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How Princess Beatrice’s wedding certificate just made history

Beatrice, Edoardo crop
Photograph by Benjamin Wheeler.

Royal history has often been checked, revealed and even challenged through one simple document, the marriage certificate. For centuries, the record of a regal wedding has been a prized document, pored over as a source of significance. And now, one record can claim its own special place in royal history. The marriage certificate of Princess Beatrice is now the last of its kind.

When Beatrice wed Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Windsor on July 17th 2020, the marriage certificate the princess walked away with that day looked pretty similar to the one that would have been issued to dozens of royal brides before her. Beatrice was presented with a long, oblong piece of green paper containing a handwritten record of her marriage. Along with her own details, and those of her new husband, two other names made an appearance. The fathers of both bride and groom were recorded, as had been traditional for over 180 years. But nowhere on that document was there any record of their mothers. All that has now changed.

For on May 4th 2021, marriage law in England and Wales underwent its biggest alteration since registration law was established in 1837, in the early months of the reign of Queen Victoria. The traditional register, where marriages were recorded, is gone and replaced with an electronic database. And certificates, always handwritten on the day of the marriage, become printed documents sent on in the post, days after the event. However, the change that makes Beatrice’s marriage entry so historic is all to do with parents. Until May 3rd 2021, there was no provision for mothers to be mentioned in the record. Now, up to four parents per person can be added to a marriage entry, allowing step-parents to be recognised as well. Princess Beatrice’s wedding is the last major royal marriage where no mother’s details will appear on the certificate.

The change was due to happen around a year earlier but, like many things, was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. It means that Sarah, Duchess of York went from being the first mother of a royal bride likely to appear on a certificate to the last to be overlooked on this particular record. In all probability, the first senior royal to get a mum’s mention on a marriage document will be the Countess of Wessex. Her daughter, Lady Louise, is now 17 and her son, James, Viscount Severn, is 13, and more likely to marry before the next generation of royal descendants. The first future monarch to have their mother mentioned on the certificate will be Prince George. When he marries, the Duchess of Cambridge will take equal standing on the record with her husband.

In fact, this is one chance for royal women to really take the lead. There is no requirement for fathers’ details to be entered ahead of those of a mother on the new marriage records. The decision rests with the person getting married. Which means that Prince George may well ask for Kate to be mentioned on the record of his wedding ahead of William. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, Princess Beatrice takes an unusual place in royal history as the last regal bride with a certificate to match that of Queen Victoria.

Royal Central has a brand new anthology, all about royal weddings, available. The collection, either an ebook or paperback, can be found on Amazon.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.