In what was perhaps the biggest and most anticipated event of the year, last weekend Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle in the latest over-the-top royal wedding. Royal wedding ceremonies are always lovely, and Prince Harry's was predictably meticulously planned, steeped in tradition and history. However, Harry broke with tradition in more ways than one when he proposed to the American actress Meghan Markle last year. The couple are not afraid to be themselves and are fearlessly in love, continuing to eschew tradition in a number of ways throughout the ceremony and following.
In all of the excitement, it was easy to lose track of what traditions they followed and which they broke and to simply lose yourself in the pure love radiating throughout the day. However, now that the dust has settled, we look back at the royal wedding, with Meghan's influences, Harry's choices, and the mixture of an American into the British royal family. From a French dress to a handful of Forget-Me-Nots, read on to learn how Meghan and Harry made their ceremony their own, and also how they honored tradition.
Men wearing wedding rings is commonplace and expected following their wedding ceremonies, especially in America. However, it wasn't always this way— and in the British Royal family, it isn't usually this way. According to jeweler Igal Dahan, who spoke to Esquire, wearing a wedding ring is only a modern tradition, especially among American couples. The tradition is less than a century old, having originated in World War II. As such, it's very common for British aristocrats to forgo the custom, according to Royal expert Marlene Koenig when speaking to Town & Country. The reason? Many British royal men simply "don't like to wear jewelry," according to Harper's Baazar.
Both Prince William and grandfather Prince Philip chose not to wear wedding rings at all.
Nor has the Duke of Edinburgh ever worn a ring, although he has been married to Queen Elizabeth II for nearly 70 years, according to Travel + Leisure. Prince Charles did wear a ring both during his marriage to Diana as well as after his marriage to Camilla, however rather than the traditional ring finger placement, he sports a pinky ring. Prince Harry is breaking Royal tradition by following regular tradition: wearing a simple wedding band on his ring finger. The newlywed husband also chose his own ring: a platinum band, rather than traditional gold.
Meghan Markle's bouquet was simple and elegant, reflecting her style throughout the wedding. Another similarity between the ceremony itself and the bride's bouquet is the immense amount of love that went into it. While the bespoke bouquet was designed by florist Phillipa Craddock, it had a very special touch. The bouquet was done to be “gentle, ethereal, (and) relaxed," according to a statement from the palace reported by People. The arrangement included a number of flowers: scented sweet peas, lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine and astrantia, and sprigs of myrtle all bound with a naturally dyed, raw silk ribbon.
To make the day and the bouquet even more special and unique, the groom handpicked flowers from their private garden at Kensington Palace to be added in. The flowers he chose to include had an extra level of thought and care behind them: they were also to honor his late mother. According to a statement from the Palace, "The spring blooms include Forget-Me-Nots which were Diana, Princess of Wales’ favorite flower. The couple specifically chose them to be included in Ms. Markle’s bouquet to honor the memory of the late Princess on this special day."
In perhaps one of the most exciting parts of royal life, it is a tradition for all brides to wear tiaras in royal weddings. Although many of the women marrying into the immediate royal family have historically come from royal lineage themselves and perhaps have their own family jewels, it is quite regular for the brides of important royal weddings to be leant historic jewels for their big day. Katherine borrowed a tiara from Queen Elizabeth II for her wedding, wearing the Cartier Halo Tiara, which had been given by Elizabeth's father King George VI to her mother in 1936 and was then given to her for her 18th birthday. Alternatively, Princess Diana wore her family's tiara for her big day, the Spencer Tiara. Also pictured is Princess Alexandria of Kent, married in 1963, who wore the Kent City of London Fringe tiara, borrowed from her own mother Princess Marina.
Meghan chose The Queen Mary's Bandeau Tiara for her wedding day with the Queen from the Queen's own collection at Buckingham Palace.
The Palace shared the tiara's details, saying, "The diamond bandeau is English and was made in 1932, with the center brooch dating from 1893." According to Harper's Baazar, "The tiara was originally crafted to highlight that brooch. Queen Elizabeth II inherited the headpiece later in 1953."
