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The royal wedding, explained

14 questions about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s big day, asked and answered.

In just a few days, the royal wedding will be here. American actress Meghan Markle will marry Prince Harry of the British royal family, and there are a few things we can be sure of: The dress will be white, the hats will be elaborate, and commentators will use the phrase “real-life fairy tale” multiple times.

But for everything we know for sure, there are a million questions, big and small, that remain unanswered. So to help you prepare for the royal wedding.


1) When and where is the royal wedding?

It’ll happen on Saturday, May 19, at noon local time — that’s 7 am Eastern time — at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, outside of London. Windsor Castle is the queen’s preferred weekend home, and Harry was baptized in St. George’s Chapel.

The chapel is much smaller than Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married in 2011: The abbey can hold up to 2,000 people, but the chapel only takes 600, so this will be a comparatively smaller ceremony. Although Windsor Castle is private property and closed to the public, the couple has invited 1,200 members of the public to the grounds to watch everyone arrive and depart. They are instructed to bring a picnic lunch, as the queen will not be feeding them.

2) Is the royal wedding canceled?

This is one of the most searched-for questions surrounding the royal wedding, so we can only assume that a lot of people out there are very invested in the well-being of Harry and Meghan’s relationship and/or are developing a series of elaborate schemes to marry half of the royal couple themselves. Worry no more/sorry: All signs say that, no, the royal wedding is not canceled. There’s every reason to expect that Harry and Meghan will say their vows on May 19 at Windsor Castle as planned.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to some of the bigger questions.

3) Who is Meghan Markle?

Before her relationship with Prince Harry, Meghan Markle was best known as one of the stars of Suits, a legal drama that just wrapped its seventh season on USA. (Suits will continue to an eighth season without Markle.) She also maintained a lifestyle blog, the Tig, which she shuttered before her engagement.

Since her engagement to Harry, whom she met on a blind date in 2016, Markle has announced that she’s retiring from acting. “I’ve ticked this box, and I feel very proud of the work I’ve done there,” she said of her work as an actress, “and now it’s time to work with [Harry] as a team.”

The new “team” apparently plans to focus on philanthropic work. In the past, Markle has worked with organizations to increase girls’ access to sanitary menstrual products around the world and has been a United Nations advocate for women. “With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility,” Markle wrote for Elle in 2016, “to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings.”


Markle was married once before, to producer Trevor Engelson, but they divorced in 2013 after two years of marriage. (Engelson is currently developing a TV show about how it feels to have your ex marry into the British royal family.)

Throughout her time in the public eye, Markle has been outspoken about the pride she takes in her mixed-race identity (her father is white and her mother is African-American). “While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that,” she wrote in Elle in 2015. “To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”

But some of the more conservative institutions surrounding the British monarchy have been less than welcoming, and at times even outright racist, in their reception of Markle. “Harry to marry into gangster royalty? New love ‘from crime-ridden neighbourhood,’” wrote the Daily Star in 2016, adding, “With ancestors freed from slavery, the American sweetheart’s upbringing could form the perfect rags-toriches [sic] story.” One princess wore a racist “blackamoor” brooch to meet Markle last December. (She later apologized.)

Media coverage of Markle prompted Prince Harry to issue an official statement in 2016 condemning “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her,” the statement said.

Markle herself says she tries to ignore what gets written about her. “I don’t read any press. I haven’t even read press for Suits,” she told Vanity Fair last year. “The people who are close to me anchor me in knowing who I am. The rest is noise.”

4) Who is Prince Harry?

Prince Harry is the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, the second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and brother to Prince William. He’s currently sixth in the line of succession to the throne, meaning that his grandmother, his father, his brother, and his brother’s three children would all have to die in order for him to become king. (Morbid.)

Luckily, he’s said that he has no interest in the crown. “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen?” he asked rhetorically in an interview last year. “I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”

Harry joined the army in 2006 after attending the Royal Military Academy, amid public controversy over whether he should be allowed to serve on the front lines of the war. He eventually spent 10 weeks serving on the front line of Afghanistan in secret, until an Australian magazine broke the story in 2007.

