Photo by Andrew Parsons MOD © Crown copyright 2022
When King Charles III and Queen Camilla announced their engagement in February 2005 they wasted no time in setting a date or venue for their marriage.
In the official statement issued on February 10th 2005, they said they would marry on April 8th that year in a civil ceremony at Windsor Castle followed by a service of blessing at St. George’s Chapel later the same day. Yet just a week later, they had to move their civil marriage out of the castle. So why did they have to change his wedding plans?
It all came down to the terms of a licence. Until the mid-1990s, civil marriages in England and Wales could only be held in register offices. The Marriages Act 1994 allowed these ceremonies to take place in other buildings, like castles, as long as the venue is licenced. Windsor Castle wasn’t but a licence could still be applied for – and that’s where things got interesting.
The decision on whether to apply for a licence for civil marriage was stopped in its tracks by one rule. The terms of a licence state that the venue must ‘’be regularly available to the public for the solemnization of marriages’’. If the couple did get the go ahead to hold their civil wedding at Windsor Castle then, for the next three years, the ancient building had to be open to others to say ‘I do’ there as well.
Which is why, on February 17th 2005, the couple announced they would instead get married at the nearby Windsor Guildhall in the town’s High Street. It’s not far from Castle Hill which leads to the royal residence and it’s steeped in history. The 17th century Grade I listed building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and restored in the 19th century. Charles and Camilla wed in the smaller of the two locations available for civil marriages, the Ascot Room, and their marriage is now included in the venue’s story on the local authority’s website.
It remains the only register office to have witnessed the marriage of a monarch and consort.
Further changes to the initial announcement would follow. Although, on February 10th, they couple had set April 8th as their wedding day, duty intervened. Almost two months after choosing their wedding date, they had to move it. On April 2nd 2005, Pope John Paul II died and King Charles, then heir to the throne, headed to the Vatican for the funeral. The service was set for April 8th and with just days to go, the royal wedding date was changed to allow Charles to pay tribute to one of the most important figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The history books record a very different wedding from the one announced on February 10th 2005.
Even more has changed in the intervening years. Civil marriages now account for the majority of weddings in England and Wales and there are thousands of venues licensed for ceremonies including several present and former royal homes. Kensington Palace has a licence as do Hampton Court Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House. But not Windsor Castle. The only weddings that take place there are in St. George’s Chapel.