A nonroyal guide to the year’s most royal event.
Perhaps you hadn’t heard, but there’s a wedding taking place in England on Saturday. (Something about a prince marrying an American.)
Even if you’ve been unable to ignore this exhaustively discussed news, you might be feeling a little confused about what exactly it entails, since you most likely have never had a royal wedding yourself. So much protocol and tradition! So many hats! So much room for misunderstanding. We aren’t married to a royal, either, but we did look into many issues that can arise in such a situation. No detail was too insignificant; no question too picayune for our scrutiny. Here’s a nonroyal guide to the event.
Q: Who did you say is getting married?
A: Rachel Meghan Markle, aka Meghan Markle, an American actress best known for playing Rachel Zane in the long-running legal-intrigue drama “Suits,” is marrying Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, aka Prince Harry, a British aristocrat best known for being a son of Prince Charles.
A: Next Saturday. The ceremony is scheduled for noon local time (4 a.m. Pacific time, so set your alarm) and will last about an hour, whereupon the couple will take a carriage ride through town.
Q: And where is it?
A: St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Q: Is that near Buckingham Palace?
A: Nope. Buckingham Palace is in London. Windsor Castle is in Windsor, a picturesque town some 20 miles west of London. Windsor is also near Eton College, the school Harry and his brother, William, attended.
Q: Were William and Kate Middleton married at Buckingham Palace?
A: Nope again. On April 29, 2011, William and Kate (which is what the British papers call her, even though her official name is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) were married at Westminster Abbey, which is in London and a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace.
Q: Can I go?
A: Sadly, you cannot, unless you’re among the 600 or so personal guests who got invitations to sit in the chapel, or among the several thousand additional people who have been invited to stand on the grounds of Windsor Castle to watch the wedding party enter and leave. That group includes members of the royal household, local schoolchildren and “regular” people who work for charities, community organizations and the like.
Q: What if my invitation was lost in the mail?
A: Don’t fret. You and other noninvitees are welcome to line the streets of Windsor and hope to catch a glimpse of the couple as they make their carriage procession after the ceremony. For prime viewing spots you might want to arrive early — like, the day before. The town is preparing with bunting, large screens and refreshments.
Q: How can I watch from home?
A: The wedding will be televised on all major networks and livestreamed on NYTimes.com.
Q: Why should I care about this wedding?
A: Because Harry — being unconstrained by the responsibilities that burden William, the future king — has recovered from some earlier lapses in judgment to bring a joyously improvisational approach to his royal life. And because Meghan is so different from most royal brides-to-be: She is American, biracial (her mother is African American, and her father is white), divorced and 36, which makes her three years older than her Harry.
Q: How significant is the fact that Meghan is biracial?
A: People of color are underrepresented in British politics and not represented at all in the royal family. Many have said they are thrilled to see someone like themselves in Meghan’s position. The idea has resonated across the Atlantic, too. The day the engagement was announced, #blackprincess began trending on Twitter. (Meghan will probably be a duchess, but not a princess, but that’s a matter of semantics.)
Q: Is President Donald Trump invited to the wedding?
A: Nope! “It has been decided that an official list of political leaders — both U.K. and international — is not required for Prince Harry and Markle’s wedding,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.
Q: What about Harry’s pal Barack Obama?
A: No, not even him (or Michelle).
Q: Is there a dress code for guests?
A: Yes! According to the invitations, men are supposed to wear uniforms, morning coats or “lounge suits,” by which they mean, essentially, business suits. Women, meanwhile, are expected to wear “day dresses” — dresses that aren’t evening gowns — and hats. The hats are often highly amusing, resembling (depending on how you look at them) flying saucers, plant pots, teacups, hedges, bathing caps, Calder mobiles, Frisbees, pyramids, fezzes — you name it.
Q: Who plans a royal wedding?
A: The couple have made it clear that they are responsible for much of the overall tone of the day. That said, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, the department of Buckingham Palace responsible for all public events — state visits, palace garden parties and the like — will oversee all the necessary logistical and ceremonial details. The office is comparable in many ways to that of the White House social secretary.
Q: Who is performing the ceremony?
A: The dean of Windsor, the Rt. Rev. David Conner, who’s the spiritual head of St. George’s Chapel, will perform the service, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — head of the worldwide Anglican Communion — will preside over the vows. The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, of Chicago, head of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, will deliver a sermon at the service.
Q: Who writes the vows?
A: The royal wedding vows are likely to follow a rigid script of words and rituals based on the traditional Anglican wedding ceremony as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer.
Q: Does Queen Elizabeth approve?
A: Anyone who is sixth or under in line to the throne needs the queen’s permission to get married — and Harry is sixth after Prince Charles, William and William’s kids, George, Charlotte and Louis. In March, she formally approved the marriage of “My Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle.”
Q: What about Meghan’s engagement ring?
