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June 19, 1999: The Royal Wedding

The Wedding Story is the article I wrote covering the wedding for RoyalWatch: The Online Royal Magazine. I decided to put it here, instead of trying to re-write the essay, because it was already written and I didn't really want to try and remember everything from the wedding...

HRH the Prince Edward Antony Richard Louis Windsor, youngest son of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, and Miss Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones, only daughter of Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones, were married at 5 p.m. London time on Saturday, June 19, 1999, at St. James Chapel, Windsor with family and friends looking on.

Sophie was wearing a simple, yet elegant wedding gown designed by her friend Samantha Shaw, who was thrilled to be asked to design a dress for a Royal wedding. Edward looked dashing in his morning suit, and was obviously happy and thrilled to be marrying the woman he loves. The bride and groom were both wearing each other's wedding gifts during the ceremony. Edward had on a gold pocket watch which Sophie had given him, and Sophie was wearing an elegant white and black pearl necklace with matching black and white earrings, which had been Edward's gift to her.

In keeping with Royal tradition, there was no "best man" but rather "supporters" who stood up with Edward during the ceremony. Not surprisingly, they were his two older brothers, Charles, Prince of Wales, and Andrew, Duke of York, who were also very good looking in their morning suit. Some of you may recall that Edward acted as a supporter for both of their weddings in the 1980s, so I think it is very fitting and touching that Charles and Andrew returned the favor by being supporters for their little brother.

Edward and Sophie decided to have two bridesmaids and two pageboys, equally chosen by them, and not Royal. I had been thinking they may have asked Edward's nieces, Princess Beatrice and Eugenie, to be bridesmaids, but they did not. The bridesmaids were 8 year old Camilla Hadden, who is one of Edward's goddaughters, and 5 year old Olivia Taylor, whose parents are friends of the couple. The pageboys were 6 year old Harry Warburton, son of one of Edward's aides, and 7 year old Felix Sowerbutts, whose parents are friends of Sophie. All four of them, as the Prince of Wales pointed out in his toast, were extremely well-behaved, and they looked adorable in their matching outfits.

Two things during the wedding were small causes for alarm and both had to do with the rings. The first was the problems Edward had in getting the ring on Sophie's finger. For a few scary seconds it looked like he was going to be unable to get it over her knuckle, but he eventually did and the couple came up smiling. The second was when Sophie put Edward's ring on his pinky instead of his ring finger. There was a lot of talk over that at first, but a Royal aide pointed out that it is perfectly normal for a prince to wear rings on his pinky and a big deal shouldn't be made of it. Edward just wanted to do what was comfortable, it would seem, and since he was already wearing his signet ring on that finger, this makes sense.

As part of the reception after the wedding ceremony, the 500 guests enjoyed a buffet-type feast. First canapes were served in the Waterloo Chamber of the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle, and then the guests were moved to the restored St. George's Hall for the dinner. However, things were done a little differently at this wedding. The cutting of the wedding cake, which I described in the last issue, and the toasts, which were made by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, took place two hours before the dinner, unlike most other weddings, where toasts take place during the dinner, and the cutting of the cake happens afterwards. One notable thing from the toasts: Prince Andrew apparently said something along the lines of "Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, whatever you call an Earl and's time to eat!"

On the menu was coulibiac, which is smoked haddock baked with rice and mushrooms in pastry, beef stroganoff and a selection of vegetables and salads, followed by fresh raspberries for dessert.

There was music at the reception, of course, provided by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, and a brass ensemble from the London Mozart Players; Edward is patron of both organizations. Music was also provided by the band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines. Ironic, isn't that? The reception was apparently one of the biggest bashes ever held at Windsor Castle, and there was quite the clean-up the next morning!

In keeping with Royal tradition, the wedding rings are made out of Welsh gold, although these rings are a little different: they are the first ones to be made from gold found in a now-not-in-use mine called The Prince Edward. The mine was originally called Moel Croesau, but was renamed after the Investiture of the former Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VIII.