Harry has had his share of royal scandals, most notably the time he dressed up as a Nazi for a costume party in 2005, when he was 20. More recently, however, he’s become a public favorite among the royals, especially after he opened up about the grief he felt following his mother’s death when he was 12 years old.

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he said in an interview last year. He’s said that he wants to try to make it easier for people to talk about their mental health: “What we are trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go ‘you know what, I’ve had a really shit day, can I just tell about it?’ Because then you walk away and it’s done.”

5) What is the deal with Meghan Markle’s family?

Markle’s family has developed a contentious relationship with the press since Meghan and Harry announced their engagement in 2017. Most recently, Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, confessed that a series of endearingly dad-like paparazzi photos of him preparing for the royal wedding — reading up on British castles, exercising, getting fitted for his tux — were staged.

In an interview with TMZ, Thomas said that he was upset that the paparazzi only ever photographed him buying beer and looking disheveled, and he wanted to change the narrative. (He doesn’t even drink beer, he says.) He says that when he was approached by a paparazzi agency he thought there wouldn’t be any harm in going along with them, but he now regrets his choices.

On Monday, Thomas told TMZ that he planned to bail on the royal wedding entirely so as to avoid embarrassing his daughter. On Tuesday, he’d changed his mind. He told TMZ that after he received a text from Meghan telling him that she loved him and wasn’t angry about the staged photos, he decided he’d go to the wedding after all — but, he says, he had a heart attack a week ago, and now his doctors may not clear him to travel. “I hate the idea of missing one of the greatest moments in history and walking my daughter down the aisle,” Thomas said.

As of May 16, it looks like Thomas will be disappointed. He talked to TMZ again and told them that he’s facing major heart surgery. He’ll be unable to travel to England for the wedding.

Markle, following royal protocol, has not commented on the issue. But it’s not the first time she’s faced family drama over the course of her engagement.

Her half-brother, Thomas Markle, Jr., published an open letter to Prince Harry in April, in which he blamed Meghan for their father’s bankruptcy. “As more time passes to your royal wedding, it became very clear that this is the biggest mistake in royal wedding history,” Thomas, Jr. wrote, calling his half-sister a “jaded, shallow, conceited woman that will make a joke of you and the royal family heritage.”

Markle’s half-sister Samantha has also spoken extensively to the press, but she insists that she has been continually misquoted. Tabloid reports say that Samantha called Markle “narcissistic” and a “social climber,” but Samantha maintains that those quotes were fabricated. “The truth is, I never said any such thing and there’s no tape, no recording, nothing in the world that anybody could present to suggest that it was,” she said.

As for the claims that Samantha is working on a memoir called The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister? A joke that got taken out of context, she said. “The book isn’t going to be negative — it’s a warm, witty, honoring book — unfortunately, the negative sing-song has gone round the world.”

Samantha has, however, joined her brother in blaming Meghan for not bailing their father out of his bankruptcy in 2016. “Honestly what she could spend in a weekend would greatly help Dad, so that should be a priority,” she said on Australian show A Current Affair.

Markle has not officially commented on her family, but a source close to her told People magazine, “Meghan has no relationship with her half-siblings, nor has she ever had one. They were out of the house by the time she was born.”

Neither Samantha nor Thomas, Jr. are invited to the royal wedding. Samantha was scheduled to be in Windsor that weekend as the guest of a TV show, but on May 17 it was reported that she was injured in a car crash attempting to avoid paparazzi. Samantha is reportedly in the hospital now.

6) How will the royal wedding work?

A lot of the specific details of the ceremony are under lock and key, but pieces have made their way into the public eye. Here’s what we know.

On the day of the wedding, Markle will make her way to Windsor Castle with her mother, Doria Ragland. Her father, Thomas Markle, originally planned to walk her down the aisle, but he’s now unable to attend for health reasons. (See question 5 for details.) Instead, Markle will make her way down most of the aisle on her own. Once she reaches the Quire, where the royal family will be sitting, Prince Charles will join her and escort her to the foot of the altar, but will not “give her away.” It will be the first time a British royal bride will walk down the aisle on her own, CNN reports.

