The town of Windsor, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry this weekend, is about twenty miles west of London, on a pleasant loop in the River Thames. The fastest way to get there from the capital is by train. In 1849, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Britain’s greatest engineer, laid the small branch line that serves the town in order to skirt the playing fields of Eton, which are on one side of the river, and to spare the foundations of Windsor Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in the world, which is on the other.
The wedding on Saturday will take place in St. George’s Chapel, just inside the castle walls. On a sunny morning last week, there was a brisk and purposeful atmosphere below the ramparts. Workmen touched up paintwork, Union Jack bunting fluttered in the streets, and royal staff in Panama hats called out commands to one another. Shortly before 11 A.M., the scene stilled, and there was a peal of martial music as a phalanx of Grenadier Guards in scarlet tunics and black bearskin hats marched up the high street for the changing of the guard. The new guard went into the castle; the old guard came out. Heavily armed police officers, standing in pairs, watched the crowd. Then, the trumpets faded away. The traffic started flowing again, and the preparations resumed.
Everyone agrees that Harry and Meghan’s wedding will be the biggest royal event in Windsor since 1863, when, on a rainy day in March, Princess Alexandra of Denmark married Bertie, the eldest son of Queen Victoria. Windsor was considered a poor venue, after centuries of royal weddings held at Westminster Abbey. Punch magazine described it as “an obscure Berkshire village, noted only for an old castle with bad drains.” Inauspiciously, Victoria’s court was also in half-mourning because of the death of her husband, Albert. Ladies at the wedding were restricted to dresses of gray, lilac, or mauve. Still, the thing went off as well as it could. A flotilla of boats accompanied Princess Alexandra, who was eighteen, as she sailed up the Thames. Bertie—later King Edward VII—was “plump and nervous, but radiant,” according to his biographer, Sir Philip Magnus. Queen Victoria watched the ceremony from Catherine of Aragon’s closet, a wooden balcony above everybody’s heads, which was decorated with carved pomegranates.
On Saturday, the BBC’s live coverage will begin at 9 A.M., three hours