14 Famous British Royal Weddings and the Fascinating Stories Behind Them
There's really nothing like a royal wedding, is there? The pomp, the pageantry, the boatloads of traditions to adhere to . . . it's all like something out of a fairy tale. We're looking back on the best photos from the British royal weddings — and detailing the stories behind them. Keep reading for the facts from then-Princess Elizabeth's wartime nuptials to Prince Philip, right on up to Harry and Meghan's whirlwind day.
Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Prince Albert wed Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey. The BBC requested to broadcast the ceremony, but they were rejected.
The couple would go on to become King George VI and the Queen Mother, and welcome two daughters: Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson
In 1931, Prince Albert's older brother Edward, who was then the Duke of Windsor, met and fell in love with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Five years later, when Edward became king, he refused to end their relationship and famously abdicated the throne in order to marry her.
Edward and Wallis were married in June 1937 at the Château de Candé in France — members of the royal family were forbidden from attending the ceremony by Edward's brother Albert, who had then taken the throne as King George VI. Edward was given the Duke of Windsor title, making Wallis a duchess.
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip
Then-princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, a Greek prince and her second cousin once removed, on Nov. 20, 1947. He was a somewhat controversial pick because of his arrogance and lack of money, but famously renounced his former titles and converted to Anglicanism from Greek Orthodoxy to marry Elizabeth and win favor with the country.
The couple tied the knot at Westminster Abbey in what marked the first big royal event after WWII. Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids — including her younger sister Margaret — and wore a dress inspired by the Botticelli painting "Primavera."
Their ceremony was broadcast via radio the day of, and a film of the day was shown in movie theaters around the country.
Elizabeth would become queen four years later after the death of her father, King George VI. She and Philip would go on to have four children; Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward, and Princess Anne.
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones
If you watched The Crown, you know that Princess Margaret's love life wasn't quite the fairy tale that her older sister's was. After being forbidden from marrying her first love, Group Captain Peter Townsend, Margaret got permission from the queen to wed photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. They were married at Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960. Antony was given the titles Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley.
Margaret, who was 29 at the time, famously rode from Clarence House to the Abbey with her brother-in-law, Prince Philip. The Duke of Edinburgh walked Margaret down the aisle and gave her away at the altar. She wore a silk organza dress by Norman Hartnell, who also designed the queen's gown 13 years earlier.
Margaret's wedding was the first royal ceremony to be broadcast on TV and attracted 300 international viewers. Her niece, Princess Anne, served as one of her eight bridesmaids. Margaret and Antony would go on to have two children, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (now Chatto) and David Armstrong-Jones, the 2nd Earl of Snowdon. After 18 years, Margaret and Antony's volatile marriage ended in divorce in 1978.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips
The queen's only daughter married Mark Phillips, an Olympic horseman and successful military man, at Westminster Abbey on Nov. 14, 1973.
Anne's younger brother Edward was a member of her wedding party, as was her cousin, Princess Margaret's daughter Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones. Anne and Mark had two children, Peter and Zara Phillips, and divorced in 1992.
Princess Anne and Timothy Laurence
In 1992, within months of divorcing Mark Phillips, Anne married Sir Timothy Laurence, whom she had met in 1986 when he was the queen's equerry. They tied the knot in a Church of Scotland ceremony at Crathie Parish Church near Balmoral, because the Church of England did not permit the remarriages of divorced people. Anne became the first modern royal divorcée to remarry.
The couple's big day wasn't without its share of drama. Prince Charles reportedly cried the night before the wedding because he felt pressured into his marriage and was torn abut his love for then-mistress Camilla Parker Bowles. Camilla, who was rumored to have been continuing her relationship with Charles during his engagement, was front and center at the wedding, causing a "disturbing distraction" for Diana as she stood at the altar. Camilla's then-husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, actually escorted Charles and Diana's horse-drawn carriage back to Buckingham Palace.
Diana's dress, designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, featured 10,000 tiny mother of pearl sequins and pearls, and a 25-foot-long train. The silk-taffeta creation reportedly cost $115,000. During the ceremony, Diana made history as the first royal bride to omit the word "obey" from her vows.
By late 1992 (after collective affairs and embarrassing leaked audio conversations), Charles and Diana's 11-year marriage was a disaster. In an unprecedented move, Queen Elizabeth II officially ordered the couple to divorce, and it was finalized in 1996. Things seemed to be civil between Charles and Diana as they worked together to coparent their boys after the divorce and up until Diana's death in August 1997.
