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British Royals

The little known rule that stopped a royal wedding at one of the world’s most famous castles

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. They immediately told the world they would marry in April 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 such a big change hit these royal 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 any fledgeling applications were stopped in their 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 Royal Family get the go ahead to hold a 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. The royal wedding took place in the smaller of the two locations available for civil marriages, the Ascot Room, and the marriage of a King and Queen is now included in the venue’s story on the local authority’s website.

Since then, a lot has changed. 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, which has been a rather busy venue in recent years!

Lydia Starbuck is a pen name of June Woolerton who has written extensively on royal history. Her book, A History of Royal Jubilees, is available now. She is also the author of a popular cosy mystery, All Manner of Murder.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and 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 who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. 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.