Every woman wants to feel like a princess on her wedding day, but even if you’re not marrying an actual prince, like Meghan Markle, you can still make believe.
While only a few can get married in St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle with a reception in nearby royal residence Frogmore House (namely those who have the approval of the Queen; even Prince Harry and Meghan had to get official permission), you can get hitched in a stately home with palace-like proportions.
Osborne, Isle of Wight
It’s hard to imagine a more pursed-lipped mother of the bride than Queen Victoria. If she was happy with the setting of Osborne House for her daughter, Princess Alice, in 1862, then it’ll likely pass muster for more modern mothers.
Osborne was Queen Victoria’s summer seaside home, designed by Prince Albert in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, and built by Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company constructed the main façade of Buckingham Palace.
Queen Victoria said it was “impossible to imagine a prettier spot” than Osborne. Now an English Heritage property, it’s only been holding weddings for a year. You can get married practically anywhere on the property, from the elaborately decorated Durbar Room, built in 1890 as a state banqueting hall, and the “Queen’s Alcove” on the private beach, to Prince Albert’s walled garden.
“It’s a sprawling palace which reflects Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s passions, tastes and style,” says Elaine Cesar, hospitality manager at Osborne. “Ornate furnishings and artefacts fill rooms and corridors where Queen Victoria entertained heads of state, inventors, princes and princesses, and ruled the vast British Empire.
“To have one of the most important days of your life in such a historic spot is a unique experience.”
The scaffolding is now down following major restoration, and the Derbyshire hills provide a beautiful backdrop to a wedding at Chatsworth House.
In its 400-year history it has hosted legendary parties for kings and queens, high society aristocrats, film stars, politicians and creatives.
Its Painted Hall was in fact the first Duke of Devonshire’s project to make his new home worthy of receiving William III and Queen Mary, who awarded him the dukedom after he helped bring them to the throne in 1688. That couple didn’t make it up north, but subsequent members of the Royal family have been regular guests, including our current Queen and Prince Charles, who are great friends of the family.
If it’s a great party you want, then tap into the 350 years of late-night, raucous celebrations that Cliveden is famous for hosting. Never mind the more recent Christine Keeler scandal (although yes, you can swim in the pool), the house was originally built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham as a gift to his mistress.
Since then it’s had a series of impressive women living here, from George III’s mother, Princess Augusta, the 19th-century Duchess of Sutherland, and Britain’s first woman MP Nancy Astor.
Now a Grade I stately home with a five-star hotel, you can borrow a piece of history for your wedding, party the night away like dukes and duchesses, before waking up to wander around the 376-acre estate the next day.
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
Inviting guests to your nuptials at the “Old Palace” is hard to top in the game of wedding one-upmanship.
Hatfield House, the current home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury and their family, boasts a Grade I listed building built in 1485 by the Bishop of Ely, where Henry VIII’s three children were sent in 1538.
It was also where, 20 years later, the then Princess Elizabeth found out that her sister Mary had died and that she was now Queen of England; she held her first Council of State in the Old Palace. You can get married in that same room, with the house’s medieval brickwork and beautiful gardens outside.
Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire
If, like the royal couple, you fancy yourselves as laid-back glampers (their third date was camping in Botswana under the stars), consider a wedding on the Swinton Estate.
Along with the castle’s impressive rooms, you can book a glamping wedding on part of the 200 acres of landscaped parkland, complete with boho barefoot ceremony, if you so wish.
Leeds Castle, Kent
With views across the moat, the Henry VIII Banqueting Hall, which is the largest room of Leeds Castle, is all set for a feast of kingly proportions.
Built in the 11th century (like Windsor) the castle has been the private property of six of England’s medieval queens and later a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon (don’t fret about the omens; she survived).
Gosfield Hall, Essex
This Georgian mansion has been home to two queens over the years. Built by the architect Sir John Wentworth in 1545, it became the temporary residence of Elizabeth I.
It was another royal visitor in the 18th century – the Prince of Wales – which prompted the hall’s new owner, Earl Nugent, to add a few extra flourishes, including building a mile-long lake. The house had yet another makeover before the exiled Louis XVIII of France moved in with his wife Queen Marie Joséphine Louise of Savoy.
That style has been preserved today in the 23-bedroom hotel. You can dine in the Marquis of Buckingham’s former ballroom where there are glittering crystal chandeliers, enormous floor to ceiling mirrors and cuisine fit for royalty, says Laura Styles, sales director of Country House Weddings.
The bridal suite – Queen Marie’s former bedroom – comes with gilded ceilings, a four-poster bed with thick gold curtains, cream carpets and marble columns.
Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
With suits of armour lining the halls, and its turrets and a moat, this is surely the closest match a mere commoner could secure to Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding venue, Windsor Castle. Not to be confused with the palace in London, this castle was built by Henry IV in the 15th century and given as a gift to his cousin the Earl of Arundel’s daughter and her new husband. “It is not unusual for visitors to quickly fall in love with the castle,” says Andrea Wood, the director of the property.
“It’s not something that is tangible, there just seems to be something special about the place that really captivates people when they come here.”
There’s a chapel, a ballroom and medieval banquet hall, plus the bridal suite is accessible via a cantilever staircase. Perfect for a regal entrance.