Harry and Meghan's wedding will break new ground, but tradition won't 'go out the window'

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

While Prince Harry and his fiancée, Meghan Markle, seem to represent modernity for the monarchy, their wedding will be a celebration steeped in tradition. (Ian Vogler/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.

Breaking with tradition — but not completely

When Meghan Markle arrived on the scene, much was made of how she might bring a modern spark to a House of Windsor steeped in tradition. Here was an American. An actress with an established career. A woman who talked proudly of her biracial heritage and charity work. Prince Harry also went against the grain early in their relationship. He publicly called Meghan his "girlfriend," something royals just don't do.

So as speculation swirls around plans for their wedding, here are some ways it might be different:

It's going to be smaller, relatively speaking, than other high-profile royal weddings — just 600 guests (compared to 1,900 when Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011 at Westminster Abbey). And the venue is different. St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle has a rich history, but is associated with weddings of more junior members of the Royal Family, says royal historian Carolyn Harris.

Harry's cousin Peter Phillips and his Canadian wife, Autumn Kelly, leave St. George's Chapel after their marriage on May 17, 2008. (Ian McIlgorm/Reuters)

Younger royal siblings like Harry have often married in the same place as their older brother or sister. His grandmother, Elizabeth — the current Queen — and her younger sister Margaret were both wed at the abbey, in 1947 and 1960, respectively.

There will be a different range of guests. Those lucky enough to receive the gilt-edged invitations popped in the mail last week are likely to be a "less formal mix of people," says Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for the Sunday Times in London. Along with family and friends — celebrity and otherwise — expect representatives of charities close to Harry and Meghan's hearts. Survivors of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire will also be there.

Another possible departure: Meghan may give a speech at the reception, something royal brides aren't known for doing.

The wedding cake will also be baked in a very different mould. No multi-tiered fruitcake here. Instead, it will be an organic lemon and elderflower confection dotted with fresh flowers by a pastry chef who has a trendy east London shop. "There are little things like that where they're putting their own stamp into it," says Nikkhah.

But much will still be traditional. The invitation — issued in the name of the father of the groom and heir to the throne, Prince Charles — comes complete with a dress code for guests, including hats, please, for the ladies.

The Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury are overseeing the ceremony. Harry and Meghan will take a carriage ride.

Harry and Meghan will have a carriage ride after their marriage, just as his older brother, William, and his wife, Kate, had after their wedding in 2011. (Matt Cardy/Associated Press)

"People are very kind of keen to say this is ... a different wedding to any that we have seen before," says Nikkhah.

But she points out there are "lots of traditions here that are being upheld. They're very respectful of the fact that this is going to be a full-blown royal wedding however you look at it, and tradition isn't just going to go out the window."

Ms. vs. Miss

As traditional as the invitation is, it does signal one subtle hint of change within the House of Windsor. The bride's name is preceded by "Ms.," a first for the Royal Family and an acknowledgement, as etiquette would dictate, that Meghan is divorced.

By way of contrast, when invitations to the royal wedding went out in 2011, Prince William's bride, Kate, was identified as "Miss" Catherine Middleton. Reports across British media in the past few days drew attention to the "Ms." As the Daily Mail headline pointed out, "it's another sign the monarchy is 'moving with the times.'"

Invitations for Harry and Meghan's wedding were printed with American ink on British card stock. (Victoria Jones/Reuters)

When things go wrong

Royal or not, weddings don't always go off without a hitch. Harry's grandmother, the current Queen, had her own spot of bother on the morning of Nov. 20, 1947. Elizabeth's tiara broke in two as she was getting ready to go to Westminster Abbey to marry Philip.

What to do?

Well, in that case, get it over to the jeweller — via police escort — for a quick repair. The diamond fringe tiara was rushed back to the bride in one piece and in time for the ceremony.

But it wasn't a perfect fix. Look closely at pictures from Elizabeth's big day and there's a noticeable gap in the middle of the tiara where the spacing is a bit off.

The tiara Princess Elizabeth wore as she married Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on Nov. 20, 1947, shows the effects of a quick repair job that morning. (The Associated Press)

Royally quotable

"Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made."

Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. Of course, it was anything but a fairy tale, with doubts and difficulties swirling long before their union ended in divorce in 1996.

Prince Charles kisses his bride, Diana, Princess of Wales, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London after their wedding on July 29, 1981. (Associated Press)

Royal reads

  • The baker making Harry and Meghan's cake seems to have quite a bit in common with the bride: She's from California, now lives in England and has an interest in organic food. Meghan also interviewed her for her lifestyle blog.

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury has a few jitters ahead of the big day. He said he's going to try not to "drop the ring" or "forget to get the vows in the right order."

  • Look for some military spectacle to help Harry and Meghan mark the day, specifically from the regiments he served with in Afghanistan.

  • Amid all the focus on the wedding, there's been some family controversy, with serialization of an unauthorized biography of Harry's father, Prince Charles. The Guardian described Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles by Tom Bower as a "highly negative" look at Charles, but said it's only a "partial account" of his life.

Royal decoder

Who will be Meghan's bridesmaids?

Royal weddings tend to feature lots of little bridesmaids and pageboys. As such, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2 — William and Kate's children — are virtual locks for the wedding party on May 19.

There could also be a Canadian connection in that party, courtesy of a friendship Meghan struck up when she lived in Toronto. One of her close friends is Jessica Mulroney, who is married to TV host Ben Mulroney, the son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Ben and Jessica's daughter Ivy is widely touted as a possible bridesmaid.

As for a bunch of older bridesmaids walking down the aisle with Meghan, that's less likely. "Whether or not she'll have a bridesmaid-in-chief, like Pippa Middleton was to Kate, I'm not sure, because her friends are older and they're married and that's not really how we do things here," says Nikkhah. "I'd be surprised. I think it will be mostly little people."

Prince William and Kate had four bridesmaids and two pageboys in their wedding party in 2011. (Hugo Burnand/Clarence House/Reuters)

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