A history of royal weddings at Westminster Abbey

    Westminster Abbey and the River Thames. The London Eye in the background. Credit: Visit Britain
    Westminster Abbey and the River Thames. The London Eye in the background. Credit: Visit Britain

    As we honour Queen Elizabeth II’s life we look back at the weddings of the members of the Royal Family who got married at Westminster Abbey.

    The funeral of Her Majesty will take place at Westminster Abbey on September 19 2022. It has been the site for many royal celebrations and funerals.

    Prince William and Kate Middleton, 29 April 2011

    Though Prince William’s brother, Prince Harry, married Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the elder of the two chose to marry at Westminster Abbey. They followed a long line of British royal weddings, however, their wedding would have been seen by more people than any other. Although the Abbey was full to its 2,200 capacity, nearly a billion people worldwide tuned in to watch live coverage or news highlights of the wedding.

    Westminster Abbey
    William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Image: Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.com

    Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, 23 July 1986
    After arriving at the Abbey a couple of minutes late, Sarah made her way up the aisle with a 17-foot long train sweeping behind her. The couple were surrounded by 2,000 guests and around 30,000 flowers that lined the church. The wedding guests included Margaret Thatcher and 17 members of foreign royalty while around 100,000 people gathered to witness the couple’s first public kiss on the palace balcony. 

    Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, 14 November 1973


    Around 500 million people watched the celebrations on TV with many well-wishers sleeping in the Mall the night before to guarantee a good view. The hymns included Glorious things of thee are spoken and Immortal invisible, God only wise. After the wedding meal, the couple retreated to White House Lodge in Richmond Park before flying to Barbados for their honeymoon the following day.

    Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 6 May 1960

    The marriage of the Queen’s sister was the first ever televised royal wedding service and a loudspeaker was used to allow the crowds outside to listen in on the proceedings. A CCTV system was also set up to allow guests to view the ceremony in the Abbey. The gathering crowds slowed down the couple’s car, delaying them after the ceremony en route to the Royal Yacht Britannia, where they planned to depart for their honeymoon in the Caribbean.

    The Queen and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN, 20 November 1947

    The couple received 1,347 weddings gifts totalling just over £2 million. Gifts included diamond jewellery, china, glass, silver, and a set of books from Winston Churchill. Many of the gifts were exhibited at St James’s Palace, with the proceeds going to charity. Rationing was still in place so the wedding menu was modest. Meat and vegetables were sourced from the royal estates and ingredients for the wedding cakes were ordered from overseas.

    King George VI and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, 26 April 1923

    The tradition of using Welsh gold for royal wedding rings started with this wedding in 1923. Gold from the same nugget used for the Queen Mother’s ring has been used for the rings at subsequent royal weddings ever since. A huge wedding cake was made for the couple by Mcvitie and Price. It weighed around 365kg and stood about three metres high, covered with intricate icing and topped off with porcelain figures.


    Read more: Inside Westminster Abbey


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