9 Royal Wedding Traditions That Are Unusual, From The Cake Flavor To The Bridal Party
There are obviously many ways that royals are not like other people. However, I would argue that the separation between people designated as “royal” and those designated as “not royal” is never more apparent than when examining the many bizarre royal wedding traditions that exist. I mean, to be fair, they’re not really anymore bizarre than non-royal wedding traditions are; most traditions are a little weird, particularly when they hearken back to elements of society that are really no longer relevant. At the same time, though… well, it is not a tradition for the weddings of most regular people to be deemed national holidays, and the fact that they can be for some people is, um, unusual. Just sayin’.
Now that we’re mere months away from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's upcoming nuptials, it’s kind of hard to avoid all the rumors flying around about the big day: What will she wear? What will he wear? Will they have a banana cake? What about a best man? A maid of honor? Flowers? So many questions. Personally, I kind of hope they buck some of the trends; it seems like it would be very them to do so. But I mean, hey, if they want to go along with some of the weirder elements history and culture dictates as “necessary” for British royal weddings, so be it.
I should probably note that by “bizarre royal wedding traditions,” I mostly just mean traditions that go counter to what most people usually think of weddings as having — because again, royal weddings are not like other weddings. It doesn’t mean that these traditions are bad; nor does it mean that more standard wedding traditions are bad. It doesn’t mean that not having any trends or traditions — whether standard or royal — is bad, either. The bottom line is that, when it comes to weddings, whatever floats the betrotheds’ proverbial boat is fine. Have a royal wedding with a fruitcake and a balcony kiss if you like! Have a tiny wedding with just you and your partner on a beach somewhere at sunset and go snorkeling afterwards! Have a big traditional white wedding! It’s totally up to you.
Or, y’know, maybe you and the Queen, if she’s your grandmother and all.
Anyway, these nine traditions strike me as somewhat extraordinary. Only time will tell whether Harry and Meghan go with them or not.
1. There’s No Such Thing As A Best Man
So, you know that whole debate around whether or not Harry will ask William to be his best man? Well… technically there are no best men in British royal weddings. William actually broke protocol when he had Harry act as his best man during his own wedding in 2011.
However, the “no best men” rule doesn’t mean that grooms don’t have anyone in their corners during their weddings; as British and European royalty expert Marlene Koenig recently told Town & Country, “The best man or best men are officially called supporters.” Grooms can have more than one supporter, too — Charles asked his brothers Andrew and Edward to be his supporters when he married Diana in 1981, and Edward similarly chose Charles and Andrew as his supporters at his own wedding to Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999. Even if Harry doesn’t break the rules in the same way that William did, odds are that William will at least be a supporter for Harry.
2. Adult Bridesmaids Are Rare
You know who also kind of broke protocol at William and Kate’s wedding? Kate herself. Koenig also spoke to Town & Country about royal wedding traditions surrounding the bridal party,and it seems that, by having Pippa as her maid of honor, Kate bucked the trend in the same way William did. Said, Koenig, “Most royal brides to not have adult bridesmaids. It would be unusual for a royal bride to have a woman in her late 30s as a maid or matron of honor. The Duchess of Cambridge having her sister, Pippa, was unusual.” Queen Elizabeth II was one of the rare exceptions — when she got married in 1947 at the age of 21, her sister, Princess Margaret, then 17, was in her party of bridesmaids. Overall, though, it’s more common to see bridal parties for royal weddings made up of young children instead of adults.
It looks like Meghan Markle is going to buck the trend, too: Although the exact name hasn't been released yet, she's reportedly chosen her own maid of honor already.
3. Royal Weddings Are (Sometimes) National Holidays
Weddings that occur during the week are often (although not always, depending on the kind of wedding we’re talking about) days off for those getting married and those attending — but not usually for anyone else. Royal weddings, however? Sometimes, the entire country gets the day off…. Although not always.
To be fair, this one is a lot more complicated than you might think — but sometimes, either by design or by coincidence, a royal wedding coincides with a bank holiday (the UK equivalent of what Americans refer to as a federal holiday). In 2011, for example, William and Kate’s wedding was declared to be a Royal Wedding Bank Holiday — so, even though their wedding was held on a Friday (April 29, 2011, if you need a reminder), lots of folks in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland had the day off. The Scottish government also declared April 29, 2011 a holiday.
Similarly, Princess Anne’s wedding in 1973 was declared a bank holiday; she married Mark Phillips on Nov. 14 — and even though that was a Wednesday, the bank holiday meant that people generally had the day off. However, a bank holiday was not declared when Prince Andrew got married in 1986 (on July 23, a Wednesday), or when Prince Edward got married in 1999 (on June 19, which, admittedly, was a Saturday, so it actually was still the weekend for many).
So: What’s the status for Harry and Meghan? Although there was quite a push to make their wedding day a bank holiday — Mayor of London Sadiq Khan even supported the idea — Prime Minister Theresa May has resisted declaring it so. The wedding date, however, is May 19, 2018… which is, in fact, a Saturday, so folks who typically work Monday Friday schedules will have the weekend to enjoy it anyway.
