They say rules are meant to be broken, and that's certainly the case at royal weddings. While any nuptial is rife with tradition, from the veil and the white wedding gown to the order in which the bride and groom say their vows, royals take it to a whole new level. In addition to the union of two people, their weddings also often mark a change in the succession of power, so the details of these all-too-important events are largely pre-determined by the historical royal weddings that have come before them. But royals are people too, and every now and then, they get the itch to do things as they please instead of how they’ve been mandated to, by society or otherwise.
From Meghan Markle's most unusual walk down the aisle to Princess Diana's vow rebellion, we've rounded up 11 instances in which royals broke completely away from customs to do things their way.
Long before her sons's wives were breaking royal traditions on their wedding days, Princess Diana was famously rebelling against one of the longest-standing traditions of all time when she refused to utter a line from the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer in her vows to Prince Charles. “Lady Diana Spencer has decided that she will not promise, at her wedding four weeks from today, to obey Prince Charles,” read an announcement in a 1981 article from the New York Times. Instead, she promised to “love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health.”
For his second wedding in 2005, Prince Charles declined a traditional church ceremony, exchanging his vows with the Duchess of Cornwall in a small civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. And we do mean small—even Queen Elizabeth and her late husband, Prince Philip, were absent at the nuptials (though they did attend the following service of blessing at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle). The decision made Charles the first in British royal history to wed in this fashion.
Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, Margaret, was always considered a bit of a royal rebel, and her 1960 wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones was no exception. Not only was her chosen groom a commoner—the first to marry the daughter of a British king in centuries—, but she also opted to wear a tiara from her own collection over one of the family’s crown jewels. Her piece of choice? The Poltimore tiara, which she picked up at auction in 1959 for £5,500, or roughly $7,500.
King Letsie III
Brides aren’t the only ones who can break with royal traditions! Groom King Letsie III of Lesotho of Southern Africa took a stand on love when he wed then-commoner Karabo Motsoeneng in 2000. Despite his family’s longstanding history of polygamy in order to ensure a royal successor, Letsie vowed to remain “strictly monogamous” to his bride. He spoke to a Lesotho radio station about his decision, saying, “I would never contemplate marrying a second wife just to father a son. It is morally wrong.''
The American-actress-turned-Monaco-royal wasn’t keen on the oversized bouquets that were fashionable for royal weddings at the time. Instead, she made her own flowery statement before saying her “I dos” to Prince Rainier III with a small-but-striking posy of lilies of the valley (a flower that symbolizes a “return to happiness”) on top of a bible covered in pearls and silk, according to Royal Central. Her accompanying gown, however, a gift from the MGM wardrobe department, was far from simple, with a high-neck bodice of antique Brussels lace, three petticoats, and a gorgeous lace train that stretched 3-feet long.
Ironically, Princess Victoria broke tradition by doing something many consider to be one of the ultimate wedding conventions: she walked down the aisle with her father. In Sweden, a royal bride and groom typically walk down the aisle together, as many are against the practice’s original roots, which have historically signified that a bride is a father’s property to “give away.” The Swedish royal’s own archbishop, Anders Wejryd, spoke out against her decision at the time with a statement that read, “Being given away is a new phenomenon which occasionally occurs in the Church of Sweden. I usually advise against it, as our marriage ceremony is so clear on the subject of the spouses’ equality. The couple know where I stand on this matter.”
Her groom? Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland—her former personal trainer.
Princess Grace wasn’t the only royal in Monaco to ever break tradition. For her 2011 wedding to Prince Albert II, Princess Charlene was forced to forgo the customary religious royal wedding venue of St. Nicholas Cathedral due to the sheer number of guests (roughly 3,500!) expected at her nuptials. The solution? The couple hosted the affair in the main court of the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, where they also had their civil ceremony.
There were many ways in which Meghan Markle and Prince Harry avoided royal protocol during their televised wedding ceremony and the following reception, including their selection of cake (lemon elderflower over the customary fruitcake), their bishop (an American, a first for the royals), and their cello music over the traditional organ. The biggest breakaway from historical royal weddings, however, came when it was time for the former Suits star to walk down the aisle. In the absence of her father, Thomas Markle, Meghan opted to walk herself halfway down before joining Prince Charles—a move that was symbolic of her independence. Prince Harry also watched her do it (another no-no for British royals).
Princess Eugenie chose to forgo a traditional veil with her Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos off-the-shoulder gown in order to show off a meaningful scar at her wedding to Jack Brooksbank. “The low back feature on the dress was at the specific request of Princess Eugenie who had surgery aged 12 to correct scoliosis,” a statement from the palace read.
The Duchess of Cambridge decided to honor an American wedding tradition at her 2011 wedding to Prince William when she opted to have her sister, Pippa Middleton, be her maid of honor—a title that doesn’t traditionally exist in royal weddings. Prince William followed suit, making Prince Harry the best man. Kate also chose a white gown for her younger sibling, which has been considered a fashion faux pas for anyone but the bride throughout history.
Like many couples, Princess Beatrice’s 2020 marriage to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was the couple forced to postpone their ceremony, but they also wed in secret instead of having a traditionally large royal affair. What’s more, Beatrice chose a Norman Hartwell gown that was originally worn by her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, over a typical custom creation. The pair did not kiss for the cameras, as many royals do, and the bride’s wedding band was platinum—not gold—for the first time since 1923, as it more closely matched her engagement ring.