Royal weddings are exciting affairs. Who wasn’t excited for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s May 2018 wedding? It’s a lonely person who doesn’t love seeing two people who are totally in love exchange their vows in an extravagant ceremony. Plus, the bride’s wedding gown is always a topic of discussion — and a major influencer for weddings ’round the world. But the grand events aren’t just thrilling for us commoners to witness. They’re also a major deal to the royal family, who’ve been marrying in style since pretty much forever.
Let’s sit back, relax, and revisit the very best royal weddings from the past — from Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s tradition-making nuptials to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s elegant ceremony. Here are the top royal weddings to know. But be warned: While some of them are whimsically romantic, others are soaked in scandal. Regardless, all of these weddings are mind-blowing in their own ways.
A love worth abdicating for: Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
The wedding of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson wasn’t just any ordinary royal wedding — if royal weddings can be ordinary, that is. When Edward became king in 1936, it was a fairly open secret that he was dating American socialite and divorcee Wallis Simpson, Time reported.
Being king meant Edward would not be able to marry Simpson, but instead of calling off their relationship he made the utterly shocking decision to abdicate the throne. Who doesn’t love a grand romantic gesture? Well, as it turns out, the royal family. It was a terrible scandal and a black mark on the royal family’s name for many years.
Regardless, on June 3, 1937 the couple married in a small ceremony in France. Although no public pictures of the ceremony exist, a reporter for Time witnessed the vows. According to his account, when the vicar asked the dethroned groom, ”Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her?" Edward let out a shrill wail, "I will!" Then, when he placed the ring on his bride’s finger, his hands visibly trembled. Ah, to have been a fly on the wall that day.
A Fergalicious wedding: Prince Andrew and Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson
Unlike Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s relationship, Prince Andrew and Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson had a very stable relationship — at the start. Scandals rocked their marriage and, eventually, the couple parted ways. Before it all went south, though, Andrew and Fergie had the royal wedding many will only be able to dream of. On July 23, 1986, the couple married in Westminster Abbey, as Prince William and Kate Middleton would go on to do some two decades later.
In her memoir, Finding Sarah: A Duchess’s Journey to Find Herself, Ferguson described her duchesse satin wedding dress as "the creamiest material in the world." Ferguson stammered through her traditional wedding vows and recalled what it was like to hear the tens of thousands of well-wishers when stepping onto the balcony for the traditional wave and first kiss.
Ferguson wrote, "I was so deeply attached, so profoundly in love. I didn’t realize that in getting my prince I would have to give up so much, not least the man himself." Truly, this royal wedding was bittersweet.
A not so formal affair: Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones
Although Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones said "I do" in the very same venue of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, St. George’s Chapel, the wedding was a fairly private affair. According to BBC, the ceremony was mainly for friends and family of the couple, at their request, and therefore didn’t stick to the usual royal wedding tradition.
Be that as it may, their wedding was still televised for members of the public. Hello! magazine reported a whopping 200 million viewers were glued to their seats, watching this otherwise private ceremony on June 19, 1999. Rhys-Jones, now the Countess of Wessex, looked stunning with her simple long-sleeve wedding gown and one the Queen’s grand tiaras. Upon leaving the chapel, the couple didn’t engage in the royal smooch and instead waved to fans and well-wishers.
If you were trying to picture how Harry and Meghan’s big day would before they tied the knot, this royal wedding likely gave you some important clues.
The calm before the storm: Prince Charles and Princess Diana
You can’t even mention royal weddings without first thinking of Princes Charles and Princess Diana’s nuptials. Although their marriage was marred by controversy, scandal, and ultimately an unthinkable tragedy — Diana’s death — their wedding day, July 29, 1981, was a royal affair to remember. From the princess’ epic dress to the start of a new tradition, the balcony kiss, Charles and Diana’s wedding was very different than the ones that came before it.
Like many wedding, theirs was full of small mishaps, not unlike their marriage — many of which we are just learning about decades later. Barbara Daly, Diana’s wedding day makeup artist, told People in 2017 one such wedding day tale.
While the princess was attempting to apply her favorite perfume, Quelques Fleurs, to her wrists she accidentally spilled some on her wedding gown. Unfortunately, the fragrance stained her dress — but, at least she smelled great, right? Daly thought fast and told the princess to simply hold the stained portion of the dress, as a way to cover the spot, while walking down the aisle. Diana did just that and the world was none the wiser. Phew!
The first televised royal wedding: Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones
When Princess Margaret, the Queen’s only sister, married Antony Armstrong-Jones, a British fashion photographer, on May 6, 1960, two million people were in virtual attendance. For the very first time in history, the royal wedding was aired on television. Like both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, Antony Armstrong-Jones was considered a "commoner." According to Town & Country, many royal courtiers disapproved of the relationship for this very reason.
