In 1893, a gossip columnist for the now-defunct British newspaper Sketch described his experiences on the wedding day of future King George V and Princess May of Teck. “I mixed on wedding-day with the unwashed in St. James’s Park. Heavens! How unsavoury is not humanity,” the columnist wrote. “Extreme merriment was caused when a seedy man, under the influence of ginger beer and the sun probably, sat down in the middle of the cleared roadway, and declined to move until four policemen united their persuasions.”
An estimated crowd of 800,000 unwashed and unsavory commoners will celebrate Prince William and Kate Middleton in London on April 29. That’s more than the crowd of 600,000 who gathered to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer tie the knot in 1981. But royal weddings weren’t always a cause for celebration among the regular folk. In fact, until Princess Patricia married Alexander Ramsay in 1919, they were usually commemorated in the privacy of a palace or royal chapel.
Fresh from World War I, King George V thought a more public royal wedding might boost the nation’s morale. Patricia was married in Westminster Abbey, which is still the traditional venue for royal weddings. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert married there in 1923, and Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten exchanged vows inside the cavernous walls in 1947.
It’s the locale of choice for Kate Middleton and Prince William, too. How else might they follow the traditions of royal nuptials from years past? Click on a slideshow of some of the most vibrant laws and customs that have guided members of the monarchy on their special day over the years.
Click here to launch a slideshow on royal weddings through the ages.