British Royal Weddings from Victoria to Meghan Markle

Charles and Diana at St Paul's Cathedral, London
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When any prominent member of the British royal family gets married, the public and press will compare it to past weddings. Queen Victoria began the fashion of marrying in a white dress and the balcony appearance by the bride, groom, and family became an expectation for those married in London. Will future weddings look like those in the past? How will they differ?

A Century of Queens' Weddings

Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II Wedding gowns

 Getty Images / Sion Touhig

In this photograph from the 2002 exhibition in London, "A Century of Queens' Wedding Dresses," Queen Victoria's gown is shown in the foreground, and the gown of Queen Elizabeth II is shown in the background in reflection.

Victoria and Albert

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their wedding day, February 10, 1840.

Library of Congress

When Queen Victoria married her cousin Albert on February 11, 1840 at the royal chapel of St. James, she wore a white satin dress, a custom that has been imitated since by many brides, royal and not royal.

Victoria and Albert Again

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert re-enact their wedding
Getty Images / Roger Fenton / Hulton Archive

There seems little doubt that Queen Victoria loved her husband, Albert. Fourteen years after they married, the two reenacted their wedding so that photographers—not around the first time—could capture the moment.

Details About Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress

Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress
Getty Images / Oli Scarff

Queen Victoria married her cousin, Albert, in 1840 in this wedding gown, which is here shown in a 2012 exhibition as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrating 60 years since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The gown, made of silk trimmed with lace, was designed by Mrs. Bettans, one of Victoria's dressmakers.

Victoria, Princess Royal, Marries the Future Emperor Frederick III

Royal Wedding - Victoria, Princess Royal, and Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Queen Victoria's daughter, also named Victoria, met her future husband in 1851. They were engaged when he was second in line for inheriting the Prussian throne.

Their engagement was made public in May of 1857, and the couple was married on May 19, 1857. The Princess Royal was seventeen at that time. In 1861, Frederick's father became William I of Prussia, and she became Crown Princess of Prussia and her husband the Crown Prince. It was not until 1888 that William I died and Frederick became the German Emperor, at which time Victoria became The German Empress Queen of Prussia, a position she held for only 99 days before her husband died. Victoria and her husband Frederick were notably liberal in comparison to both his father and their son, William II.

Princess Alice Marries Ludwig (Louis) IV, Grand Duke of Hesse

Reception after wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter, Alice, to Prince Louis of Hesse Darmstadt.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren intermarried with many of the royal families of Europe. The reception following Alice's 1862 wedding, depicted here, was attended by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and the Prince of Wales (Edward VII).

The couple had seven children. Their daughter Alexandra became the most famous of their offspring as Tsarina of Russia, killed with her family during the Russian Revolution.

Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is also descended from Alice and her husband, Ludwig.

Alexandra of Denmark Marries Albert Edward, Prince of Wales

1863 wedding of Princess Alexandra of Wales to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark was the choice to marry the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, Queen Victoria's second child and eldest son.

From a relatively-obscure branch of the Danish royal family, Alexandra's father was promoted to the heir to the throne of Denmark in 1852, when Alexandra was eight. She first met Albert Edward in 1861, introduced by his sister Victoria, then Crown Princess of Prussia.

Alexandra and the Prince of Wales were married at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle on March 10, 1863.

Alexandra's Wedding Dress

Princess Alexandra of Denmark in her wedding dress
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The small venue of St. George's Chapel in Windsor was chosen in part because of the recent death of Prince Albert, influencing the fashion choices of those attending the wedding: mostly muted tones.

Alexandra and Albert Edward had six children. Albert Edward became King-Emperor of Great Britain in 1901 on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, and he ruled until his death in 1910. From then until her death in 1925, Alexandra had the official title of Queen Mother, though was usually called Queen Alexandra.

Alexandra and Edward with Queen Victoria

Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra of Denmark pose with Queen Victoria after their wedding.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, died in December of 1861, shortly after their son Albert Edward met his future bride, Alexandra of Denmark.

Albert Edward did not propose to Alexandra until September of 1862, after he'd ended his relationship with his mistress Nellie Clifden. It would be 1901 before Albert Edward would succeed his mother and rule for a few years—sometimes called the "Edwardian era"—as Edward VII.

Princess Helena and Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein

Wedding of Queen Victoria's daughter Helena.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Helena's marriage to Prince Christian was controversial because his family's claim on Schleswig and Holstein was a matter of contention between Denmark (where Alexandra, Princess of Wales, was from) and Germany (where Victoria, Princess Royal, was Crown Princess).

