Throughout history, members of the Royal family have been getting hitched in style but apart from being the cause of national celebrations, these weddings have also played significant roles in shaping the monarchy. Until the 19th century and the early 1900s, the outline had been largely the same – of Royal unions being prescribed for political, dynastic and empire building reasons (and, the bride and groom were always of mutually Royal orders). Somewhere down the line, these weddings also became global events – not so rigid, watched by millions on television, with every section of their wedding day under scrutiny. The template of these Royal weddings, however, has changed little over time. The groom in uniform, garlanded with medals; the bride in an exquisitely crafted gown by some crackerjack designer; cheering crowds – and you have a Royal wedding to speak of for the rest of your days.
But all said, you’d be surprised by the number of disturbing particulars that come with almost every one of these exorbitantly publicised Royal weddings of all times. To quote Queen Elizabeth II: “Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements.” We are only inclined to agree going by the following 15 facts about the Royal weddings that get more awkward with every photo!
Prince Philip has been the Royal consort for over 65 years – being the longest serving British consort ever, but he can never be king. It wasn’t until five years after her succession to the thrown that Elizabeth II made him a prince of the United Kingdom (not formally) but it was purely symbolic anyway. Under British law, while women can automatically take on the feminine version of their husband’s titles (though it’s only too ceremonial), the same does not hold true for men. The husband of a reigning queen will always be called a prince consort, no matter what. Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, wanted to make her husband, Albert, king consort, but the British government wouldn’t allow it.
According to the Royal Marriages Act 1772 laid down by the Parliament of Great Britain, there are conditions under which members of the British Royal Family could contract a valid marriage to ensure that there were no marriages with the potential to diminish the status of the Royal house. The Act was proposed by George III as a direct result of the marriage of his brother, Prince Henry, the Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn, who in 1771, married commoner Anne Horton. The right of veto bested in the sovereign by this act, provoked severe adverse criticism at the time of its passage, finally being replaced in 2015 as a result of the 2011 Perth Agreement. Now, there are more limited restrictions that apply only to the first six people in the line of succession.
King Edward VIII did something that not many monarchs have had the luxury of doing, he gave up his thrown for the sake of love. He fell in love with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who was not only an American but also a married woman, already once divorced. To some, it was the love story of the century but to most, it was a scandal that threatened to weaken the monarchy. In this situation, Edward was faced with three choices: First, he marries her and she becomes Queen but his government resigns; second, they marry each other, but Mrs. Simpson doesn’t become Queen and third, he abdicates and is no longer king – and therefore, free to marry Mrs. Simpson without having to think of the opinion of the people or the government anymore. He chose the last and gave up the thrown in 1936.
One of the most famous commoners of today to marry into the Royal household is none other than Kate Middleton. But, she had to become Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge after her marriage to William in 2011. What more, she can’t even retain her former nicknames. When addressing, the Royal better-halves must be referred to by their full title or simply by “Ma’am” or “Sir”. For instance, Kate would be addressed as “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge”. And, while the queens usually have much longer titles, a simple “your majesty” is said to suffice. However, it is not just a change of name that comes with a Royal marriage. One must also give up shellfish. In the past, the Royal family is said to have been averse to shellfish and they have been advised to abstain from eating it to avoid food poisoning and allergic reactions.
The use of the left-hand pinky finger for the wedding ring and Royal signet or initial ring of the British Royal Household is an ironclad tradition that dates back to the sons of Queen Victoria, who favoured pinky rings in imitation of their mother. So, the Victorian age was marked by men wearing their wedding bands (always a gift from wife to husband) on the left and pinky finger, although a few British men wore wedding rings until World War II. Because of masculine limitations, men were also encouraged to wear a second ring if they desired but only on top of the wedding band so as to keep both rings confined to one finger – though this did not stand for the Royals.
It is common practice at British Royal Weddings for chefs to name dishes after the bride. For instance, the dish named after Princess Diana at her wedding was called suprême de volaille princesse de galle, which was basically chicken breast stuffed with lamb mousse, wrapped in brioche and garnished with asparagus tips and Madeira sauce. However, the menu for the Royal wedding sit down dinner and the wedding breakfast is not revealed until the day itself. Kate and Prince William’s wedding day feast was kick started with a fresh herb salad that included South Uist salmon, Lyme bay crab and wild Hebriean langoustines and the accompanying tipple was a 2009 Meursault. A copy of the Will-Kat wedding day dinner menu was included in a collection of 200-years-worth of Royal memorabilia that went into auction.
In contrast to the very English way of Royal Weddings, the ensuing feast is most certainly en francais. And this has been the way in all of the Royal weddings and fancy Royal functions – the menu is always in French and there is never any translation on it, even for foreign politicians. The invitees assemble on the Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast once the Royal couple share the traditional from the balcony of the palace. For Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, the dinner menu was printed on thick ivory cardstock, featuring a green floral border trimmed in gold. At the top of the menu card was Prince Charles’ heraldic badge of three white ostrich feathers emerging from a gold crown. The menu card was sold for over £800 at an auction.