Among the guests at the wedding were Sir Elton John, Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber and television presenter Chris Tarrant. And the two most noticable absentees were Sarah, Duchess of York and Camilla Parker-Bowles. However, while there was a huge contingent of friends of the bride and groom at the wedding, there was also a large family representation. Some members of Sophie's family were there, including her father, Christopher, who gave her away, her mother Mary, her brother and sister-in-law, David and Zara, her uncle Theo and his wife, and a Miss Cressida Rhys-Jones, who I am guessing to be her cousin (perhaps the daughter of Uncle Theo?). On the Mountbatten side of the family, notable guests were Lord and Lady Ivar Mountbatten, the Lord Brabourne and the Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

Not all of the British Royals attended. Noted absentees were Lord and Lady Linley, who are expecting their first child sometime very soon. The Queen and Prince Philip were there, of course, being the groom's parents. So were his older sister, Princess Anne, her husband Capt. Timothy Laurence, and her children, Peter and Zara Phillips. The Queen Mother also attended...I am sure she didn't want to miss her grandson's wedding! did Princess Margaret, who is still healing from the scalding she got a few months ago. Lady Sarah and Daniel Chatto were also there, as was expected. Also in attendance were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, with their two daughters, Lady Davina and Lady Rose Windsor, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, with the Earl and Countess of St. Andrew's, Lady Helen and Timothy Taylor and Lord Nicholas Windsor, Prince and Princess Michael with their two children, Lord Frederick and Lady Gabriella Windsor, Princess Alexandra and Sir Angus Ogilvy with their son James, daughter-in-law Julia and daughter Marina. Also there, probably to take some pictures, was the Earl of Snowdon, ex-husband of Princess Margaret, who is still good friends with the Royal family.

Foreign Royals in attendance included the Sultan of Brunei, who is a good friend of Prince Edward, Queen Anne-Marie of the Hellenes, Prince Nikolaos of Greece, the Crown Prince of Norway, the Prince of the Asturias, Prince El Hassan bin Talal and Princess Sarvath El Hassan of Jordan, Princess Rahma El Hassan, Prince and Princess Joachim of Denmark, Prince and Princess Guillaume of Luxembourg, Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover, Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and Princess Xenia of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

It had been argued about since the engagement was announced, but no one could have guessed the plan Her Majesty the Queen had when it came to giving her youngest son and his new wife a title. Some had speculated she wouldn't give them one, and they would be known as Prince and Princess Edward. Some were arguing over which dukedom Edward should get. But the Queen out-did us all, and instead, made Edward the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn. And now that we think about it, this was a stroke of genius on Her Majesty's part. Edward's initials spell out the word Earl (if you leave of "Windsor" of course!): Edward Antony Richard Louis. It makes perfect sense! So, Edward and Sophie will be known as Their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex until after the deaths of the Queen and Prince Philip, when they will take on the titles Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. So, Edward will get a dukedom eventually...but not for a long, long time.

The wedding itself was an intimate, personal, family affair, just like the bride and groom wanted. The only difference was, it was shown world-wide on television. It didn't matter to them, though. If you watched closely, Edward and Sophie smiled lovingly at each other all through the ceremony, and once, Edward even winked at his bride! At the time, they were just tickled with each other and with the fact that they were getting married...I think the world could have come crashing down around them and they wouldn't have noticed! They are obviously very much in love, very happy together. This will be a marriage that stands the test of time...because the relationship already has.

As there is no longer a Royal Yacht Britannia, it was speculated on where the couple would spend their honeymoon. As it turned out, they opted for a four day break at Balmoral Castle in Scotland before returning to their regular working lives. This broke with the tradition of long royal honeymoons, but since they broke tradition in almost every other way, this is not surprising.

The new Earl and Countess now reside at Bagshot Park, in Surrey, which is by far the largest and most grand of the homes of the Queen's children. Edward is using it as the offices for Ardent, his production company.

In the future, when Edward and Sophie have children...which is something most of us are waiting for eagerly!...their oldest son will take the title Lord So-and-So, Viscount Severn. Any other sons they have will be styled The Honourable So-and-So Windsor. Any daughters they have will be Lady So-and-So Windsor. None of them will be a Royal Highness, Prince or Princess, as was agreed upon by the Earl and Countess and the Queen. This is in keeping with the Way Ahead, and it will be the first time that the children of a son of a reigning monarch were not given those titles. When Edward takes the title Duke of Edinburgh after the passing of both his parents, Viscount Severn will become the Earl of Wessex, and his oldest son, if he has one, will become Viscount Severn.

All and all, the ceremony was intimate and personal as they could have wanted it, and semi-public too, to keep the rest of us happy. Although it's sad that not many people in Britain watched the wedding on television, it drew high numbers the rest of the world over, and the crowds outside Windsor Castle were obviously delighted in the wedding: they all cheered after both Edward and Sophie said "I will". Many of us had waited five and a half years for this wedding, and by far we weren't disappointed.

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