Age-old customs are part and parcel of a royal wedding, and they contribute to a special type of magic that captures our imagination, no matter what is happening in the world. As we approach the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the 19th of May, we've picked out some royal wedding traditions that have developed over the centuries, and which reveal some fascinating narratives that have stayed with us to this day.
Nights in white satin
We have Queen Victoria to thank for the tradition of brides wearing white on their wedding day. Before her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, wearing white as a bride had been frowned upon, and colours were considered far more appropriate. But the long-reigning monarch was the first royal bride to break the pattern. Why? She loved idea of a white lace and silk- satin gown, and no one was going to argue with her. Victoria's wedding dress outraged aristocrats, as white was traditionally seen as the colour for mourning dress. She forged on nonetheless. Now that's girl power, right there.
Sister was doing it for herself
While 21st century Queen of Pop Beyoncé and her tribes of fans lament the demise of modern-day chivalry, Victoria had no such worries. She'd already worked out she wasn't ever going to wait for her Prince Charming to put a ring on it. She was going to be the one to propose to Albert - when she was ready. Though the woman proposing marriage has not gone on to become a royal tradition as such, you can't help but think that Queen Victoria might just have felt a smidgen of pride at seeing how women have been allowed to blossom within the conjugal relationship today.
Welcome to the fold
When it comes to who may actually step into the royal fold, the rules were somewhat relaxed in 2013 when the traditional Royal Marriages Act of 1772 was repealed in favour of the Successions to the Crown Act. This means that only the first six in line to the throne now need The Queen's permission to marry.
(I never promised you a) rose garden
When Queen Victoria was preparing for her big day in 1840, she also had full say on what went into her wedding posy. She plumped for myrtle, otherwise known as "the herb of love," and soon after, she planted a myrtle bush in her garden at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Since then, every British royal bride has taken a sprig off that very same bush to put in their own bouquet, no matter what other blooms they may have also chosen.
We'll meet again
There's a poignant tradition that royal brides have honoured since the late Queen Mother laid down her wedding bouquet in 1923, in remembrance of her brother who lost his life in the 1915 Battle of Loos. She unintentionally paved the way for all subsequent royal brides joining the British royal family to leave their wedding bouquet in Westminster Abbey, at the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The resting place holds the remains of a First World War soldier who has come to symbolise the nation's war casualties. Tradition dictates that floral tribute be posed there the day after a royal wedding, once all official wedding pictures have been taken.
Since the Queen Mother's aforementioned wedding in 1923, every royal bride's wedding band has contained gold from a nugget sourced in Dolgellau in North Wales. This variety of gold is one of the most valuable in the world but it's close to being depleted now. The Queen was therefore presented with another large nugget to be exploited for future weddings bands, including that of the Duchess of Cambridge for her royal wedding in April 2011.
Though recent royal couples have chosen to hold their wedding ceremonies in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral in order to accommodate the ever-expanding guest lists, royal weddings were originally held in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace. The palace once hosted the weddings of Queen Anne, George III, George IV, Queen Victoria and George V, but as it only holds 100 guests, this tradition soon became outdated and by 1919, Princess Patricia of Connaught had chosen Westminster Abbey for the first time in 605 years.
Do the right thing
It's tradition for the male members of the British royal family to wear a military uniform on their wedding day. As Prince Harry was trained as an officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and has served in the British army, there's no doubt he will cut a fine military figure on his big day. Male wedding guests are traditionally expected to wear military uniforms, morning dress (a single breasted coat with tails) or a lounge suit.
Meanwhile, the ladies get to don their most outlandish and colourful hats in church, as wearing a headpiece to royal weddings is a well-established custom. Given that it's seen as something of a no-no to go 'sans' hat at a royal wedding, there's every excuse to get creative and make a real fashion statement.
The Breakfast Club
Most British weddings are held at noon, but did you know that they will always be followed by a formal "wedding breakfast"? The Queen's wedding breakfast was held in the Ball supper-room at Buckingham Palace for a small party, as was The Princess of Wales' for about 120 guests. It was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who broke with tradition, opting instead for an 11am ceremony and a buffet-style wedding breakfast at the Palace, hosted by The Queen for some 600 guests.
Piece of cake
As a thank you, pieces of the royal wedding cake are saved and then sent out to guests later. Perhaps unsurprisingly nowadays, these precious slices do rather well at auction, especially among ardent royal followers and collectors of the, well, downright vintage. A slice from the wedding cake of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went for close to £3,000 in September 2017 at London's Chiswick Auction House, although this was not a record-breaker. Another morsel of the eight-tier fruit cake sold for a staggering US$10,000 back in 2014. The relic slices up for sale were accompanied by a keepsake card that read, "With best wishes from TRH (Their Royal Highnesses) The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, in celebration of the wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge."
Keep off politics and carry on
Marrying into the Royal Family means refraining from any involvement in political events thereafter, such as voting in general elections, running for any kind of public office and declaring any kind of political affiliation. The royal family, aside from Her Majesty The Queen, does have the technical right to vote, but chooses not to for obvious reasons: to remain utterly impartial and to uphold the important role of serving the people, without influencing any decision-making whatsoever.
Follow the Queen
When moving into the royal family and its circles, guests, dignitaries, and fellow royals must always follow The Queen's lead in all settings. So whether she stands, sits or eats, no one does so before her. In an average year, The Queen will host more than 50,000 people at banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and garden parties at Buckingham Palace. So if you're going to take your etiquette cue from anyone take it from Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.
As we gear up for the highlight of our social event calendar, the Royal Wedding 2018, stay with us for snippets of royal wedding fun, and updates on some fabulous events we will be involved with to mark the occasion.
Watch this space along with our social media channels to stay abreast of all our Royal Wedding posts. For any further information on upcoming related events, or special venues and restaurants that are planning to honour the happy event, please contact your Lifestyle Manager.
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