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles
Prince Charles wed his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, on April 9, 2005. Charles became the first member of the royal family to marry in a civil ceremony rather than a religious wedding; it took place at Windsor Castle and was followed by a religious blessing at St. George's Chapel.
Charles and Camilla were blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Service of Prayer and Dedication at Windsor Castle. The queen and Prince Philip chose not to attend the civil marriage; it was reported that because the queen "does take her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England very seriously," she felt it would "be inappropriate to attend that particular part of the wedding." Charles's parents did attend the religious blessing and host a reception after.
The couple was joined on their big day by their children from previous marriages; Princes William and Harry from Charles's relationship with Princess Diana, and Laura and Tom Parker Bowles, Camilla's daughter and son from her marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
Prince Andrew, the queen's second son, wed Sarah Ferguson, who he had known since childhood. They were married at Westminster Abbey on July 23, 1986, almost five years to the day of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding. At the time of his marriage, Andrew was fourth in line for the throne, and Sarah earned the title Duchess of York.
Andrew and Sarah would go on to welcome two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York. Their marriage was turbulent, and they decided to separate in January 1992 (several months later, Charles and Diana would do the same). It wasn't until May 1996 that they announced their plans to divorce. Despite their somewhat messy split, Andrew and Sarah still remain good friends, and Eugenie has called them "the best divorced couple I know."
Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones
On June 19, 1999, Prince Edward married PR professional Sophie Rhys-Jones at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, England.
Compared to those of his siblings, Edward's ceremony was decidedly low-key. On his wedding day, he was given the titles of Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn.
Edward and Sophie welcomed their daughter Lady Louise Windsor in 2003 and son James, Viscount Severn, four years later. Prince Edward is the only child of the queen without a divorce.
Prince William and Kate Middleton
Prince William married his girlfriend of 10 years, Kate Middleton, at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. As second in line to the throne, William's wedding day was declared a public holiday, like those of his grandmother's and father's. Over two billion people watched the ceremony on a TV or computer.
On the morning of their wedding, William was decreed Duke of Cambridge, and Kate became the Duchess of Cambridge. They also followed in Princess Diana's footsteps by omitting "obey" from their wedding vows. William has said in interviews that he "very much felt" his mother's presence during his big day.
Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall
Princess Anne's daughter, Zara Phillips, married rugby player Mike Tindall on July 30, 2011, at the Canongate Kirk church in Edinburgh, Scotland. As required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772 (which has since been repealed) Zara's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, gave her consent to their marriage a few months before their wedding day.
Kate Middleton and Prince William, who were married just a few months earlier, were present for the ceremony, as was Prince Harry.
In January 2014, Zara gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Mia. Two years later, the palace announced that Zara and Mike were expecting their second child, but Zara suffered a miscarriage in December 2016. In January 2018, it was confirmed that Zara was pregnant again with baby number two.
Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly
Peter Phillips, the queen's first grandchild, married Autumn Kelly, a Canadian and former management consultant, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle on May 17, 2008.
Although he holds no title, Peter is currently 13th in line for the throne. In fact, Autumn converted from Roman Catholicism to the Church of England so that Peter wouldn't lose his place in the line of succession.
Under the Act of Settlement of 1701, no one in the direct line of succession could marry a Catholic and keep their right to the throne. This is because the monarch also serves as Head of the Protestant Anglican Church of England, which was established back in the 16th century by Henry VIII. In 2015, amendments were made that now allow royal family members to marry a Roman Catholic and become king or queen — however, a Roman Catholic royal still cannot become the monarch.
In December 2010, Peter and Autumn's first child, Savannah, was born. She is the queen's first great-grandchild. Two years later, they welcomed their second daughter, Isla.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Charles and Princess Diana's younger son, Harry, married former Suits actress Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018 at Windsor Castle in the UK. Just before their wedding, Queen Elizabeth II officially named Harry and Meghan as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The couple tied the knot in front of the royal family and Princess Diana's siblings, as well as stars like David and Victoria Beckham, Oprah Winfrey, Priyanka Chopra, Serena Williams, Tom Hardy, and George and Amal Clooney, as well as Meghan's former Suits costars.
Meghan and Harry's nuptials were televised, and watched by over 29 million people in the US and 18 million in the UK. There were a number of adorable viral moments, including Harry telling Meghan she looked "amazing" at the altar, and Meghan's historic solo walk down the aisle.
After their ceremony, Meghan and Harry had their first kiss outside of St. George's Chapel before embarking on a traditional carriage procession through the streets of Windsor.