British Royal Weddings Throughout History

The first photograph of a royal wedding was in 1863, when Princess Alexandra and Prince Edward married.
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British Royal Weddings Throughout 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