From Bhutan to Swaziland, other countries' royal weddings are more fun.
- By Aylin ZafarAylin Zafar is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
After eight years of courtship, Britain’s Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton will marry on Friday, April 29,in a long-awaited royal event. The future king’s marriage to Middleton, a commoner, has dominated headlines since the announcement of their engagement last fall and has already been declared a national holiday in Britain. The ceremony will no doubt draw inspiration from the iconic royal wedding of William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, but in case the pair is looking to crib notes from royalty a bit farther afield, here are some noteworthy nuptials from Bhutan to Monaco.
King Mswati III and Phindile Nkambule
Mswati, who received an invitation to William and Kate’s wedding, is no stranger to the world of matrimony, having 14 wives of his own. The 43-year-old absolute monarch is guided by a close council of royal elders who advise and often choose the wives for their leader. Swazi tradition dictates very specific rules for the marriages of the king, including the expectation that he marry a woman from every clan in an effort to maintain relationships across Swaziland; Mswati’s father, Sobhuza II, had 70 wives and 210 children. Many of the young girls whom the king has married have taken part in the traditional reed dance ceremony, called an umhlanga. During the umhlanga ceremonies, a reported 100,000 young girls dance in celebration of their chastity in front of the king, before presenting fresh-cut reeds to the Queen Mother (or “Great She-Elephant”). If the king chooses a dancer to be his bride at the ceremony, she is obliged to accept the offer.
In the past, Mswati famously enforced a ban on sex for women under age 18 in an effort to curb HIV/AIDS, but rescinded the ban just days before the marriage to his 13th wife — 17-year-old Phindile Nkambule — in 2005. He married his 14th wife in 2008 and now has 23 children among all his marriages.
PRINCESS VICTORIA AND DANIEL WESTLING
When Kate and William marry this week, they’ll be taking the crown for biggest European royal wedding since Charles and Diana from Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and her husband Daniel Westling. Princess Victoria married Westling on June 19, 2010, in Stockholm’s Storkyrkan cathedral — exactly 34 years after her parents, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, were married in the same church.
King Carl Gustaf originally expressed his disapproval toward his daughter’s marriage plans. Not only was Westling a commoner (though he has since been crowned Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland), but he was also her personal trainer — Westling and Princess Victoria first crossed paths in 2001 at a gym he operated in Stockholm.
The couple enjoyed a lavish wedding with more than 1,200 guests, with a healthy smattering of European royalty in attendance, including Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and his wife Sophie; Queen Sofia of Spain; and King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway.
While the wedding was reportedly seen by 5 million viewers around the world and 200,000 Swedes took to the streets of Stockholm to watch in person, the ceremony itself was not without controversy. The fact that the king chose to walk his daughter down the aisle did not go over well with many Swedes, who consider the practice old-fashioned (nowadays, Swedish couples generally walk down the aisle together). The head of the Swedish church, Archbishop Anders Wejryd, even issued a public statement expressing his discomfort with the choice, calling “being given away” an alien phenomenon to the Church of Sweden. “I usually advise against it, as our marriage ceremony is so clear on the subject of the spouses’ equality,” he said.
PRINCESS SAYAKO AND YOSHIKI KURODA
In what reads like a film plot for a romantic period epic, Japan’s Princess Sayako, the daughter of the country’s aging emperor, made waves in 2005 when she married Yoshiki Kuroda, a commoner and government bureaucrat, in Tokyo, fully aware that she would be forced to surrender her royal status. She became the first member of the Japanese imperial family in 45 years to abandon her title. Sayako had already been seen as an icon of modernity for single Japanese women, as she waited until age 36 to settle down. Her family eventually assented to the wedding, and formal farewells to the royal family took place at the palace the weekend before the ceremony.
Although thousands of Japanese people showed up to send their well-wishes near the hotel, the ceremony itself was a modest affair, with only 30 people in attendance. There were just 120 guests at the reception, held at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. In lieu of a traditional Japanese wedding, Sayako donned a Western-style white dress, and the guests enjoyed French cuisine, including lobster, caviar, and crème brûlée for dessert. It was also popularly reported that the former princess began taking driving lessons and learned how to shop at the supermarket in order to prepare for the adjustment to her new, modest life.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
King Jigme Singhi Wangchuk and the Four Sisters
The people of this land-locked Himalayan kingdom only learned of their ruler’s wedding after the fact, when Foreign Minister Dawa Tsering flew to New Delhi in 1988 to deliver the news that “at an auspicious hour on the descending day of Lord Gautama Buddha from the Tushita Heaven on the 22d day of the 9th month of the Earth Dragon year,” the king would marry the four daughters of a respected Bhutanese family. In reality, the 32-year-old monarch had privately married the four sisters eight years prior, in 1980. Indeed, they already had eight children. One of the boys, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, was named crown prince at the same officially announced wedding ceremony. In keeping with the private, secret nature of Himalayan tradition, the official wedding was attended only by family members and monks. This, however, did not discourage the Bhutanese people from creating dances and holding a feast on the embassy lawns in the king’s honor.
