Royal wedding venue steeped in British history

05 May 2018 - 16:07 By afp
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. File photo.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. File photo.
Image: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

St. George's Chapel, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will tie the knot, is a royal church steeped in centuries of British history.

The final resting place of kings and queens and the epicentre of English chivalry, the Windsor Castle chapel has witnessed multiple royal weddings and state occasions.

When the couple wed on May 19, they will be surrounded by great ancestors, priceless relics and heraldry dating back to the Middle Ages.

Inspired by King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, the most prestigious order of chivalry, in 1348.

He made Windsor's chapel its mother church and rededicated it to St. George, England's patron saint.

In an annual ceremony which still continues, knights walk to the chapel in a grand procession, dressed in their garter robes: heavy blue velvet capes and black velvet hats with elaborate white ostrich plumes.

The order is limited to 24 living companions, whose banners hang in the chapel. Each knight has a plate depicting their coat of arms on their seat.

Current members include 1990s prime minister John Major, former Bank of England governor Mervyn King, and ex-MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Foreign knights include the kings of Spain, Norway and Sweden, and Japan's Emperor Akihito.

Harry's brother and best man Prince William is the 1,000th knight.

Gothic masterpiece

The chapel was radically rebuilt between 1475 and 1528 into the grand feat of Gothic architecture seen today.

Its fan-vaulted ceiling, intricately-carved stonework and stained glass windows make it one of the finest examples of its kind in England.

King Edward III's sword, 2.03 metres (six feet and eight inches) long, hangs in one of the aisles.

The roof is lined with 76 statues of the Queen's Beasts, depicting 14 heraldic animals including the golden lion of England, the red dragon of Wales and the silver falcon of York.

The chapel has a door from the original building which has been standing since the mid-13th century. It is only used by the royal family when attending services.

Harry, Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, was baptised in the chapel in December 1984 with the names Henry Charles Albert David.

And when he and former US television star Markle marry before 600 guests, they will stand metres from a host of monarchs.

Kings Edward IV, Henry VI and Edward VII are buried to the sides of the altar. Henry VIII and the executed Charles I are in the choir.

Beneath the bride and groom in the chapel's royal vault lie kings George III -- the last to reign in Markle's homeland -- George IV and William IV.

King George V lies near the west door, while his son and Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI, has his own memorial chapel.

His wife, also called Queen Elizabeth, and the ashes of their daughter princess Margaret, were buried next to him in 2002 -- the last royals laid to rest in the chapel.

Wedding list 

Besides burials and funerals, the chapel also has a more joyous history of royal weddings, which peaked in Queen Victoria's reign.

The trend has been revived in recent decades.

Queen Elizabeth's youngest son Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones in the chapel in 1999.

When Harry's father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, remarried in 2005, the wedding could not take place in church as both Charles and Camilla were divorced.

Instead they married at Windsor Guildhall and a blessing was held in the chapel in the sovereign's presence.

In the chapel's last royal wedding in 2008, Queen Elizabeth's eldest grandchild Peter Phillips married Canadian management consultant Autumn Kelly.

They sold their wedding pictures to a magazine -- much to the monarch's irritation.

St. George's is set to host another royal wedding later this year.

Princess Eugenie, the younger daughter of Queen Elizabeth's second son Prince Andrew and ninth in line to the throne, is due to marry her socialite fiancee Jack Brooksbank on October 12.

Penpix of the key figures at the royal wedding

Here are brief profiles of the main participants at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle:

PRINCE HARRY
Groom, 33

Aged 12, his mother Diana's death shook Harry, who became a wild child in his youth. After a decade in the army and two tours in Afghanistan, the prince is a more settled character. He is now devoted to royal duties and his Invictus Games for wounded troops.

MEGHAN MARKLE
Bride, 36

Raised in Hollywood, Markle graduated from Northwestern University in theatre and international relations. She made her name starring as Rachel Zane in the US legal drama television series "Suits" from 2011 to 2017. She was also a women's rights activist. Her two-year marriage to film producer Trevor Engelson ended in 2013.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Grandmother of the groom, 92

Her Majesty has reigned since 1952. A steadfast monarch in a changing world, Queen Elizabeth has been an impeccable sovereign through more than 65 years of duty, a figure of constancy who has overseen post-war Britain into the new millennium.

PRINCE PHILIP, DUKE OF EDINBURGH
Grandfather of the groom, 96

Prince Philip has been at the Queen's side since they wed in 1947, but may not be at the wedding after the family revealed he was still recovering from hip surgery. A naval officer, he served in World War II and witnessed the Japanese surrender. He retired from royal duties in 2017. The duke is renowned for his off-the-cuff remarks.

PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE
Best man

Older brother William returns the favour Harry performed at his wedding in 2011. William, who is in line to become king after their father Prince Charles, has given up his job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot to become a full-time royal. He is now a father of three after the arrival of Prince Louis on April 23.

PRINCE CHARLES, PRINCE OF WALES
Father of the groom

The heir to the throne has spent a lifetime preparing to be king. His "fairytale" marriage to Diana, princess of Wales disintegrated. Outspoken on the environment and architecture, he also heads the wide-ranging Prince's Trust charity.

CAMILLA, DUCHESS OF CORNWALL
Stepmother of the groom

Charles's former mistress married the heir to the throne in 2005. She uses one of her husband's lesser titles and has kept a low profile accompanying him on visits. Camilla is set to become princess consort upon Charles' accession to the throne.

THOMAS MARKLE
Father of the bride

The man who will walk the bride down the aisle is a former television lighting director, working on top US shows including "Married With Children". He won an Emmy award for his work on the soap "General Hospital". Twice divorced, he now lives a secluded life in Mexico.

DORIA RAGLAND
Mother of the bride

A social worker and a yoga instructor with dreadlocks and a nose ring, Meghan calls her mother a "free spirit". She met Thomas while working in television make-up. She has a master's degree in social work and ran the 2017 Los Angeles marathon.

JUSTIN WELBY, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Spiritual leader of the Church of England

The Anglican Communion's most senior bishop will officiate as the couple make their marriage vows. A former oil executive, Welby baptised Markle after her engagement. He went to Eton College, as did Harry.

DAVID CONNER, DEAN OF WINDSOR
Ceremony leader

Conner is the senior cleric at St. George's Chapel and will therefore conduct the service. He has been the dean since 1998 and was also the bishop to the armed forces during Harry's time in the army. He was formerly the vicar of the Cambridge University church.

OTHER GUESTS:

Royal officials have said they will reveal details about Markle's bridesmaids nearer the time. The public will also have to wait to find out if any celebrity friends of the couple are attending.

NOT INVITED:

Markle's half-brother and half-sister Thomas and Samantha. Thomas Markle Junior has said Markle is "probably embarrassed" by them and sent an open letter to Prince Harry asking him to cancel the marriage.

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