Prince William will be best man (technically, supporter), but Markle will not have a maid of honor. And although there will be bridesmaids, don’t expect another Pippa Middleton situation: All of Markle’s bridesmaids and the accompanying page boys will be children, and they’ll include Princess Charlotte and Prince George. (It’s the tradition with British royal weddings to have child bridesmaids; Kate was the outlier when she brought in Pippa as her maid of honor.)

Once everyone’s at the chapel, Rev. David Conner, dean of Windsor, will lead the service, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will perform the actual marriage. There will be music throughout the ceremony, mostly choral and gospel, with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason set to perform as well. Flowers will include foxgloves, white garden roses (Diana’s favorite flower), and peonies (Markle’s favorite).

Traditionally in British royal weddings, the bride and groom recite vows from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. If you watched Netflix’s The Crown, you might recall that those vows call for the wife to promise that she will obey her husband, and that this has been a bit of a sticking point in recent royal weddings: Elizabeth promised to obey Philip, but Diana did not promise to obey Charles, and Kate did not promise to obey William. There’s no word yet as to whether Markle will stick to the traditional wording, but she’s an open feminist. If she wants to drop the obedience promise, there’s plenty of precedent.

The ceremony is scheduled to take an hour. Once it’s done, the couple will go on a carriage tour through Windsor to include the public in the celebrations. Afterward, they and their 600 guests will adjourn to St. Michael’s Hall for a lunchtime reception, where Markle, in a break with tradition, is set to make a speech.

Later that evening, Prince Charles is hosting a reception for 200 of the guests at Frogmore House, less than a mile from Windsor Castle. Lemon and elderflower cake will be served.

7) Is Barack Obama going to the wedding?

The issue of whether the Obamas would attend the royal wedding developed into a knotty question of etiquette in the months leading up to the event. Prince Harry is friendly with former President Obama — he even conducted Obama’s first international interview after leaving office — and reportedly wanted to invite him to the wedding.

But inviting the former president would mean inviting the current president too, or else risk an unforgivable snub. And there’s no love lost between the Trumps and the Windsors: Donald Trump reportedly pursued Princess Diana aggressively after her divorce from Prince Charles, prompting Diana to say of him, “He gives me the creeps.” Markle, for her part, is a vocal critic of the current president and has called him a misogynist.

In the end, Kensington Palace announced that no politicians would be invited to the royal wedding, not even British Prime Minister Theresa May: It will be strictly a friends-and-family affair, so neither Obama nor Trump will be in attendance.

The Spice Girls, however, have reportedly been invited and are rumored to be performing.

8) Can I watch the wedding?

Boy, can you: on TV, online, and in theaters. You can also listen to it on vinyl.

9) Will Meghan Markle be a princess?

After the wedding, Markle won’t officially be a princess but rather a duchess, in much the same way that Kate Middleton is technically Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Traditionally, the British royal family gives its members new titles upon their weddings, both in England and in Scotland, and observers think it’s most likely that Harry and Meghan will become Duke and Duchess of Essex and Earl and Countess of Ross.

10) How much does the royal wedding cost, and who’s paying for it?

The royal family isn’t saying exactly how much the wedding cost, but is estimating it will run about 32 million pounds, or about $43 million US, with £30 million going to security. That’s roughly on par with the last royal wedding: William and Kate’s wedding cost $34 million in 2011, with $32 million going to security.

The royal family will pay for the wedding itself, with Markle most likely paying for her gown. But security, the most expensive part of the wedding, will be paid for by the state, which means it’s coming out of taxpayer money. Reportedly, after Will and Kate’s wedding, the London and national governments couldn’t agree over who should pay for security, and ultimately the government paid the police a special £3.6 million ($4.8 million) grant to cover overtime pay for officers.

CNN has reported that there’s no indication that this royal wedding will be a big draw for tourism in the short term. But some analysts are arguing that in the long term, the royal wedding is an advertisement for the royal family and for England in general, and it might, in that sense, end up eventually paying for itself.

