British Royal Weddings Throughout History

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A royal wedding scrapbook, from Kate and William to Charles and Di, Elizabeth and Philip and further back in history Newsweek

The British Royal Family have an oddly eternal quality. So naturally do they perform their role in modern Britain—in this venerable age of democracy, when kings and queens should be obsolete—that it is hard to imagine a time before they existed. The Royal Family no longer wield political power, but they seem to thrive in their new functionless function, as if ‘twas ever thus.

The monarchy and its castles and palaces now stand in Britain like beloved antiques which not only seem to predate everything else in the nation but which also, one imagines, will outlast everything else too.

The Royal Family certainly predates photography. The first photograph of a royal wedding was in 1863, when Princess Alexandra and Prince Edward married. In the photograph, the bride and groom stand either side of Queen Victoria, who is sitting down and dressed in black to mourn the death of her husband, Prince Albert, who succumbed to typhoid a little over a year earlier.

Over the following decades, the number of such photographs multiplied as the camera became more commonplace. Each offers a glimpse into another world—but then, so does the royal family itself.

What’s often striking about these photographs is how little has changed over the centuries. There are still those stern, formal faces, the floral arrangements adorning the rooms, the bride and groom waving from the balcony, the adulating crowds gathered below.

The Royal Family relishes this continuity. When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, the tiara she wore dated back to 1936, when the Duke of York gifted it to The Duchess of York as they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is only the latest chapter, and however modern a royal couple they may seem, their wedding ceremony will be steeped in tradition centuries old.

Click through the Newsweek gallery to see Royal weddings through the ages, showcasing all that has changed and all that has stayed the same, from the dress and hairstyles to the wedding cakes and crowds.

1863
March 10, 1863: Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) and his bride Princess Alexandra of Denmark pose with Queen Victoria after their marriage. The Queen wears black, mourning the death of her husband, Prince Albert, a little over a year earlier. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1893
July 6, 1893: The Duke of York, later King George V, marries Princess Mary of Teck. 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. (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. W. & D. Downey/Getty Images
1923
April 26, 1923: Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) marries Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later known as the Queen Mother). They are pictured with his parents, King George V and Queen Mary, and her parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1937 wallis
June 3, 1937: Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII, and his wife Wallis Simpson, are seen during their wedding at Chateau de Candé in Monts, France. Edward VIII, eldest son of George V and Mary of Teck, abdicated because of his love for the American-born divorcee. AFP
1947 a couple
November 20, 1947: Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) poses with her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. AFP
1947 b carriage
November 20, 1947: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are cheered by the crowd as they ride in a carriage from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. AFP
1947 b wave
November 20, 1947: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wave to the crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace shortly after their wedding at Westminster Abbey. Keystone/Getty Images
1947 c family
November 20, 1947: Members of the British Royal family and guests pose around Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The group includes the bride's parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, plus Princess Alice of Athlone, Princess Margaret, David Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven, Elizabeth's the bride's grandmother Mary of Teck, and the groom's mother Princess Alice of Battenberg. The page boys are Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent. AFP
1947 cake
Mr. Schur, chief confectioner at McVitie and Price, is pictured putting the final touches to the wedding cake of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The cake had four tiers and was nine feet high. J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
1947 certificate
The marriage register of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, bearing the signatures of Philip and Elizabeth, the King and Queen and members of the Royal Family. Topical Press Agency/Getty Image
1947 dresses
Norman Hartnell's sketches of Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown and going-away dress. Central Press/Getty Images