Regardless, the controversy melted away — at least for the big day — and the couple enjoyed a beautiful royal ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Margaret looked beautiful with her fairly simple princess-style — no pun intended — gown and dramatic Poltimore tiara. After the couple said their vows, they took to the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Being as the balcony kiss had not yet become a tradition, Margaret and Armstrong-Jones simply gave well-wishers a wave. Afterward the newly married couple, along with their guests, enjoyed a breakfast feast.
A wedding fit for a princess: Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips
The day was November 14, 1973. For just the second time in over two centuries, a member of the royal family married a commoner. According to Hello! magazine, Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, met Captain Mark Phillips, an Olympic equestrian, in 1971. In just a couple years’ time, they fell in love, became engaged, and got married. As was becoming standard for royal weddings, the couple’s ceremony was broadcasted on television and watched by an estimated 500 million people around the world.
Interestingly, Phillips turned down a royal title upon marrying Anne, People explained. Years later, when the couple had their two children, Peter and Zara, they also turned down royal titles on their behalf, making their kids the first grandchildren who aren’t technically royal.
Nevertheless, the couple’s wedding was certainly a royal affair. After marrying in Westminster Abbey, the newlyweds set off on their honeymoon, an 18-day Atlantic and Pacific cruise on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Not bad, not bad at all.
Gatsby would be jealous of this 1920s wedding: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I
When King Edward VIII infamously abdicated the throne to wed Wallis Simpson, his brother, Prince Albert, took over. Once crowned, he became known as King George VI. Prior to becoming the King of England, however, George VI was involved in his own love story — one not at all scandalous — with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Of course, we now refer to her as Queen Elizabeth I or the late Queen Mother.
As a child, Elizabeth I was friends with Prince Albert and his siblings. The childhood sweethearts eventually married on April 26, 1923 in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth I wore a stunning flapper-style wedding gown, complete with an iconic headpiece of the era. Although the royal couple’s wedding took place well before the days of television, silent newsreel footage captured the bride leaving her home in her wedding gown, as well as the royal groom leaving Buckingham Palace. As the footage shows, this royal wedding is hard to top!
Love of a lifetime: Queen Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten
Beauty and the Beast have nothing on this old-as-time tale. On November 20, 1947, Queen Elizabeth II married Philip Mountbatten in Westminster Abbey, before many guests and an audience of around radio listeners.
According to BBC, Elizabeth and Philip are actually distant cousins — very distant, we hope — and met all the way back in the early 1930s. By 1939, the two started exchanging letters (love letters, presumably) and, by 1946, they were secretly engaged. When Elizabeth turned 21, a formal announcement was made and, just seven months later, the kissing cousins said "I do."
The wedding is one that will be remembered for centuries to come. The then-princess looked stunning in her intricate duchesse satin wedding gown, complete with a long, lacy train. People from all over the world sent presents — over 2,500 of them — and 10,000 congratulatory telegrams to the couple. It seems the love for the royal family was as strong back then as it is now.
A prince and a commoner: Prince William and Kate Middleton
Just because you’re eagerly anticipating the next royal wedding doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten all about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s big day back on April 29, 2011. Middleton, who was technically a "commoner" prior to marrying William, is incredibly well-liked by the public. Some have even dubbed her the new "people’s princess," a term affectionally given to William’s late mother, Princess Diana.
Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding was even full of similarities to Prince Charles and Diana’s. From the engagement ring to the dress to even the first public kiss, so much of this royal wedding was an ode to Middleton’s mother-in-law, who she would sadly never get the chance to meet.
Even if you were to disregard the touching symbolism, William and Kate’s wedding would still be considered phenomenal. Nearly a million people took to the streets of London in attempt to get a glimpse at the bride and groom, BBC reported, and an estimated hundreds of millions more watched the arguably best royal wedding on their televisions.
A wedding to remember: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s spring wedding may be the freshest in our minds, but that’s not why we think it was one of the very best royal weddings in history. From the key components like Meghan’s timeless bridal look to the little moments the couple shared during their much anticipated big day, this wedding was everything viewers could’ve hoped for and more.
If you were able to watch the live broadcast of the nuptials, you witnessed Harry’s reaction to seeing his bride for the first time in her Givenchy gown. If you have the talent of being able to read lips, you may have even noticed the prince telling Markle, "You look amazing." Harry stole our hearts once again when it was revealed that he handpicked flowers for her bouquet, adding Forget-Me-Knots to honor his late mother, Princess Diana, as the flower was her favorite. The other floral arrangements displayed at St. George’s Castle were just as stunning. Even the music during the ceremony was on point. Through and through, this royal wedding was one for the ages.