After a long history of not allowing divorcees to marry in, the Royal family has changed its tune remarkably quickly in modern times. According to Town and Country, "Just 17 years after King Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, Princess Margaret was forced to give up her love affair with Group Captain Peter Townsend." As in, King Edward VIII had to leave the throne less than a century ago, in 1936, to marry the woman he loved, because she was divorced. Even more recently, in the mid-1950s, Princess Margaret was forced to choose between her royal duty and her love, denied marriage permission due to Townsend's divorced status.
It wasn't until over half a century later, in 2005, that new ruling from the Church of England allowed for Royal marriage after divorce. Prince Charles was able to finally marry his divorced long-term partner Camilla Parker-Bowles, although there was still public conflict surrounding the couple’s union.
Fast-forward thirteen years and Prince Harry was allowed to wed Meghan Markle with little to no backlash over her divorced status or prior marriage. The wedding was welcomed by both the royal family and the public. It goes to show how quickly progress can move once it has taken hold!
Since royal weddings are such anticipated affairs, steeped in traditional details and moments, it should come as no surprise that there is even a traditional and expected royal wedding cake flavor. Yet again, Harry and Meghan broke tradition.
According to Town and Country, "Royal weddings cakes are usually multi-tiered and highly traditional rich fruitcakes encased in marzipan and a thick crust of white icing." The New Yorker writes about this tradition in more detail, saying, "Since medieval times, all special occasions in England, from Christmas to christenings, had been celebrated with fruitcakes, which were optimally suited to an era before refrigeration." It was also customary to send each guest home with an extra slice.
Despite all of this tradition, Harry and Meghan chose a lemon and elderflower cake covered with buttercream and fresh flowers, to capture the "bright flavors of Spring."
Queen Victoria had the first publicly discussed wedding cake, a massive fruitcake topped with figurines of herself, her husband, turtle doves, Cupids, and one even of Victoria’s beloved dogs. Every royal wedding since Queen Victoria's in 1840 has featured this royal fruitcake, including William and Katherine's, although the Prince did ask for a small chocolate cake on the side.
While the bouquet may have broken tradition in other ways, it did uphold a very important traditional detail. While Meghan's bouquet was purposefully small and understated, it still contained a sprig of Myrtle. According to Town & Country, "The custom dates back to the wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Victoria."
According to a tweet from the Royal family's official Twitter account last week, "Many Royal Brides across the generations have chosen to carry a sprig of Myrtle, which represents love, in their bouquets." They continue, "This tradition dates back to the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest daughter."
Myrtle symbolizes hope and love and is perfectly used in a wedding bouquet.
Additionally, the bouquet was laid to rest atop the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey following the ceremony. According to Glamour, "the Grave of the Unknown Warrior commemorates those who have fallen in international military conflicts dating back to World War I." Westminster Abbey states that traditionally brides have been sending their bouquets to that grave ever since Elizabeth II's mother placed hers there in 1947 to honor her brother Fergus, who was killed in 1915 during WWI's Battle of Loos.
The kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace has become a much anticipated, albeit recent tradition as part of any Royal Wedding. According to Town & Country, the balcony kiss has become customary since the marriages of Queen Victoria's children. In 1981, Charles and Diana were the first royal couple to share a kiss in front of the cheering crowds on Buckingham Palace's large and beautiful balcony. The event was very popular with the public, as this location allowed the moment to be easily viewable by anyone willing to fight for a spot. The tradition was born, and the balcony kiss was later followed by Andrew and Sarah, and William and Kate.
Despite this custom's popularity, it was not feasible for Prince Harry and his bride Meghan following their ceremony, as their wedding was not held in London, but in Windsor.
To hold off on the first kiss until the newlyweds traveled 45 minutes to Buckingham Palace was not feasible. The first kiss of the new couple was instead held outside of Windsor Castle following the ceremony, in the middle of the steps in a very visible and public location. Although the balcony kiss will likely still be done by future royal couples, Harry and Meghan's moment seemed perfect for them!
