 19. Meghan is close to her mom, a yoga instructor, and reportedly made a quick trip over the Easter weekend to visit her in Los Angeles. Harry's met her several times. They were seen together on the closing night of the Invictus Games last September in Toronto.

Harry and Meghan were out and about in Bath, England, on Friday, attending the U.K. team trials for the Invictus Games Sydney 2018. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

Royally quotable

"But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

-King Edward VIII in his abdication speech on Dec. 11, 1936. He went on to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson about six months later at a chateau in France's Loire Valley. After their deaths, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were interred in the royal burial ground near Windsor Castle, their graves placed at some distance from many others.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were married on June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Cande near Tours, France, about six months after his abdication. (Associated Press)

Royal reads

  • Harry and Meghan were "conspicuous by their absence" when the Royal Family went to St. George's Chapel for the Easter Sunday service. His older brother, William, and his wife, Kate, also raised eyebrows with their late arrival — after the Queen. 

  • The florist for Meghan and Harry's wedding won't go far for her greenery. Kensington Palace says Philippa Craddock will use "locally sourced foliage," much of it gathered from Windsor Great Park and the Crown Estate. And don't be surprised if there are lots of peonies. Meghan apparently has quite a fondness for them. 

  • Harry's father, Charles, has been mocked repeatedly over a royal rumour. This week in Australia, he had his own say on the matter. 

  • Harry's 96-year-old grandfather, Prince Philip, also drew headlines this week with his hip replacement surgery. He's recovering and it's said he hopes he'll be fit enough to be actively involved in the wedding. 

Royal decoder

Where will Harry and Meghan's reception be held?

Well, they're having two post-ceremony get-togethers on May 19. The first is a lunchtime reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth at St. George's Hall in Windsor Castle. Guests from the wedding service are invited and will mix and mingle in a vast space that underwent massive restoration — complete with a new green oak roof — after fire devastated the northeastern corner of the castle in 1992.

St. George's Hall was restored after the fire that devastated a portion of Windsor Castle 25 years ago. (Dominic Lipinski/Reuters)

Later in the evening, Prince Charles is hosting a smaller reception for 200 guests at the nearby Frogmore House. Harry and Meghan had their engagement photos taken there. The evening event is unlikely to be held in the historic house, but more likely in a "very spectacular marquee on the grounds," says Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for the Sunday Times in London. The marquee will add a hefty charge to the total wedding bill. Various estimates suggest it could cost up to £300,000.

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.