“Meghan and Harry’s wedding will continue to keep the UK in focus, especially from a US perspective, which is likely to sustain the current [tourism] momentum,” market research analyst Alexander Göransson told CNN.

Tourism is worth £127 billion, or $176 billion US, to the UK economy annually, says CNN.

11) What will Meghan Markle’s wedding dress look like?

The heavy favorite for Markle’s wedding dress designer is Ralph & Russo, which designed the gown Markle wore in her engagement photos. Also in Ralph & Russo’s favor: It’s a London-based house, and traditionally, British royal brides wear British fashion to their weddings. But as Racked pointed out, Markle is just as likely to pick a lesser-known British brand for her wedding gown, on the grounds that she already used Ralph & Russo for a major photo op.

Speaking of that engagement dress: It caused a bit of a stir when the photos came out because of its sheer bodice. (It was perfectly decent and everything was covered, but it was just a bit edgier than the royal family usually goes.) That slightly daring choice has led some commenters to wonder whether Markle might go in a less conservative direction for her wedding gown — possibly even sleeveless. (Gasp.)

“I personally prefer wedding dresses that are whimsical or subtly romantic,” Markle told Glamour in 2016, adding that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s white silk slip wedding dress was her favorite celebrity wedding dress of all time. For her first wedding, a beach ceremony in Jamaica, Markle wore a white sleeveless dress with an embellished belt.

What we know for sure is that there will be two dresses: one for the ceremony, and something “glamorous and less restrictive” for the reception. And Prince Harry won’t see the ceremony dress until Markle is walking down the aisle.

12) Will Prince Harry wear a wedding band?

The men in the royal family don’t always wear wedding bands — Prince William never does, on the grounds that he just doesn’t like jewelry.

Prince Harry, however, does like jewelry, and he is reportedly planning to wear a wedding band after the wedding.

13) What happens if Harry and Meghan get divorced?

The couple has not signed a prenuptial agreement since prenups generally aren’t done among the royal family. (Prenups aren’t legally enforceable in the UK, anyway; they’re just there as a guide for the judge.) In general, royal divorces stay outside of the courts and are worked out behind closed doors as much as possible. If Harry and Meghan were to get divorced, it’s most likely they would work out a financial settlement quickly and quietly.

14) Why do we care about any of this?

At the end of the day, a royal wedding is just two famous people getting married and picking up a bunch of inherited wealth and an inherited title. So why do we care?

Last fall, when Meghan and Harry announced their engagement, I wrote a little about the unique place the British royal family holds in American pop culture:

On the one hand: Yay, American Revolution, all men are created equal, down with kings, etc. But on the other, the British monarchy is such a fertile site for fairy tale imagining.

In part, that’s because Britain is at the perfect emotional distance from America to give the fantasy potency without danger. Americans speak the language and have enough rough understanding of the culture to keep track of what’s happening in Britain’s monarchy, but we’re also safe in the knowledge that it has absolutely nothing to do with us. …

American pop culture tends to approach the British monarchy purely as a site of fantasy. We have books about ordinary girls who fall in love with British princes, and TV shows about the soapy, glamorous hijinks of a fictionalized British royal family. We sigh over the fairy tale of poor, tragic Diana and call William and Kate’s wedding proof “that fairy tales aren’t just things for storybooks — they’re attainable in real life, too.”

So Meghan Markle, newly engaged to Prince Harry, might be giving up her career as a successful actress to marry into a hidebound — and in many ways meaningless and anachronistic — institution. But she’s also living the dream. She’s embodying the princess fantasy that captivates so many Americans, and she’s doing it while expanding that fantasy and making it accessible to people to whom it was never accessible before.

Yes, the royal wedding is a bizarre anachronism from another era. But it’s also a fantasy come to life for millions of people — and when mixed-race, American Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, she’ll make that fantasy feel accessible to people for whom it never was before.


Update: This article has been updated to note that Markle’s father will no longer attend the royal wedding and to include details on the bridesmaids and page boys. The section on Meghan Markle’s family did not appear in the original version of this article and has been added.

Alexander Gruysson