British Royal Wedding Traditions to Inspire Your Own Nuptials

From wedding gowns and dinner menus to royal protocol before the "I dos," we've gathered the details of English royal wedding traditions.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Chris Jackson / Getty Images
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Jacqueline Mann
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Jacqueline Mann
The Knot Contributor
  • Jacqueline writes articles for The Knot Worldwide that cover an array of wedding-related topics.
  • She previously worked as a marketing manager for a wedding venue where she learned the intricate details of wedding planning.
  • Jacqueline graduated from Bluefield University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and communications.
Updated Apr 24, 2023

It's easy to hold an obsession for the British royal family, especially when they're getting married. From grand ceremony entrances and cheering crowds, to jaw-dropping gowns and glimmering tiaras, honestly, what's not to love? When it comes to British royal wedding traditions, we've broken down the details including attire, bouquets, ceremony locations and decadent cakes you'll find at a wedding fit for a king and queen. There are also a few ways you can include these English royal wedding traditions in your own wedding to feel like royalty. We've gathered expert knowledge to bring you everything you need to know about English royal wedding traditions and rules.

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A Brief History of British Royal Wedding Traditions

While some British royal wedding traditions were created for the successful continuation of the monarchy, many stemmed from queens and kings who decided to do things a little differently. "There are a lot of interesting UK wedding traditions, but the British royal family definitely goes a step further with theirs," said Zoe Burke, editor of Hitched, when asked about royal wedding traditions in England. "Some traditions, such as the sprig of myrtle in the bridal bouquet, date back to Queen Victoria's reign, after it was given to her in a bouquet by her husband's grandmother back in 1845."

Queen Victoria was quite the trendsetter and many of the choices she made for her wedding are still followed today. One of the several reasons why British royal weddings are so fascinating is that couples often add their own touch of personalization while still upholding time-honored traditions. Every royal family wedding is just a little bit different and we're here for it.

Princess Elizabeth, and The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

British Royal Wedding Attire Traditions

Elaborate white wedding gowns and dazzling tiaras aren't just stunning to behold but are also steeped in royal wedding tradition. Several customs began in the 19th century when Queen Victoria changed the course of bridal attire not only for the royal family but for to-be-weds around the world. Even the royal wedding bands were sourced from the same piece of gold for multiple generations.

Wedding Clothing for the Bride and Groom

Bridal fashion as we know it changed when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840. During a time when most brides were simply wearing their best dress to say "I do" Queen Victoria chose to wear white for her wedding. Since then, white wedding dresses became the norm for members of the royal family and for many brides across the globe.

Queen Victoria also started the floral crown trend. "Despite being a royal bride, she didn't wear a tiara and chose a wreath of orange blossoms (they were significant to her and Albert)," Burke said. "And lots of brides said: 'I saw Queen Victoria wearing a white dress and a floral crown, so I wore a white dress and a floral crown.'"

While white wedding dresses remain popular today, the flower crown isn't as common with royal brides. "Many of them choose to go for a tiara instead and who can blame them," Burke said. As a nod to the orange blossoms worn by Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II's wedding dress featured an applique orange blossom motif and her mother, the Queen Mother, opted to wear an orange blossom wreath.

Queen Victoria was not the only royal trendsetter on the day of her English royal wedding. Prince Albert chose to wear his military uniform at the altar. Royal grooms now wear their military attire adorned with their sashes and medals when they are wed.

Royal Worthy Tiaras

What's not to love about a royal wedding crown or tiara? To add to the already magical day, it's customary for the bride to wear her first tiara on her wedding day. It serves as her something borrowed and is often selected from the royal collection. Meghan Markle chose the Queen Mary bandeau tiara for her wedding and Kate Middleton went with a Cartier halo tiara, both borrowed from Queen Elizabeth II.

Wedding Bands Made from the Same Piece of Gold

A tradition that unites many royals is their wedding bands. "All royal couples have their wedding bands made from a specific type of Welsh gold," Burke said. "The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Diana, Princess of Wales, all had their wedding bands made from the same nugget of gold. Only a tiny sliver of this nugget remains." More recent royal wedding bands were crafted from a new nugget of Welsh gold to continue this tradition.

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Wedding Guest Attire

Guests must follow a strict dress code to attend a royal British wedding. Many of us are familiar with the elaborate hats and fascinators worn by female ceremony guests throughout the past few decades. While they definitely bring an added touch of flair to an outfit, they're also required as a sign of respect when entering the church for the wedding ceremony. Additionally, when it comes to royal wedding attire, conservative day dresses are also required for women attending the nuptials. As for the men attending royal weddings in England, military uniforms, a full morning coat, or a lounge suit (a suit and tie) are acceptable forms of attire.

Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton
Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

British Royal Prewedding Traditions

Many royal prewedding traditions are similar to that of other couples, with a few exceptions. This includes a public interview to announce the engagement and using a historic sprig of myrtle when designing the wedding bouquet. Also, a major royal family prewedding tradition takes place before a single wedding plan is made.

Permission to Marry

Most couples who decide to get married start planning their nuptials right away without first getting permission from a family member. That's not the case for royals wanting to wed. There is a royal marriage rule that stipulates "if you're one of the first six in line to the throne, you must have approval from the monarch to marry," Burke said. "This means Charles, William and Harry all needed the Queen's permission to marry." This also currently includes William's children and Harry's son. Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Prince Archie will need to follow royal family rules for marriage and will need the reigning monarch's permission to marry their future spouse.

Royal Engagement Announcement

After the couple is engaged a formal announcement is made at Kensington Palace. This is followed by the couple's first interview and photo call. Think back to William and Kate and Harry and Meghan's excitement as they shared details of their proposals and showed off their stunning engagement rings.