One time-honored tradition in both royal and non-royal weddings is the escort of the bride down the aisle by her father. This is one rule that Meghan and Harry did not break on purpose, nor did they wish to. Unfortunately, not every bride gets to have her father present on her wedding day, and Meghan was one of those brides. In fact, the sole member of her family who was in attendance was her mother, Doria Ragland, who rode in the automobile to the ceremony with her daughter but did not walk in with her. Due to a number of factors including health and family issues, Thomas Markle was unable to attend his daughter's wedding. According to Town and Country, Thomas Markle suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency surgery three days before the wedding, resulting in his unfortunate absence.
Meghan handled the personal upset with grace, choosing instead to walk herself down the aisle partway, before being escorted the remainder of the way by Prince Charles. Meghan walked in the procession, followed by two twin boys who had the honor of holding her veil. The 7-year olds were Brian and John Mulroney, sons of Meghan’s best friend, Jessica Mulroney, and grandsons of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Toward the altar, the bride met Prince Charles, and they continued the rest of the way arm in arm. Although Meghan walked unescorted for most of the way, she beamed with confidence and happiness.
In a true fairy-tale ending, it is a tradition for every royal wedding to end with a carriage ride away from the venue and through the crowd of the adoring public. Of course, the couple had a number of carriages to choose from. On Prince William's wedding day, "he and his bride were carried in the Imperial State Landau, a 100+-year-old carriage that had originally been built for Edward VII," according to Harper's Baazar. However, Harry and Megan went with a carriage with significantly less gold accenting. Their choice was revealed in a royal statement:
Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle have selected the Ascot Landau carriage for their procession through Windsor Town after their wedding on May 19th.
The carriage is one of five Ascot Landaus in the Royal Mews. The carriages are used in official and ceremonial state events, such as Coronations, Royal Weddings, and State Visits.
The Kensington Palace publicity people were also kind enough to introduce us to two of the horses that had the honor of pulling the newlyweds, posting a shot to Instagram of the draft horse father-and-son team Storm and Tyrone. How cute!
Speaking of "beaming with confidence and happiness," the bride also happened to look remarkably beautiful while walking down the aisle, and her soon-to-be husband took notice. Seemingly, the entire world was holding its breath waiting for its first glimpse of Meghan on her wedding day, and Prince Harry was no different. He couldn't resist turning and looking at her as soon as she entered Windsor Castle's Saint George's Chapel. In an American wedding, the Groom and the entire wedding collectively are meant to turn and watch the Bride walking down the aisle, in one of the most anticipated and cherished moments of the day, the First Look.
However, according to Myka Meira of Beaumont Etiquette, as told to Good Housekeeping, "At a British wedding, the groom and his best man (or supporter) will face the altar as the bride walks down the aisle. He won’t turn to look at her until she is beside him." Especially in royal weddings, sticking to etiquette is usually of the utmost importance. In 2011, Prince William stayed true to tradition and waited for Kate to reach his side before turning toward her, however, even then, Prince Harry had already snuck a peek, telling his brother, "Right, here she is now," according to CBS News.
While Harry watching his bride walk down the aisle broke with traditional British wedding etiquette, it was undeniably one of the sweetest moments of the day!
Royal wedding parties are different from typical American wedding parties, typically being comprised of family and a number of children of royal lineage. In a typical UK wedding, there are bridesmaids of sorts, and they follow the bride down the aisle. However, according to Elle, it is British tradition to have children as bridesmaids and page boys, rather than an adult bridal party. Since Queen Elizabeth's wedding, royal bridesmaids have been children or early teens.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding seems to fall in line with tradition in this way, however, the full bridal party is usually comprised of royal children, and in this wedding, the children were half Harry's royal relatives and half Meghan's chosen children.