It was the centrepiece of the wedding party held for the then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip Mountbatten at the Buckingham Palace in November 20, 1947. Standing tall at a whopping 9ft, the 500-lb, four-tier cake was made with dried fruit from Australia and later preserved with rum and brandy from South Africa. Nicknamed as “the 10,000-mile wedding cake”, it was split between 2000-odd guests celebrating the Royal union. Prince Philip had cut the cake using his ceremonial sword. And, 63 years on, a slice of it sold for £1,750, wrapped in its original baking parchment and still very much edible, thanks to its high alcohol content. The three-inches by five-inches piece in question, is said to have been given to one of the couple’s guards of honour at the wedding ceremony held in Westminster Abbey.
This tiara was made in 1919 for Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother Queen Mary, who was in the habit of regularly dismantling her jewellery to make new pieces. The special tiara was fashioned from diamonds taken from a transformable tiara-necklace that her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, had given her as a wedding present in 1893. On the morning of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding, as the hairdresser was securing the bride-to-be’s veil with the tiara, the antique metal frame snapped! Though there were other tiaras in her collection, the future Queen was intent on wearing that particular piece. Fortunately, a court jeweller was on standby in the event of any such mishap and took the tiara via police escort to the Garrad workshop to be repaired.
They have been married for 70 years now, but they share more than just a happy marriage. The Royals are cousins who share the same bloodline, being both directly related to Queen Victoria. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth have the same great-great grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were first cousins themselves. This might seem a bit odd today, but it was a fairly common practice for the Royals back then since marriages were done to ally with foreign powers. The Queen was just 13 and on a visit to a Naval college in Dartmouth with her father King George VI, when a cadet named Philip Mountbatten – Elizabeth’s third cousin and a Greek prince – was given the task of showing the future queen around. Needless to say, that’s when cupid struck!
A book about Prince Charles written by Royal writer Sally Bedell Smith, called Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, reveals how Princess Di said the wrong name while saying her vows at the altar. According to the BBC, who called it “wedding day nerves”, Diana called her husband-to-be “Philip Charles” as opposed to the other way around, which should have been – “Charles Philips”. The same BBC article reveals that Prince Charles too had his “oops” moment when he referred to “thy goods” in his vows, rather than “worldly goods”, as it should have been. On a different note, Diana was also the first Royal bride to omit “obey” from her wedding vows. While the couple exchanged traditional wedding vows from the Book of Common Prayer, Diana removed the word “obey”.
It was one of the most extravagant weddings of the century. When Lady Diana Spencer tied the knot with Prince of Wales in 1981, their nuptial included 27 cakes, apart from the whopping one billion spectators. A piece of the wedding cake was sold at an auction in 2008 for £1,000. The nine-inch square piece of icing and marzipan weighed 28 ounces and bore the Royal coat-of-arms and was coloured in gold, silver, red and blue. It was originally given to Moyra Smith, a member of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s household at Clarence House, who preserved the topping in cling film and kept it in a metal tin. The cake was made by David Avery, head baker of the Naval Armed Forces and carries the message: “With best wishes from Their Royal Highnesses The Price & Princess of Wales.”
The dress – made of tulle, net and silk, and overlaid with 10,000 pearls – cost £1,050 to make at the time, only to become one of the most iconic dresses in the world for generations to come. Created by husband-and-wife design team David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the intricate ivory taffeta gown with flounces of antique lace and a small blue bow sewn into the waistband, was fashioned in a fabric specially spun at a British silk farm. It had the longest-ever train in British Royal history extending up to 25 ft and a veil that extended past the hem of the dress. The entire thing – anchored by her tiara – used 153 yards of tulle. She also had a matching umbrella – hand-embroidered with pearls and sequins and trimmed with the same lace – in case of unanticipated rain!
While Kate Middleton flaunts a noticeable 12-carat sapphire-and-diamond on an 18-carat band made of Welsh gold, the left ring-finger of her husband, Prince William is vividly bare. A peek at the official wedding ceremony reveals that William didn’t even put on a ring during the service. Kate was the only one who got a wedding band that day. Strange as it may appear, back in 2011, the St Jame’s Palace did officially address the choice to The Daily Mail, stating: Kate Middleton would be wearing a ring after her wedding, but Prince William would not, because of “personal preference.” Speaking of which, Penny Junor – the author of The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair that Rocked the Crown – also told Vogue: “[William] doesn’t like jewellery and the Palace issued a statement before their wedding saying so.”
Unlike other Royal weddings, the Will-Kat ceremony had two wedding cakes. While, Prince William opted for his favourite chocolate biscuit cake – made with rich tea cookies, chocolates and nuts, and then frozen instead of baked – the main Royal wedding cake was crafted in fruit cake. Local baker Fiona Cairns was entrusted with the duty and she started baking the many layers, weeks ahead of time. Each layer was wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth before being set aside for deepening the flavours. From the outside, it looked like any grand wedding cake, stacked with layers covered in white fondant and elaborate gum paste flowers – representing the four nations of the United Kingdom – roses for England, thistle for Scotland, daffodils for Wales and shamrocks for Ireland.
Sources: The Daily Mail, The Time, The Telegraph, Hello Magazine