Sprig of Myrtle in the Bouquet

You might be wondering, "what does a sprig of myrtle look like? And why is it significant?" A sprig of myrtle is a symbol of love and good fortune in marriage. Since the time of Queen Victoria, royal brides carry a sprig of myrtle in their bouquets. "It's cut from a plant at Queen Victoria's former holiday home on the Isle of Wight and the plant is descended from a gift given to the Queen from her husband's grandmother," Burke said.

Sprig of Myrtle in the Bouquet
bonchan / Shutterstock

British Royal Wedding Ceremony Traditions

On the day of a royal ceremony, the excitement builds not only for the couple and their loved ones but the crowds that gather near the streets to celebrate. British royal wedding ceremony traditions include a church ceremony, formal portraits and public appearances along the way.

Ceremony Location

Traditionally the British royals host their ceremony in a church. Starting with Queen Anne's wedding in 1683, many royal couples held their wedding at the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace in Westminster. However, several have chosen alternate locations including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and William and Kate who married at Westminster Abbey. Harry and Meghan tied the knot at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Tomb of the Unknown Solider

Since the 1920s royal brides take a moment to honor fallen soldiers by laying their bridal bouquets on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. This royal family wedding tradition dates back to the Queen Mother's wedding in 1923. "She did it in memory of her own brother who was killed in action and this tradition is still carried out 100 years on," Burke said.

Waving to the Crowds

It's no secret that people arrive in droves to catch a glimpse of the royal to-be-weds as they arrive at their ceremony. In the past, a glass coach served as the mode of transportation for the bride. The last bride to do this was Princess Diana. More recently, both Kate and Meghan arrived at their weddings in a Rolls Royce.

After the ceremony, the couple, their immediate families and wedding party pose for a formal portrait. The couple also makes their official public appearance at Buckingham Palace waving to the crowd and sharing their first kisses as newlyweds.

Princess Dianna
Princess Diana Archive / Getty Images

British Royal Wedding Reception Traditions

Unlike the wedding ceremonies, royal wedding receptions are private gatherings with photos of the event released later. Brides often swap their ceremony gowns for a frock more suited to dance all night. It's also common for the couple to host two receptions.

There are Two Receptions

After the televised reception, there are usually two private receptions held the day of the wedding—the first celebration with a lunch or brunch and an event later in the evening with dinner and dancing. Not surprising is the addition of celebrity guests and performances at both events. Ellie Goulding performed at William and Kate's wedding and Harry and Meghan were serenaded by Sir Elton John.

Outfit Change for a Night of Celebration

Brides usually don a second dress for the reception. Meghan Markle wore a showstopping sleeveless Stella McCartney gown for dinner and dancing with friends and family. Kate Middleton changed into a lovely A-line gown with a sweetheart neckline by Sarah Burton for her reception. Princess Eugenie also went with an outfit change and opted for a fitted, blush, long-sleeve dress by Zac Posen.

Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
WPA Pool / Getty Images

British Royal Wedding Food and Desserts

It's not a royal wedding without a lavish spread of incredible food and desserts. During the reception, it's not uncommon to see towering layers of fruitcake or a delectable variety of fish. But there is one food you absolutely won't find on the menu.

Decadent Meal Options

While there aren't any rules about food that must be served at a royal wedding, the family seems to have a palate for fish. "Kate and William's wedding menu included salmon, crab and langoustines, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie served haddock in pastry (buffet style!), Charles and Diana had brill in lobster sauce, Princess Anne and Mark Philips had lobster and Queen Elizabeth II had filet of sole," Burke said.

Elaborate Cakes

While the traditional royal wedding cake is fruitcake, a few couples have tried more experimental options in the past few years. Charles and Diana served 27 different cakes at their wedding. Along with an eight-tired fruitcake, Kate and William added a groom's cake made of chocolate digestive biscuits, a British classic treat. "Harry and Meghan went for a lemon and elderflower cake, which sparked a real trend for that flavor in the UK and it's still very prevalent now," Burke said.

Foie Gras is Banned

One food you won't see on the menu at a royal wedding is Foie Gras. Made of fattened goose or duck liver, the production of the food was condemned by King Charles and banned from Buckingham Palace.

Prince Harry Marries Ms. Meghan Markle - Windsor Castle Wedding Cake
WPA Pool / Getty Images

British Royal Postwedding Traditions

Although a royal wedding is often a lavish event, British royals also give back to their community. Harry and Meghan donated the profits from the BBC broadcast of their wedding to charity to the tune of $112,000. Another post-wedding tradition is the addition of new titles, which the couple is gifted on their wedding day.

New Titles

While some couples start looking into changing their last names after their wedding, British royals are settling into their new titles, per royal wedding rules and traditions. Burke said royal titles can be a little complex. Just because you marry into the royal family, it doesn't automatically make you a prince or princess. "The reigning monarch has the power to bestow new titles and will often bestow royal newlyweds a new dukedom as a wedding gift," she said. "This is why Prince William and Kate Middleton became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They still hold that title, but since Charles ascended the throne, William took the title of Prince of Wales and Kate became the Princess of Wales."

Princess Beatrice's Wedding Dress
Karwai Tang / Getty Images

How to Incorporate British Royal Traditions on Your Wedding Day

Every couple deserves to feel like royalty on their wedding day. Though it might not be feasible to serve 27 cakes or host two wedding receptions, there are a few ways to include British royal wedding traditions in your celebration. Consider a fresh and modern cake flavor inspired by Harry and Meghan, or include a fish course during your wedding meal.

If you can't leave your bouquet on the grave of a soldier, consider carrying on the spirit of this tradition by gifting your bouquet to someone significant to you. "You could also opt for a sprig of myrtle in your own wedding flowers, or have some orange blossom in your arrangements," Burke said.

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