Memories of Royal Weddings

Introduction: In this article – inspired by Saturday’s wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – Gena Philibert-Ortega reminisces about other royal weddings. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

Did you watch the wedding of Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle on Saturday? This wedding captured the attention of millions around the world, as a Southern California girl married into English royalty.

Photo: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle going to church at Sandringham, England, on Christmas Day 2017
Photo: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle going to church at Sandringham, England, on Christmas Day 2017. Credit: Mark Jones; Wikimedia Commons.

Markle isn’t the first American woman to marry into royalty, nor is she the first actress to marry her prince. The 1956 wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco excited millions when Hollywood royalty was matched with real-life royalty.

Photo: the Prince and Princess of Monaco arrive at the White House for a luncheon, 24 May 1961
Photo: the Prince and Princess of Monaco arrive at the White House for a luncheon, 24 May 1961. Credit: Robert LeRoy Knudsen; Wikimedia Commons.

My Own Royal Wedding Fever

The story of this year’s royal wedding reminds me of the first royal wedding I remember watching that involved the English royal family. On 29 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, Prince of Wales. Those two would later go on to have two sons, Prince William and the newly married Harry.

An article about the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Advocate newspaper article 30 July 1981
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 30 July 1981, page 2

I was a junior high school student during that royal engagement and wedding – and remember how much it stirred my imagination. I was a big fan of the royal couple and bought a ton of items with their engagement photo on it, including posters, postcards, and even a thimble. Yes, I had royal wedding fever!

The Engagement of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

Historical newspapers tell the story of the engagement of the royal couple. The 32-year-old bachelor and the 19-year-old shy pre-school assistant were engaged in February 1981 and married later that summer. After the engagement announcement, the couple were the source of a steady stream of newspaper articles.

In this article, Prince Charles is said to have lamented that: “The older I get, the more alone I become.”

An article about the engagement of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, State Times Advocate newspaper article 24 February 1981
State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 24 February 1981, page 32

The article continues:

“Although he is heir to the throne in one of the world’s last great monarchies and a royal fortune, the 32-year-old prince nevertheless has had a tough job and his life often was solitary because of his unique position. A wife will ease the burden.”

Lady Diana, while not a royal, was as close as one could get. Her father, the 8th Earl of Spencer, was a wealthy landowner – and genealogists will appreciate that Diana and Charles were actually 16th cousins, once removed. This newspaper article also states that Queen Elizabeth II is godmother to Lady Diana’s brother.

For the months and days leading up to the July wedding, newspapers kept readers abreast of every detail and fact of the young couple’s life. One of the questions prior to the wedding was whether Queen Elizabeth would step down and allow her son and his new princess to reign. In this newspaper article the author concludes that:

“the 54-year-old Queen, who has reigned for nearly 28 years, is in good health and has given no indication she plans to step aside to let Charles ascend the 1,100-year-old British throne.”

The article goes on to quote a historian who remarks that:

“In the course of time Prince Charles and Lady Diana will be king and queen…”

Of course now, in hindsight, we know that was never meant to be. But at the time it added to the excitement of watching a wedding for the future King and Queen of England.

An article about Prince Charles, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 1 March 1981
Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 1 March 1981, page 10

The Wedding

When the big day came In July my family and I were visiting my maternal grandmother in the White Mountains of Arizona. In her rural community there wasn’t a lot going on, and I was desperate with a capital “D” to watch the royal wedding. Lucky for me, even though my grandmother had limited television reception, I was able to watch highlights from the wedding, including the understandable mix-up Diana had as she recited her soon-to-be-husband’s names (Charles Philip Arthur George).

I was glued to that small black and white TV set watching all of the details and soaking it all in. I also read wedding highlights in the newspaper because even at the young age of 12 I was a frequent reader of the newspaper. And, as a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives can attest, there were plenty of articles to read.

An article about the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 July 1981
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 July 1981, page 27

What Was the First Royal Wedding You Remember?

To my younger self, the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was magical. A year later when the couple had their first son, Prince William, I remember talking about it with my friends at a sleepover. For us, the royal family was an exciting topic of conversation in our junior high lives.

What is the first royal wedding you remember? Did you watch it on TV or read about it in the newspapers? Did you watch this latest royal wedding Saturday? Tell us about your memories in the comments section below.

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