Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day is fast approaching, which got us thinking about all of the British royal wedding traditions we may (or may not) see on May 19.
Sure, you may be aware that female wedding guests don fancy hats and fascinators for the ceremony (a British custom not just reserved for royals). Who could forget the bold headwear Princess Beatrice of York wore at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? But there’s probably quite a few traditions you’ve never heard of before. Below, we delve into some of the lesser-known ones.
1. The bride carries a sprig of myrtle in her bouquet.
This tradition dates back to the 19th century when Prince Albert’s grandmother gave Queen Victoria some myrtle ― a symbol of good fortune in love and marriage ― which Victoria then planted in her garden at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She cut a sprig from that plant when her oldest daughter, Princess Victoria, got married in 1858. Since then, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana and Kate have all carried a bouquet with myrtle from Victoria’s garden. The same bush is still thriving.
“We take very good care of it,” a spokesperson for Osborne House told People.
2. The wedding band is made of Welsh gold.
In 1923, the Queen Mother (then Elizabeth Bowes Lyon) chose Welsh gold for her wedding ring when she married King George VI. According to The Telegraph, the nugget of gold used for the ring, which came from the now-closed Clogau St. David’s mine in North Wales, was a gift to the royal family and was later used to craft bands for other brides, including the queen, Princess Margaret and Diana. That piece of gold has since been nearly depleted. So in 2011, Kate received a band made from a different nugget in the royal family’s Welsh gold collection.
3. The newlyweds serve fruitcake at the reception.
Fruitcake has been the wedding confection of choice for the British royal family for some time now. Everyone from Victoria and Albert to Charles and Diana to Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson to Will and Kate have served it at their nuptials.
“A fruitcake was originally a symbol of wealth and prosperity because of its precious ingredients such as dried fruits, alcohol and spices,” London pastry chef Chris Dodd told Vogue. “Furthermore, the cake, in a way, represented the vastness of the British empire, using ingredients from far-flung corners of the globe. A wedding was, and is to this day, a time of celebration, and as such it calls for a cake to match the occasion.”
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, however, will be going in a different direction. In March, Kensington Palace announced that the couple decided on a lemon elderflower cake with buttercream frosting by chef Claire Ptak of London’s Violet bakery. It’s possible they will also have a smaller groom’s cake, as William did at his wedding.
4. And after the wedding, guests receive a slice of the wedding cake in the mail.
Because of its ingredients (e.g. alcohol and already dried and preserved fruits and nuts), fruitcake takes much, much longer to spoil than other desserts. Thus, it became customary for royal newlyweds to send their guests a slice of the cake in the mail with a thank-you note. Because Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are not serving fruitcake, they are unlikely to send their cake in the mail — but time will tell.
5. The bride leaves her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior inside Westminster Abbey.
This tradition began in 1923 with the Queen Mother as a way to honor her late brother Capt. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, who was killed during World War I.
Since then, other royal brides ― even those who did not marry at Westminster Abbey ― send the bridal bouquet to be laid on the grave on their behalf.
6. The royal family member must receive the queen’s formal permission to tie the knot.
According to the Succession to the Crown Act passed in 2013, the first six royals in line to the throne must have the queen’s consent to marry if they (and their descendants) are to be eligible to succeed to the British crown. The birth of Will and Kate’s third child, Louis, in April pushed Prince Harry to sixth in line. Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie ― now seventh, eighth and ninth in line for the throne, respectively ― would not require the queen’s blessing to marry.
On March 14, two months ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, the queen gave her formal blessing for the nuptials in an official letter that read: “I declare my consent to a contract of matrimony between my most dearly beloved grandson Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle.”
7. The groom wears military clothing for the ceremony.
Albert was the first British royal groom to sport a military uniform on his wedding day back in 1840. The queen, her husband, Philip, her sons Charles, Edward and Andrew, and her grandsons William and Harry have all served in the military. Both Charles and William wore military dress on their wedding days. Some speculate that Harry will do the same, though it’s possible he may wear morning dress attire ― a morning coat, a waistcoat and striped trousers ― instead.
“The way this is different is that [Harry] is not in the direct line of succession,” royal expert and officer of arms Alastair Bruce told Town & Country. “He is a member of the royal family. This is a family wedding which is taking place not in public, not out of the public eye, but within the castle, which is much less visual.”
If he does wear military garb for the ceremony, Harry will likely change out of it afterward, as his brother, William, did at his 2011 wedding.
8. The royal family poses for formal wedding portraits.
Tradition dictates that the bride and groom should pose for an official portrait on the big day along with their immediate family and members of the bridal party.
Photographer Alexi Lubomirski, who shot Harry and Meghan’s engagement photos, has been named the official photographer for their wedding.
9. After the ceremony, there are typically not one but two receptions.
The ceremony typically begins around noon and is followed by a wedding “breakfast,” or luncheon, earlier in the day and a more intimate evening reception at night.