The two were engaged on December 5, 1865, and married July 5, 1866. The Prince of Wales, who had threatened not to attend because of his wife's Danish connections, was present to accompany Helena and Queen Victoria up the aisle. The ceremony took place in the private chapel at Windsor Castle.

Like her sister Beatrice and her husband, Helena, and her husband remained close to Queen Victoria. Helena, like Beatrice, served as a secretary to her mother.

Helena served as President of the British Nurses Association, in support of nursing. She and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary shortly before Christian's death.

Prince Arthur Marries Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia

Queen Victoria's third son, Arthur William, marries Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, 1879
Getty Images / Illustrated London News / Hulton Archive

Prince Arthur of Connaught and Strathearn, Queen Victoria's third son, married Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, a grand-niece of Prussian Emperor Wilhelm I, on March 13, 1879, at St. George's Chapel at Windsor.

The couple had three children; the eldest married Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Arthur served as Governor-General of Canada from 1911 to 1916 and Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught and Strathearn, was styled Viceregal Consul of Canada for that period.

The father of Princess Louise Margaret (Luise Margarete before she married) was a double cousin of Prussian Emperor Frederick III, who was married to Arthur's sister Victoria, Princess Royal.

Louise, Duchess of Connaught, was the first member of the British Royal Family to be cremated.

Beatrice's Engagement With Prince Henry of Battenberg

Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, married Prince Henry of Battenberg, 1885.
Getty Images / Topical Press Agency / Hulton Archive

For many years, it looked like Princess Beatrice, born shortly before her father Prince Albert died, would have as her responsibility staying single and being a companion and private secretary to her mother.

Beatrice met and fell in love with Prince Henry of Battenberg. After Queen Victoria initially responded by not speaking to her daughter for seven months, Beatrice persuaded her mother to permit her to marry, and the young couple agreed that they would live with Victoria and Beatrice would continue to assist her mother.

Beatrice Marries Henry of Battenberg

Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, in her wedding dress, 1885.

Library of Congress

Beatrice wore her mother's wedding veil at her wedding on July 23, 1885, to Prince Henry of Battenberg, who gave up his German commitments to marry Beatrice.

The two had a short honeymoon because Queen Victoria was unhappy with even such a short separation from Beatrice.

The Marriage of Beatrice and Henry of Battenberg

Royal Wedding - Princess Beatrice - Battenbergs
Getty Images / W. and D. Downey

Beatrice and Henry stayed with Victoria, traveling only rarely and for short periods without her, during their marriage. The two had four children before Prince Henry died in the Anglo-Asante war, of malaria. A great-grandson of Beatrice is Juan Carlos, King of Spain.

After her mother's death in 1901, Beatrice published her mother's journals and served as her literary executor.

Mary of Teck's Engagement to George V

King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Mary of Teck was raised in the United Kingdom; her mother was a member of the British royal family and her father a German Duke.

Mary of Teck was originally engaged to be married to Albert Victor, the eldest son of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Alexandra, Princess of Wales. But he died six weeks after their engagement was announced. A year later she became engaged to Albert Victor's brother, the new heir.

Mary of Teck and George V

Buckingham Palace wedding of King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.
Getty Images / W. & D. Downey / Hulton Archive

George and Mary were married in 1893. George's grandmother Queen Victoria ruled until her death in 1901, then George's father ruled as King-Emperor until his death in 1910, when George became George V of the United Kingdom and Mary became known as Queen Mary.

From left to right (back): Princess Alexandra of Edinburgh, Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, Princess Victoria of Edinburgh, the Duke of York, Princess Victoria of Wales, and Princess Maud of Wales. From left to right (front): Princess Alice of Battenberg, Princess Beatrice of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret of Connaught, the Duchess of York, Princess Victoria of Battenberg, Princess Victoria Patricia of Connaught.

Mary of Teck's Wedding Dress

Mary of Teck Wedding Gown 1893
Getty Images / Sion Touhig

Mary of Teck married George V in 1893 in this wedding gown, shown in a 2002 exhibition as part of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee celebrations. In the background: mannequins wearing the gowns of Queen Elizabeth II and her mother, also Queen Elizabeth. The satin gown with ivory and silver brocade was designed by Linton and Curtis.

Princess Royal Mary Marries Viscount Lascelle, Earl of Harewood

1922 - Princess Royal Victoria
Getty Images / W. & D. Downey / Hulton Archive

The Princess Royal Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, known as Mary, married Henry Charles George, Viscount Lascelles, on February 28, 1922. Her friend, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was one of the bridesmaids.