Additionally, it is not unusual for royal weddings to have adult maids of honor, however, Markle simply chose to not have one. As reported by People, “She has a very close-knit circle of friends and she didn’t want to choose one over another,” a palace spokesman said on Friday. “All have been actively involved in helping her prepare for the day and will be there in the days beforehand. She’s very happy to have their support.” Despite not officially naming a maid of honor or featuring any adult friends in her wedding, she did include the children of her best friend Jessica Mulroney, a subtle way to honor her friend without changing tradition too much.
While the Buckingham Palace Balcony kiss has become a beloved tradition, there is a reason why royal couples wait to have their first kiss after being married. Firstly, it is a people-pleasing public feature; the whole country waits to see that magical moment. Secondly, and more seriously, royal couples never kiss in churches. Despite the tradition of couples sealing their marriage ceremonies with a newlywed kiss at the altar, royal couples have always waited until after leaving the church, and Harry and Meghan were no different. The reason? Respect for the sacred spaces from the royal family.
According to Myka Meier through People, “Some view the church as a holy place so they won’t kiss in the church out of respect." "But, many vicars throughout the church of England will ask the couple if they want to kiss,” the Beaumont Etiquette founder continued. Although commoners may kiss inside churches at weddings if asked by their vicar, this is one etiquette rule and tradition that the Royal family has never broken.
In the months leading up to the latest royal wedding, one thing that nearly everyone was speculating about was the wedding dress. As an American woman marrying into the royal family, Meghan Markle was notably wearing British designers to nearly all of her public event appearances. As a way to embrace her new country and its people, she was widely expected to wear a British design on her big day. Despite countless designers submitting bids to design her dress, Markle, supported by best friend Jessica, chose Claire Waight Keller of the French design house Givenchy.
At first glance, this may seem an affront to British pride, but, actually, Keller is British.
The Birmingham-born Brit was named the first female Creative Director of the house of Givenchy in 2017. According to Harper's Baazar, Keller spoke about Meghan in an interview following the wedding, saying, “I think she loved the fact that I was a British designer and working in a house such as Givenchy, which has its roots in a classic, beautiful style from the time of Hubert [de Givenchy] himself.” A mix of British pride and Parisian haute couture ended up creating the American actress's perfectly classic dress.
Prince Harry is the first British Royal allowed to marry an American divorcee without losing his royal privileges, but he is not the first member of the royal family to marry an American. As mentioned before, the ruling monarch King Edward VIII had to abdicate the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, who was a twice-divorced American socialite. However, this is the first wedding where the American bride was not only welcomed so readily into the royal family but also allowed to "Americanize" the ceremony.
With both the groom's decision to wear a ring and his choice to watch his bride walk down the aisle, the couple followed American traditions more than British ones. However, that's not all that was brought to this international union. Meghan Markle also invited an American bishop to speak during the ceremony, Bishop Michael Curry, who spoke about change, growth, and love with great passion. She also invited the Kingdom Choir to sing, another American group. The entire event, although still steeped in British tradition and history, was not as reserved and stiff as many of the country's other royal events have seemed, instead exuding passion and love.
Aside from the bride's wedding look, one of the most fun and memorable parts of any royal wedding are the outfits worn by guests. While Harry and Meghan kept the dress code traditional, that definitely didn't make it boring! Keeping things by the book, the royal weddings official dress code was "day dresses and hats for the women; and uniforms, morning coats, or lounge suits for the men," according to Town and Country.
Like all royal weddings,"The stresser here is that it is a very conservative event," says Myka Meier, etiquette expert. "Shoulders should be covered, and dresses should be an appropriate length: either tea length, below the knee, or just slightly above." Color is also important to consider, with small patterns being accepted, but bright, solid colors expected. "Think about the season," she says. Meier also notes women shouldn't wear white or black. "Black is internationally a color of mourning," she says. As important or even more than the dress is the hat, with Myka suggesting, “The bigger, and the more decorated, the more festive. It’s almost like your way of showing your support for the occasion.” Meghan and Harry issued the correct dress code, so whether it was broken by any individual attendees is not a rebellion of the couple's making!