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Royal Wedding Hymns: the Windsor favourite?

Music is an integral part of any wedding and a royal wedding is no exception. Like many regal couples before them, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will choose at least two hymns for their marriage service and recent weddings may well provide a clue to a possible selection. For one hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling has been heard at more recent Windsor weddings than any other in the past few decades. So could we see it on the order of service on May 19th?

If Harry doesn’t have this hymn at his marriage ceremony, which takes place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor he will be the first of the Queen’s grandchildren not to include it at their wedding. Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly chose Love Divine, All Loves Excelling for their marriage at St. George’s  on May 17th 2008. It was also selected by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for their ceremony at Westminster Abbey on April 29th 2011 when it was sung immediately after William and Catherine were pronounced husband and wife. The second royal wedding of 2011, that of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, also included this hymn.

As well as proving popular with the younger generation of Windsor brides and grooms, this wedding staple has been the pick of several other royal couples. It was sung at the marriage of Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy on April 24th 1963 at Westminster Abbey and it also featured at the last big Windsor wedding of the 20th century, that of the Earl and Countess of Wessex on June 19th 1999 at St. George’s Chapel. The famous hymn was one of three  sung on April 9th 2005 at St. George’s during the blessing that followed the civil marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The words to Love Divine, All Loves Excelling are by Charles Wesley, who is often described as the greatest hymn writer of all time. One of the founder of the Methodist movement in England, Wesley wrote around 6,500 hymns but this wedding favourite is among the best known.

Charles Wesley’s words sung at so many recent Windsor weddings were first published in 1747 in the famous Hymns for Those That Seek, And Those That Have Redemption edited by his brother, John. The hymn is believed to have been based, in part, on a song popular in England at the time called Fairest Isle which was written at the end of the 17th century by John Dryden for the opera King Arthur by Henry Purcell.

There are certainly similarities between Dryden’s words ‘’Fairest Isle, All Isles Excelling’’ and the opening part of Wesley’s hymn while the last lines of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling could well have been inspired by a poem written by Joseph Addison. Wesley finishes his hymn with the lines ”Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise” while Addison wrote ”Transported with the view I’m lost, in wonder, love and praise”.

The hymn soon became hugely popular and it’s remained so ever since. It’s been set to many different pieces of music through the years. In Sacred Melody, published by John and Charles Wesley in 1761, the brothers chose a piece of music by Henry Purcell, again underlining the links between this hymn and the song, Fairest Isle.  The version we’ve heard at recent royal weddings has been sung to the tune ‘’Blaenwern’’ by William Penfro Rowlands although other popular versions include music by John Stainer and the well known setting to ”Beecher” by John Zundel.

This hymn is a bit of a wedding favourite all round. It regularly makes lists of most popular and appropriate music to choose in wedding magazines and guides to getting married.  In 2013 it made number 14 in a poll to find the UK’s favourite hymn run by the BBC One programme, Songs of Praise.

We usually find out the hymns chosen for a royal wedding before the big day so stay with Royal Central for the very latest news. And don’t be surprised if the order of service for Harry and Meghan’s big day features Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The hymn written by Wesley all those centuries ago has turned into a bit of a royal favourite.

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