The third child and eldest daughter of the future George V and Mary of Teck, Mary's title "Princess Royal" was given to her in 1932 by her father after he'd become King.

The couple had two sons. Rumors were that Mary was forced into the marriage but her son reported that their marriage was happy.

Mary played a part as controller commandant during World War II of what became the Women's Royal Army Corps after the war. She was named an honorary general in the British Army.

Mary's life spanned the reigns of six British rulers, from her great-grandmother Queen Victoria through her niece Queen Elizabeth II.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon Marries Albert, Duke of York

Royal Wedding George VI Queen Elizabeth
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married Albert, the younger brother of the Prince of Wales, on April 26, 1923, she did not expect that she would end up a Queen.

In this photograph: King George V of Great Britain (right) and Queen Mary. Center are the future King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. On the left are the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, Elizabeth's parents.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on Her Wedding Day

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Getty Images / Topical News Agency / Hulton Archive

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon initially turned down "Bertie's" proposal in 1921 because she did not want the limitations on her life that being a member of the royal family would bring.

But the prince was stubborn and said that he would not marry anyone else. Lady Elizabeth was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Albert's sister, Princess Mary, in 1922. He proposed to her again, but she did not accept until January 1923.

Lady Elizabeth with Prince Albert

George VI, on his wedding day with Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon.
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was technically a commoner, and her marriage to the younger brother of the Prince of Wales was considered something unusual for that reason.

Elizabeth helped her husband to overcome his stammer (as portrayed in the film "The King's Speech," 2010). Their two children, Elizabeth and Margaret, were born in 1926 and 1930.

Elizabeth and the Duke of York's Wedding

Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, 1923.
Getty Images / Elliott & Fry / Keystone / Hulton Archive

As had been custom for several previous royal weddings, Elizabeth and Prince Albert were photographed with their bridesmaids.

Left to right: Lady Mary Cambridge, The Hon. Diamond Hardinge, Lady Mary Thynne, The Hon. Elizabeth Elphinstone, Lady May Cambridge, Lady Katherine Hamilton, Miss Betty Cator and The Hon. Cecilia Bowes-Lyon.

Queen Elizabeth's Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress - Queen Mum
Getty Images / Sion Touhig

Known as the Queen Mum, Queen Elizabeth was married to the future King George VI in 1932. The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon wore this dress made by Madame Handley Seymour, a court dressmaker. The gown was made from ivory chiffon with pearl bead embroidery.

The Wedding Cake of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert

Wedding cake for the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Library of Congress

The Duke and Duchess of York's wedding cake was a traditional multi-tiered white frosted cake.

Engaged: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The heir apparent to the British throne, Elizabeth, born in 1926, first met her future husband in 1934 and 1937. Her mother initially opposed the marriage.

Philip's ties, through his sister's marriages, to Nazis, were especially troubling. They were both third and second cousins, related through Christian IX of Denmark and Queen Victoria of Great Britain.

Elizabeth's Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress Queen Elizabeth II
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Norman Hartnell depicts Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress in this sketch. At the time of the wedding, the British recovery from World War II was still going on, and Elizabeth needed ration coupons for the fabric for the dress.

Elizabeth Marries Prince Philip Mountbatten

Royal Wedding 1947 - Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. They had been secretly engaged in 1946 before he asked her father for her hand in marriage, and the king asked that her engagement not be announced until after she turned twenty-one.

Philip was a prince of Greece and Denmark, and gave up his titles to marry Elizabeth. He also changed religion, from Greek Orthodoxy, and changed his name to the British version of his mother's name, Battenberg.

Elizabeth and Philip on Their Wedding Day

1947 Wedding of Elizabeth and Philip at Westminster Abbey
Getty Images / Bert Hardy / Picture Post / Hulton Archive

Philip and Elizabeth were married in Westminster Abbey. On that morning, Philip had been made Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich by King George VI.

Bridesmaids for the wedding were HRH The Princess Margaret, HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Mary Cambridge (her second cousin), Lady Elizabeth Lambart, The Hon. Pamela Mountbatten (Philip's cousin), The Hon. Margaret Elphinstone, and The Hon. Diana Bowes-Lyon. Pages were Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent.

Elizabeth and Philip at Their Wedding

Queen Elizabeth II marries Prince Philip, 1947
Getty Images / Bert Hardy / Picture Post / Hulton Archive

Elizabeth's train was held by her pages (and cousins), Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent.