A: The ring was designed by Harry and comprises a large central diamond from Botswana and some smaller diamonds that belonged to his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. As he explained: “The little diamonds [on] either side are from my mother’s jewelry collection, to make sure that she’s with us on this crazy journey together.”
Q: Where do Harry and Meghan live?
A: They live in Nottingham Cottage, a (relatively) modest two-bedroom home on the grounds of Kensington Palace, in London. Kensington Palace is a royal residence that is home to not just Harry and Meghan, but William, Kate and their children, as well as several other members of the royal family. Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, lives, sometimes, in the much larger and less-crowded Buckingham Palace.
Q: Who designed Meghan’s wedding dress?
A: That’s the million-pound question. The current favorite, at least according to the gossipy fashion industry, is the brand Ralph & Russo. Meghan chose a dress made by the London couture house for her official engagement portraits, and the brand is known for its over-the-top wedding dresses.
Erdem Moralioglu, a Canadian-Turkish designer, is another contender. Erdem has an A-list clientele, recently produced a sold-out H&M collaboration and already counts Meghan as an admirer. In what might not be a coincidence, his most recent show, at London Fashion Week in February, was inspired by the tale of an American actress who marries an aristocrat.
Q: Will there be cake?
A: But of course. British weddings usually feature fruitcakes. However, throwing aside this strange and perverse custom, the couple have decided to serve organic lemon elderflower cake that will be covered in buttercream icing and fresh flowers, meant to “incorporate the bright flavors of spring.” It is being baked by the hip Violet bakery in the (even hipper) London borough of Hackney. The owner and baker, Claire Ptak, who was raised in California and believes in using seasonal, organic ingredients, said on Instagram that the couple “both share so many of the same values regarding food provenance, sustainability, seasonality and of course, flavor!”
Q: And the flowers?
A: The couple have chosen white garden roses, peonies and foxgloves for all their floral needs. The bouquets, decorations and garlands will be designed by the florist Philippa Craddock, a favorite of the fashion world.
Q: What about music?
A: “Prince Harry and Ms. Markle have taken a great deal of interest and care in choosing the music,” according to Kensington Palace. The selections will include well-known hymns and choral works performed by the St. George’s Chapel choir, plus performances by the opera soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, the trumpeter David Blackadder and the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 19, a rising star who is the first black winner of the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year award.
A Christian gospel group, the Kingdom Choir, will also be at the ceremony to raise the 17th-century roof.
Q: Who is the official photographer?
A: Alexi Lubomirski. Born in England and raised in Botswana, Lubomirski took the couple’s official engagement portrait last year and is known for his glossy shots in magazines like Elle and Vogue. He also, incidentally, happens to be a dashing European prince. Between commissions, His Serene Highness Alexi Lubomirski of Poland found time to pen a book: “Princely Advice for a Happy Life,” published in 2015.
Q: Who is Harry’s best man?
A: William. Harry was William’s best man.
Q: Will Meghan have a maid of honor?
A: No. But there will be page boys and “bridesmaids,” which in this case refers to young girls, not grown women. Royal weddings rarely feature adult bridesmaids.
Q: Will there be a reception?
A: After the wedding, the queen will host all guests for a lunchtime reception at St. George’s Hall.
Q: When does the real party start?
A: Later that evening, Harry’s dad, Prince Charles, is hosting about 200 guests at the nearby Frogmore House, a country home owned by the royal family.
Q: Who is paying for all of this, anyway?
A: The royal family is paying for the wedding itself — the service, the flowers, the music and the reception. Meghan will pay for her dress. The British public will pay for security. William and Kate’s wedding reportedly cost $34 million, of which $32 million went to security — and was paid for by British taxpayers.
Q: Where is the honeymoon?
A: Namibia, maybe! The couple is not advertising their plans, but Travel + Leisure reports that “a source has confirmed” the couple will vacation in the southern African nation after the wedding.
Q: What do I get the royal who has everything?
A: The one thing they don’t have: nothing. In lieu of gifts, Meghan and Harry have asked those well-wishers eager to spend money on them to donate to charities. The couple have nominated seven organizations. Those groups include CHIVA (Children’s HIV Association), the Wilderness Foundation U.K. and Surfers Against Sewage. On the royal family’s official website, www.royal.uk, guests and nonguests alike can find links to donate directly to the groups.
Q: What sort of things has Meghan had to do in preparation for marrying into the royal family?
A: In addition to the regular stuff — making official public appearances at various events; making small talk with people in crowds; dressing more conservatively and accessorizing her outfits with the kind of hats that young female royals seem required to wear in a way that is not ironic — Meghan has opted to (or had to) convert to Anglicanism, the official religion in England, before marrying Harry. She has already been baptized and confirmed.
Q: What religion is she converting from?
A: Meghan was already a Protestant, so it was not a huge stretch.
Q: Will she become a British citizen?
A: Yes. And she has to take a difficult citizenship test to do it.
Q: Is Meghan giving up her career as an actress?
