By Jack Hawke
St George’s Chapel has seen weddings, christenings, funerals and blessings over its 500-year existence. (Supplied: Kensington Palace)
Meghan Markle is bound to be the star of her wedding day.
But as she walks up the red carpeted stairs of St George’s Chapel, she will be stepping into one of England’s most precious historic chapels.
The word “chapel” barely does it justice.
Steeped in history, it has seen weddings, christenings, funerals and blessings over its 500-year existence.
Building of the current chapel was started by Edward IV in 1475 and completed 53 years later in 1528 under the watch of Henry VIII, who was later buried there.
It was the venue for the wedding of Harry’s uncle Prince Edward and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999 and a service of dedication and prayer was held there after the civil marriage between his father Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding at St George’s Chapel will be much bigger than when Prince Charles wed the Duchess of Cornwall. (AP: Odd Andersen, file)
The chapel is also the final resting places for monarchs, with 10 British sovereigns interred there, including the six times-married Henry VIII.
But none of those factors have attracted the kind of attention Prince Harry and United States actress Meghan Markle are bringing.
The small town of Windsor will be a hive of activity, with more than 100,000 people expected to descend to get their dose of royal wedding fever.
While there will be fewer guests compared to the last royal wedding — 600 compared to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 1,900 guests at Westminster Abbey in 2011 — the estimated global TV audience is set to be bigger, with more than 2 billion expected to tune in.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will say their vows before 600 guests at St George’s Chapel. (Reuters: Toby Melville)
The choice of the more intimate St George’s Chapel over Westminster Abbey is about more than just size.
Prince Harry and Ms Markle secretly spent time in Windsor during their 16-month romance, and Harry’s communications secretary Jason Knauf said it was a “very special place” for the couple.
Prince Harry was christened there in December 1984.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will return to Windsor Castle after their wedding via the Long Walk, a straight tree-lined path. (Reuters: Toby Melville )
It is also a very special place to his grandmother, the Queen, according to local historian Leslie Grout.
“St George’s is one that one associates more with the royal family these days, I mean Windsor Castle is essentially the Queen’s home,” Mr Grout, 71, said.
“She spent her early years in Windsor and although she’s got a number of residences, this is very much her special place.
“So it’s bound to have that extra bit to it that the Abbey doesn’t have.”
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles held their civil marriage at St George’s Chapel in 2005. (Supplied: Kensington Palace)
Despite its fabled history, it only became a serious venue for weddings during Queen Victoria’s reign in the 1800s, beginning with her 21-year-old son Edward.
Mr Grout, who won the long-running British quiz show Mastermind in 1981 for his knowledge of the chapel, said it was the first royal wedding there since Henry I in 1121.
“Henry I married his second wife in an earlier chapel within the castle, but we don’t know where exactly that stood or how big it was,” he said.
“Then there wasn’t another royal wedding until 1863 when the future Edward VII married Princess Alexandria of Denmark.”
The popular choice for royal weddings had been the chapel inside St James’s Palace in London.
“A lot of royal marriages, certainly in the early 19th century, took place at the Chapel Royal at St James’s,” Mr Grout said.
“It is a royal chapel, but they can’t have had many people there because it’s not a particularly big place.
“But certainly Queen Victoria was married there.”
Inside the chapel
Mr Grout expects it will be a tight fit for the 600 guests invited to the ceremony.
“I would imagine they will have some television screens in the nave, because those people sitting in the nave will see them [Harry and Meghan] come in and see them go out, but you’ve got the big quire screen in the way and you won’t see anything there,” he said.
“But I would imagine, as they’ve done on previous occasions, they will have TV screens in the nave put up so people can see what’s going on.”
More than 2 billion people are expected to tune in to watch Prince Harry marry Meghan Markle at St George’s Chapel. (Supplied: Kensington Palace)
With more than 900 years of history in Windsor Castle itself, and with the chapel being the final resting place of some of history’s most famous figures, there are many stories of haunted halls and spectres stirring in the night.
But Mr Grout, a chapel steward for over 40 years, was quick to shoot them down.
“None have got any basis to them,” he said.
“There’s all sorts of stories of hauntings in the castle, but they’re not in the least bit reliable most of them.”
After the ceremony
Outside the chapel 2,640 chosen members of the public will be allowed inside the castle walls to get a first glimpse of the bridge and groom after the ceremony.
At 1pm once outside the chapel, the new couple will board an Ascot Landau carriage pulled by Windsor Grey horses for their procession through the town before returning to Windsor Castle via the Long Walk, a straight tree-lined path.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have selected the Ascot Landau carriage for their procession through Windsor Town. (Twitter: Kensington Palace)
The procession will be shepherded by a travelling Escort of the Household Calvary Mounted Regiment and the round trip is expected to take around 25 minutes.
Prince Harry and Ms Markle are said to be looking forward to this part of the event which, according to a statement, “they hope will allow them to express their gratitude for everyone that has gathered together in Windsor to enjoy the atmosphere of this special day”.
After the procession the 600 invited guests will attend a lunchtime reception in St George’s Hall inside the castle.
Later in the day 200 guests will head to Frogmore House for the evening reception, which is expected to be a lively affair not attended by the Queen or Prince Philip.
When all the festivities wind down Prince Harry and Ms Markle will retire to Windsor Castle for their first night as a married couple.
There will be a reception at St George’s Hall for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and guests from the congregation after the couple’s wedding. (Twitter: Kensington Palace)