Her dress was designed by Norman Hartnell.

Portrait of Elizabeth and Philip on Their Wedding Day

Royal Wedding Elizabeth and Philip
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The Princess Elizabeth and her chosen bridegroom, Prince Philip, are shown on their wedding day in 1947.

BBC radio broadcast their wedding ceremony. It is estimated that 200 million people heard the broadcast.

Elizabeth and Philip With Wedding Party

Royal Wedding Princess Elizabeth 1947
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, pose with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family at Buckingham Palace, after their wedding on November 20th, 1947.

The two pages are Elizabeth's cousins, Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent, and the eight bridesmaids are Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra of Kent, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Mary Cambridge, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, Pamela Mountbatten, Margaret Elphinstone, and Diana Bowes-Lyon. Queen Mary and Princess Andrew of Greece are at left front.

Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and Family
Getty Images / Fox Photos / Hulton Archive

In the grand tradition of families, royal and otherwise, the newly married couple are pictured with their family members.

Among those in this picture are the Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, her parents King George VI and Elizabeth, her grandmother Queen Mary, and her sister Margaret.

Elizabeth and Philip After Their Wedding

Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
Getty Images / Fox Photos / Hulton Archive

The newly married Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham palace to greet the many members of the public who had gathered.

Surrounding Elizabeth and Philip are her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and to the right is the Queen Mother, mother of King George, Queen Mary (Mary of Teck).

The tradition of balcony appearances after royal weddings began with Queen Victoria. After Elizabeth, the tradition continued for those married in London, with the addition of a wedding kiss, with the balcony appearance of Charles and Diana and William and Catherine on the balcony.

Elizabeth's Dress at 2002 Exhibition

Queen Elizabeth II Wedding Dress
Getty Images / Sion Touhio

The wedding dress of Queen Elizabeth II is here shown on a mannequin. The display was part of a larger exhibition held in 2002 called "A Century of Queens' Wedding Dresses 1840–1947" and included dresses from ancestors of Elizabeth: Victoria, Mary, Elizabeth the Queen Mum.

The satin dress was designed by Norman Hartness, and was worn with a silk veil and diamond tiara.

Diana and Charles on Their Wedding Day

Charles and Diana leave St Paul's Cathedral.
Getty Images / Jayne Fincher / Princess Diana Archive

Queen Elizabeth II's son Charles, Prince of Wales was officially engaged to Lady Diana Spencer on February 24, 1981. They were married on July 29, 1981, in a ceremony that was seen by over 750 million people on television and still images.

Prince William Marries Catherine Middleton

Prince William Marries Catherine Middleton 2011
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Prince William of Wales, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and son of Charles, Prince of Wales, married Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011.

Prince William was second in line for the British throne at the time of his wedding. Catherine Middleton, a commoner, became Her Royal Highness, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and presumably a future British Queen.

Catherine and William in Westminster Abbey

Catherine and William in Westminster Abbey - April 29 2011
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The wedding ceremony was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was viewed by hundreds of millions around the world.

Catherine and William at Their Wedding

Catherine and William and the Royal Family - 2011
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Britain's Prince William sat with his new bride, Catherine, during their wedding ceremony. Below in the front row are key members of the royal family: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Harry.

Royal weddings are ruled by protocol. The reigning Queen has a seat showing her primacy among the royals. The ceremony was attended by 1900 guests in Westminster Abbey.

Catherine and William at Their Wedding

William and Catherine at their wedding
Getty Images

After being declared married, Catherine and William join the congregation in singing. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip, are just visible at the bottom of the photograph.

Catherine's dress was designed by Sarah Burton, a designer working for the British label Alexander McQueen. Catherine also wore a diamond tiara, loaned to her by Queen Elizabeth II, and a full veil. The silk dress, ivory and white, included a train of 2.7 meters. Her bouquet included myrtle grown from a plant that was originally planted from a twig from Queen Victoria's bouquet. The bouquet also included hyacinth and lily-of-the-valley and, in honor of her new husband, sweet William flowers.

Prince Harry Marries Meghan Markle

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

 AdrianHancu/Getty Images

Prince Harry, the son of Charles, Prince of Wales, and American actress Meghan Markle were engaged to be married on November 27, 2017. Their marriage ceremony was held on May 19, 2018, in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. The ceremony was broadcast to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "British Royal Weddings from Victoria to Meghan Markle." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). British Royal Weddings from Victoria to Meghan Markle. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "British Royal Weddings from Victoria to Meghan Markle." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).