A: Yes. “I don’t see it as giving anything up,” she said. “I just see it as a change. It’s a new chapter.”
Q: What will she do?
A: In many ways, young royals are just like us: They drive cars, go to supermarkets, drop children off at school and work out at the gym. But while some have nonroyal regular-person jobs — Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, for instance — it’s unlikely that Meghan will take on a 9-to-5 job after her marriage. There will be numerous public engagements to attend (exactly what kind will be clearer once she has outlined the causes and charities she plans to support), and overseas trips with Harry to take.
Q: What are some other ways Meghan’s life will change after the wedding?
A: For one, she’ll have to get used to doing things according to a strict royal ranking order. At events attended by multiple royal persons, members of the family enter in reverse order of who’s next in line to the throne, from most junior to most senior, with the queen last of all. Partners stay together, so Meghan and Harry will enter first, followed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate), the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Prince Charles and Camilla), and, last, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip). Elizabeth will then be seated in the middle, the family ordered around her.
Also, royals are not generally meant to make their political views public. Nor do they vote or run for political office. So Meghan, long outspoken on many social issues, will now have to be careful with what she says.
Q: What will Harry and Meghan’s titles be?
A: We don’t know yet. Harry is a prince but will undoubtedly receive some fancy new title when he marries. That title will automatically be bestowed on Meghan, too, just as Kate Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge when William became Duke. Money in Britain at the moment says that the pair will become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a title that has not been used in the royal family since 1843. And Meghan will become an HRH, which, in her case, stands for Her Royal Highness.
Q: What name will be on Meghan’s driver’s license?
A: Best guess is Rachel Meghan Mountbatten Windsor. Windsor is the last name adopted by the British royal family in 1917; King George V changed the name from the German “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” to the English “Windsor” during World War I, when it was not a great idea to have a German name in Britain. Additionally, after World War II, Prince Philip traded his ultra-German family names — Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg — for the quasi-English surname “Mountbatten” from his mother’s side.
Q: Who are Meghan’s parents?
A: Her mother, Doria Loyce Ragland, is a social worker and yoga instructor who lives in California, where Meghan grew up. Her father, Thomas Markle Sr., is a lighting director who worked in California for years but now lives in Mexico. They divorced in 1988, but both will be involved in the ceremony: Ragland will accompany her daughter on the ride to St. George’s Chapel, and Markle will walk his daughter down the aisle.
Q: Have they already met the royal family?
A: Meghan’s mother has met Harry. According to an official palace statement, Ragland and Markle will meet the rest of the royal family, including the queen, this week. Harry has not met his future father-in-law in person, though the two reportedly spoke by phone before the engagement was announced.
Q: Do Harry and Meghan want kids?
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A: Sounds like it. In their post-engagement interview with the BBC, Harry said, “Of course, one step at a time and hopefully we’ll start a family in the near future.”
Q: Would those kids be in line for the throne?
A: Yes. Any children born to Harry will bump his uncle Andrew — Charles’ brother, currently seventh in line for the throne, after Harry — further down the order of succession.
And thanks to an amendment passed in 2011, elder daughters will not lose their positions to sons born later. (The change is already affecting William’s children; it’s why Princess Charlotte remains fourth in line to the throne after big brother George. And Prince Louis slid in at No. 5.)
Bear in mind that any children eventually born to George, Charlotte or Louis will knock Harry (and his kids) even further from the top spot.
Q: Will this wedding actually be fun?
A: Depends. The wedding service will take about an hour and probably won’t be a barrel of laughs. Officially, however, the royal family enjoys fun.
Q: Will the ceremony include any tributes to Princess Diana?
A: Yes. Diana’s sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, will perform a reading as part of the ceremony. Per an official statement, Harry is “keen to involve his mother’s family in his wedding,” and he and Meghan “both feel honoured that Lady Jane will be representing her family and helping to celebrate the memory of the late Princess on the wedding day.” Diana’s brother, Charles, and her sister, Sarah (who dated Prince Charles before Diana), will also be in attendance as guests.
Q: After the wedding, will Meghan wear any of the crowns owned or worn by Diana?
A: Almost certainly. The Duchess of Cambridge often wears crowns and tiaras owned by her late mother-in-law, including the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara, given to Diana as a wedding gift from the queen. Once Meghan is married, it is highly likely that she too will receive access to the royal collection of jewels.
Q: Will May 19 be a public holiday in Britain?
A: No. There was a public holiday to celebrate the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, but William is the future king. Harry is not. One special exception will be made for the big day, though: The government announced in March that pubs, bars and other licensed premises can keep serving alcohol until 1 a.m., instead of the usual 11 p.m., on Friday and Saturday night.
Q: Is anything else happening Saturday?
A: The FA Cup final, the most important soccer match of the year in Britain. It’s like holding the Academy Awards at the same time as the Super Bowl. #awkward
Q: Will any of the queen’s beloved corgis attend?
A: Probably not.