Remembering the Royal Weddings of the Spares to the Heirs

The stories of those first in line for the British throne are well known.

Elizabeth, a young princess growing up in postwar Europe, defined the midcentury monarchy. Prince William, now 35, has matured into a millennial dad on the world’s stage.

They eventually could inherit the crown.

But there are also “spares” — members of the royal family who are farther in the line of succession because of birth order. Prince William — second in line to the throne, behind his father — is a potential heir. Prince Harry, his younger brother, is a spare — and would become king of England only if he survives William’s progeny.

Fortunately, these near-sovereigns are afforded gilded rites of passage for royal watchers to consume. It would seem safe to assume that anyone reading these words is part of the audience less interested in succession and interested in the spectacle of Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, the American actress and activist.

If so, please enjoy this abridged look at five previous “spares” from Prince Harry’s family tree, whose own royal nuptials illuminate a rich tapestry of spectacle and fascination for the betrothed participants and besotted public.

It is a very 21st century construction to have “watch parties” for live-streamed tentpole cultural events like this Saturday’s wedding. But there are roots of similar satellite celebrations extending back to at least the 19th century.

The 1858 wedding of Princess Victoria to Prince Frederick of Prussia was the first British royal wedding in 18 years, and contemporaneous reports show a public that was anxious to take part in the revelry from “the marble palaces of Delhi to the banks of the St. Lawrence.”

The Times conveyed the scene from the British embassy in Washington as a “whole spectacle might compare with any to be met in Europe.”

The story went on to report that the attendance included: “an array of intellect, station, beauty, wealth and distinction in the various departments of life such as was never collected before under one roof in Washington.”

It included “the whole diplomatic core” as well as “prominent officers of the army and navy” “leading members of both branches of congress: and Harriet Lane, who served in the official capacity as first lady for her uncle, then-president and lifelong bachelor James Buchanan.

This union of Prince…