PRINCE RAINIER AND GRACE KELLY
Grace Kelly was already a Hollywood princess when her wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco made her actual royalty. The Oscar-winning actress first met Rainier during the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, and they soon embarked on a six-month courtship comprising exchanges of handwritten letters before the prince traveled to the United States to ask for her hand in marriage. After Kelly’s family provided the prince with a dowry of $2 million, the two wed in April 19, 1956, in what the press dubbed the “Wedding of the Century.” After a small civil ceremony in front of 80 close family and friends, the couple wed in a large religious ceremony in the Monaco Cathedral in front of 600 guests, including Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, and Aristotle Onassis. Queen Elizabeth II did not attend the wedding, reportedly complaining that there were “too many movie stars.”
Kelly wore an ivory gown made of 25 yards of silk taffeta, 100 yards of silk net, thousands of pearls, and 125-year-old rose-point lace from a museum; the dress took a team of 36 seamstresses to create over the course of six weeks. Twenty-thousand people lined the streets of Monaco to greet their new princess, while an estimated 30 million people around the world viewed it on their televisions. After a seven-week honeymoon in the Mediterranean, the couple returned to Monaco, where Kelly stepped out of the Hollywood limelight, assuming royal duties in lieu of continuing her film career.
KING ABDULLAH II AND QUEEN RANIA
Kate Middleton is hardly first commoner to find herself catapulted to the top of a royal hierarchy; Rania, the current queen of Jordan, was just a 22-year-old Apple employee when she met Abdullah at a dinner party in 1993. The then prince, the eldest son of King Hussein, quickly fell in love with the Palestinian Rania Al-Yassin, and the two wed after just two months of courtship. Their wedding took place June 10, 1993, and the traditional Muslim ceremony was presided over by the late King Hussein himself. (At the time, Abdullah’s uncle Hassan was still heir to the throne.) Rania wore a short-sleeved, gold-trimmed dress by British designer Bruce Oldfield, a frequent favorite of Princess Diana, while Abdullah wore his traditional military dress uniform, along with a ceremonial sword. After driving down the streets of Amman in an open convertible to greet the crowds of people who lined up to see the royal couple, Rania and Abdullah then enjoyed a more casual evening reception, albeit with a towering, multitiered wedding cake.
RABIH MOGHRABI/AFP/Getty Images
PRINCE CHARLES AND PRINCESS DIANA, CAMILLA
Nearly 750 million people tuned in worldwide to watch Lady Diana Spencer become Princess Diana, “the people’s princess,” on July 29, 1981. After taking notice of Diana at a polo match in the summer of 1980, Prince Charles proposed following a six-month courtship. The 32-year old Charles and 19-year-old Diana wed in front of 3,500 guests in St. Paul’s Cathedral in a ceremony that included a three-and-a-half-minute walk up the aisle and the princess nervously fumbling Charles’s names during the vows, calling him “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of “Charles Philip.” The glamorous wedding marked the beginning of Diana’s reign as a worldwide sartorial inspiration; she wore a silk taffeta dress by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, featuring lace, hand embroidery, sequins, 10,000 pearls, and a 25-foot train. After the ceremony, the couple rode an open-top, red and gold coach — the same one Prince William and Kate will be riding during their wedding later this week — to Buckingham Palace, waving to the 600,000 well-wishers who filled the streets.
But though the couple’s wedding was declared a national holiday, and Diana was hugely popular, the fairy-tale marriage didn’t have a happy ending. The two separated in 1992 and their divorce was finalized Aug. 28, 1996. Diana died a year later in a tragic car crash in Paris, France.
On April 9, 2005, Prince Charles wed Camilla Parker Bowles to far less fanfare during a 25-minute civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. The couple had begun a romance three decades earlier, and the public often blamed the failure of the prince’s marriage to Diana on his ongoing relationship with Camilla. Only 30 guests were in attendance for the simple marriage ceremony; 800 friends and family attended a service of blessing led by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Windsor Castle afterward, and 15,000 people took to the streets to celebrate their prince’s union. Charles and Camilla have had a tough time winning over the masses, however.
PRINCESS ELIZABETH AND PRINCE PHILIP
The wedding of Britain’s current matriarch was a welcome celebration for the world at the end of a traumatic war; Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated her union to Prince Philip to great public excitement on Nov. 20, 1947. After the couple first met at the wedding of Prince Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece, to the Duke of Kent in 1934, the two began a courtship by exchanging secret letters in 1939, when Queen Elizabeth was only 13 years old. They later became secretly engaged, and after Philip received the king’s permission, their engagement was formally announced in 1947. They were wed that November in Westminster Abbey in front of 2,000 guests.
The then princess wore a Norman Hartnell-designed dress, embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls and thousands of beads, complete with a 15-foot full court train. Ninety-one singers, composed of members from the Abbey Choir and the Choir of HM Chapels Royal, were present for the ceremony, and the bells of St. Margaret’s Church signaled the carriage procession. The marriage was a worldwide event, broadcast to 200 million people around the world by BBC radio, and raked in 10,000 telegrams of well-wishes into Buckingham Palace. The couple received 2,500 wedding gifts, including a piece of crocheted lace made from yarn spun by Mahatma Gandhi, bearing the words “Jai Hind,” meaning “Victory for India.”