(Also, that dog is definitely living its best life.)
4. There’s Myrtle — That’s For Luck And Love
Floriography, or the language of flowers, was huge during the Victorian era. It assigned meanings to specific flowers and plants, with which you could then do… well, pretty much whatever you wanted. (Remember Ophelia’s “There’s rosemary — that’s for remembrance” speech in Hamlet? That’s all based in floriography.)
Naturally, one of the most common applications of floriography had to do with romance: You could woo someone with flowers that held a specific meaning — or, if you were Queen Victoria, you could make sure your bouquet at your wedding said exactly what you wanted it to say. Indeed, one of the (many) traditions Victoria’s 1840 wedding to Prince Albert is credited with beginning is the trend for all royal wedding bouquets to contain a sprig of myrtle. Myrtle, you see, symbolizes good luck and love in a marriage; most brides marrying into British royalty since then have carried myrtle in their bouquets.
And for the curious: Yes, Kate Middleton’s bouquet contained myrtle, too.
5. The Bride Wore Welsh Gold
On her finger, that is: Since 1923, the wedding bands worn by royal brides have all been made of Welsh gold.
I know, I know: Welsh gold? That’s a thing? Until about… oh, 30 seconds ago, I had no idea that Wales even had gold deposits. But according to Scientific American, when tectonic plates collided along a boundary in what we now call the Atlantic Ocean some 400 million years ago, fluids were released from the rocks which flowed, cooled, and precipitated minerals like quartz and gold. Some of that gold — not a lot, but some — ended up in Wales. Since Welsh gold is so rare and hard to remove, though, it’s not often sold — and when it does sell, it’s really, really expensive.
In 1923, the Queen Mother married George VI (who was known as Albert prior to his ascension, or “Bertie” to friends and family) with a ring made of a gift of Clogau gold — that is, Welsh gold from the Clogau mine in North Wales. When Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1947, she, too, had a ring fashioned from Clogau gold; so, for that matter, did Princess Margaret, Princess Anne (the Princess Royal), Diana, and Kate Middleton. Odds are that Meghan Markle will, too.
Harry, however, probably won’t, because…
6. No Wedding Bands For The Men
It’s the custom among aristocratic men not to wear wedding rings. Indeed, men wearing wedding rings in general is actually quite a recent development; according to Brides.com, it only really kicked up during the Second World War: Married men serving in the military began wearing them as a memento of their families while they were fighting overseas. The royal family, however, has never really quite gotten on board with the trend; neither Philip and William, for example, wear wedding rings. Charles is the exception — he began wearing one after he married Diana, and actually kept wearing it on his little finger until 2005. He removed it then. That’s when he married Camilla — and now he wears a ring symbolizing his marriage to her.
7. How Do You Feel About Fruitcake?
I hope you like it, because that’s usually the cake of choice for British royal weddings. It has to do with the long, long history of wedding cakes, but it’s withstood the test of time; Charles and Diana had a fruitcake at their wedding, as did William and Kate.
Tiered cakes are also often present at royal weddings (just as they tend to be at the weddings of commoners); indeed, like the whole myrtle-in-your-bouquet thing, Queen Victoria is also responsible for starting this trend. Non-royals adapted the tradition to include keeping the top tier to be eaten at the christening for the couple’s first child — and even though that part of the deal was begun as a money-saving trick, it’s all come full circle: William and Kate saved the top tier of their wedding fruitcake and ate it at George’s christening.
Mmmm. Nothing like two-year-old cake to celebrate a new life coming into the world.
8. The Post-Ceremony Balcony Kiss
This tradition is actually quite recent: It was started by Charles and Diana when they tied the knot in 1981. A photograph taken of their “balcony kiss” became one of the most iconic moments from their wedding — and a few other royal couples have kept up with it since: When Charles’ brother Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, they also kissed for the crowd, as did William and Kate after their 2011 ceremony. The jury’s still out on whether Harry and Meghan will follow suit. (For what it’s worth, my money is on “yes,” but that’s just me.)
9. Break Out Your Favorite Hat
Here’s one for the guests: Women attending British royal weddings as guests traditionally wear hats throughout the ceremony — fascinators, to be exact. No one is quite sure where this tradition came from, but as PopSugar observes, it’s likely less a royal wedding thing and more an Anglican Church thing (all British royal weddings take place within the Church of England). But although it’s (ostensibly) meant to be a sign of respect, the sea of hats at royal weddings always ends up being a delightful parade of absurd head sculptures, and, well… my sense is that most people wouldn’t have it any other way. (Princess Beatrice 2011: NEVER FORGET.)
Markle and Harry are scheduled to say their "I dos" in just a few months — and honestly, I'll be super interested to see how they do and don't go about it. Anyone know if the ceremony will be streaming anywhere yet?