On April 29, 2011, millions of viewers sat in front of their televisions to watch the much-anticipated moment when Prince William and Kate Middleton would say I do. And now, as we anxiously await the marriage of younger brother Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle, our televisions and social media will be overflowing with royal causerie. Why is it that we are so enthralled with the royal family and their weddings? To understand how we became enamored with the royals’ private lives, we must go back to where it all started, with Queen Victoria.
By the nineteenth century, printing of news in British society was becoming more accessible and affordable. Images were being printed more often and in color, and the growth of material culture was more popular due to the publishing industry. According to Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch by John Plunkett, the press was both criticized and celebrated for the way it removed royal mystique and involved its readers in the lives of the royal family. Before Victoria, the royal family was only seen when making their tours or attending public events, and little was known about their private lives. The new media wave in the nineteenth century created an imaginative identification for the public with Victoria that hadn’t existed with royals before her.
Modern brides almost always walk down the aisle in a long white dress, but early nineteenth century brides were most likely to be seen in colored dresses on their wedding day. According to Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird, white was not then a conventional color or even an option, as bleaching techniques were not yet mastered, making it a rare and expensive choice. Victoria’s reasons for wearing white were twofold: she believed it was the perfect color to highlight the delicate Honiton lace, and it appeared as more a symbol of wealth than purity. On the day of her wedding, hundreds of spectators had gathered outside in the dreary weather just to get a glimpse of the royal couple. With the upsurge of media, the details of her gown had spread across Europe and became a popular dress choice thereafter.
By the time of King George VI’s wedding with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, radio had already been invented. To break with tradition, it was decided that the wedding would be more of a public affair to lift the spirits of the nation after the effects of the Great War. It is also noted by the BBC that Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the tomb of the unknown warrior in the abbey, and royal brides since have copied the gesture.
One of the biggest changes for royal weddings was the introduction of televised broadcasts. On May 6, 1960, Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey, and theirs became the first royal wedding to be broadcast on television.
On May 19, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be celebrating their nuptials in a smaller, more intimate midday ceremony at St. George’s Chapel. It is expected that the wedding will also be televised to allow the public to share in the festivities. According to a spokesman for the couple, “Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle have said they want their wedding day to be shaped to allow members of the public to feel part of the celebrations too.” Like Victoria, and the royal brides of the past one hundred years, Meghan Markle’s union with Prince Harry will set a new standard and trend for future brides and weddings entering into the twenty-first century.
Text Brittany Van Dalen