Which traditions are Prince Harry and Meghan actually breaking at their royal wedding?

Mishal Cazmi

Never has there been such rabid curiosity about the details of a wedding as that surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s nuptials on May 19. The pair aren’t exactly traditionalists, and that aspect of their personalities has seeped into their wedding planning, which, from what we know so far, involves a lot of personalization — and possibly some royal rule-breaking.

To set the record straight about Megan and Harry’s break with tradition, we chatted with royal historian Carolyn Harris , who isn’t just well-versed in all things related to the crown — she also helped curate the window s displays honouring the most iconic royal moments in the history of the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto (everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Charles has passed through its grand hallways) to celebrate the biggest wedding of the year.

Prince William and Kate's fruit cake had a gorgeous exterior. Photo: © Getty Images

The wedding cake

The couple will be shirking centuries of royal tradition by forgoing fruitcake in favour of a much trendier option: a lemon and elderflower cake created by pastry chef Claire Ptak of London’s Violet Bakery. The longstanding tradition of serving fruitcake, which has been followed by everyone from Queen Victoria to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, doesn’t sound all that glamorous (even if it certainly looked the part – see fruitcakes of royal weddings past). “Perhaps it wasn’t the tastiest thing, but it had a certain practical appeal,” says Carolyn. Slices were sent to guests who weren’t able to attend the wedding, served at the first child’s christening and even auctioned off. But for Harry and Meghan, personal taste trumps practicality. “Clearly they’re going for what’s going to be appealing in the context of the wedding rather than thinking of sending slices to absent guests.”

The speech

There’s been much speculation about Meghan Markle delivering a speech at her wedding, which has no royal precedence. This is more about British versus American traditions, explains Carolyn, since in the latter, the maid of honour and the bride are likely to give a speech, whereas in the British tradition, the groom, best man and father of the bride speak exclusively. “So this may not just be Meghan’s personality, but also the influence of her American background and her confidence in the public eye. She’s somebody who would feel confident giving a speech, whereas Diana, at the time of her engagement, was nicknamed ‘Shy Di.’ And it was a while before we heard Kate speaking in public.”

Harry and PM Justin Trudeau bonded during last year's Invictus Games in Toronto. Photo: © Getty Images

The guest list

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are definitely breaking from royal tradition by excluding political guests. “They’re keeping it more of a personal occasion rather than a political occasion,” says Carolyn. “For Charles and Diana, a large number of political figures were invited. For William and Kate, that was still a significant part of the proceedings. Harry and Meghan are following the footsteps of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys Jones in 1999 by having a smaller wedding without political figures present.” That means no Obamas, Trudeaus or even the British prime minister. “It’s being very much kept to friends, family and charitable connections.”

The relatives

Much has been said not just about the guests invited, but also the people left off the guest list (namely family that Meghan reportedly doesn’t get along with). But strained familial relationships aren’t exactly new, and there’s no rule that says you have to invite all your relations. “If we look back at the history of royal weddings, there have been many cases of awkward relatives being excluded,” says Carolyn. Case in point: Uncle Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson were absent from Queen Elizabeth’s guest list.

St. George's Chapel has hosted many royal weddings and christenings - both for Prince Harry! Photo: © Getty Images

The venue

While Kate and William were married at Westminster Abbey, Meghan and Harry have chosen a much more intimate venue: St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. That being said, they’re also opening up the Windsor Castle grounds to members of the public ( that’s 2,000 regular people) and trying to involve them as much as possible in the day’s festivities. Given that the wedding is also taking place on a weekend (royal weddings usually take place on a weekday), the public will have a chance to share in the occasion, says Carolyn.

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