In Depth

Royal wedding: traditions and rules of etiquette

Look out for a sprig of myrtle in Meghan Markle’s bouquet - and don’t even think about wearing the wrong hat

Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle is just around the corner and, as with everything connected to the royal family, the big day comes with its own rules and traditions, some of them centuries-old.

Everything from menu choices to skirt length will be guided by palace etiquette - and guests won’t want to put a foot wrong.

So if you ever get the chance to attend a royal wedding and want to avoid any faux pas, here is a handy list of dos and don’ts:

Do show off your chapeau

The custom of female guests wearing hats to a wedding has largely fallen out of favour these days, especially among the younger generation, but the tradition remains alive and well within the ultra-formal world of the royal family.

To delve even deeper into the intricacies of formal etiquette, as the wedding takes place after Easter, hats should be of the straw rather than fabric variety.

Expect to see female guests at Harry and Meghan’s nuptials flaunting their finest headgear at the ceremony - but not necessarily at the reception. “Hats aren’t recommended for the evening,” says Marie Claire, “as that’s when the tiaras come out.”

Don’t show off your shoulders

Whether attending in suits, dresses, military uniform or national costume, guests should take care to dress modestly, as befits the Church of England setting and the presence of its head, the Queen.

That means covered shoulders, closed-toe shoes, no bare legs, and hemlines that come no higher than the fingertips, etiquette expert Myka Meier told The Washington Post.

“You won’t see cleavage. You won’t see a lot of skin,” she said, adding: “At least you shouldn’t. It would be seen as disrespectful.”

Do say: ‘Is that Welsh gold?’

The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and Diana, Princess of Wales all had their wedding rings made from a single nugget of gold, given as a gift from Welsh gold mine Clogau St David’s in 1911, according to the official website of the royal family.

However, Meghan Markle would not have been able to join that illustrious company even if she had wanted to - there is just one gram of the original nugget remaining, which is kept under lock and key in the Privy Purse Office.

Harry and Meghan may well choose to follow in William and Kate’s footsteps and have their bands crafted from a 21-carat piece of Welsh gold given to the Queen by the Royal British Legion in 1981.

Don’t say: ‘Where’s the fruitcake?’

While we know little about the details of Harry and Meghan’s big day, we do know that the couple have firmly distanced themselves from at least one tradition: the wedding fruitcake.

Historically, fruitcake rather than sponge would be served at the wedding receptions of royals and commoners alike.

However, this time around the royal couple have plumped for a lemon and elderflower sponge cake with buttercream frosting, made by chef Claire Ptak of London’s Violet bakery.

At past royal weddings, guests have received a slice of cake in the post after the ceremony, HuffPost reports - although that’s much easier with a hardy booze-soaked fruitcake than a creamy sponge, so it remains to be seen if Harry and Meghan will observe that ritual.

Do look out for a sprig of myrtle

On 19 May, royal history nerds will be poring over Markle’s bridal bouquet to see if it will includes myrtle,

Queen Victoria was given a myrtle plant by Prince Albert’s German grandmother, which she brought back to the UK and planted at the couple’s family home, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

Since then, royal brides including the Queen, Princess Diana and Duchess of Cambridge are among the royal brides to have added a sprig from Queen Victoria’s myrtle plant to their bouquets for good luck.

Don’t look out for the perfect selfie

“There will be no photography in Windsor Castle if they follow the precedent of the 2011 wedding [of Prince William and Kate Middleton]”, Lucy Hume of etiquette bible Debrett’s told Town and Country.

In fact, there is a good chance that smartphones will not be allowed inside during the ceremony, so no chance of a cheeky chapel selfie. In any case, Hume adds, even at non-royal weddings, it is considered bad form to post photographs before the bride and groom release the official snaps.

Do expect to see child bridesmaids

Royal bridesmaids generally tend to be drawn from the younger members of the family rather than the bride’s female friends. If Markle follows suit, “it's likely that she will have Princess Charlotte as a bridesmaid, and Prince George as a pageboy”, says Reader's Digest.

One person you are unlikely to see in the bridal party is Markle’s future sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. Why? “It’s unbecoming for a member of the royal family to walk behind a commoner,” etiquette expert William Hanson told Cosmopolitan.

Don’t expect to see oysters

Concerns about the risk of food poisoning means that shellfish is almost never served at any royal function, and royals will avoid consuming crustaceans when attending public engagements.

This prohibition is occasionally relaxed when it comes to cooked shellfish - crab and langoustines were served at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011 - but raw shellfish, such as oysters, are a strict no-no.

Harry and Meghan are unlikely to break from this culinary custom. After all, no-one wants a royal wedding to be remembered for a violent outbreak of gastrointestinal distress. 

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