Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's private wedding wasn't legal - and officials say Markle is 'confused'
On 21 March 2021, the wedding certificate of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was published by the General Register Office, proving the royal couple married at Saint George's Chapel on 19 May 2018.
This is the date on which the world watched as the couple tied the knot, but not the date Meghan claimed they married in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Speaking to Oprah, Meghan claimed she married Harry in the gardens of Kensington Palace, three days before the public ceremony took place.
The Duchess of Sussex added that the garden ceremony was secret, conducted by the archbishop, and only he and the couple were present.
So, why has Meghan said this, and has the Archbishop of Canterbury - who married the Sussexes at Saint George’s Chapel - responded to these claims?
When did Harry and Meghan marry?
The wedding certificate of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - whose birth name is Rachel Meghan Markle - states that they were officially married in the eyes of the church and in law, on 19 March 2018.
The certificate was published late on 21 March 2021, after Markle made claims she had married Harry in their garden three days prior to their televised ceremony, which would have meant they married on 16 May 2018.
The certificate was drawn up by the registrar, Stephen Borton, former chief clerk at the Faculty Office, and the document has now been shared publicly.
A copy of the official wedding certificate provides details of the date, place of marriage, who conducted the marriage and the two witnesses.
The document states that the wedding took place on 19 May 2018, at Windsor.
It states the couple were married according to the “rites and ceremonies of the Established Church” by Special Licence by “Justin Cantuar”.
“Justin Cantuar” is an abbreviation of the Latin Cantuariensis, meaning Canterbury, and is the formal way the Archbishop signs himself on official documents. He is considered the leader of the Church of England.
Prince Charles and Meghan’s mum Doria Ragland are recorded as witnesses.
The document is dated ‘March 16, 2021’ which is the day before the copy was shared with The Sun.
Why does the certificate not correlate with Meghan’s claims?
During her conversation with Oprah, Meghan claimed that the couple married “in [their] backyard” at Nottingham Cottage, Kensington Palace, three days prior to 19 May 2018.
Harry added, it was “just the three of us,” - him, his fiance and the Archbishop, the Most Reverend Justin Welby.
Meghan said: “We called the archbishop, and we just said, 'Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us.
“The vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
However, this has now been refuted by the certificate required for a marriage to be considered legally binding, “under the conditions stipulated by the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 which have been recently amended,” according to Mr Borton.
“In order for them to be married a Special Licence was drawn up and the wording from Her Majesty the Queen authorising the wedding and the official venue was recorded,” he added.
The ‘spectacle’ cost around £32 million, and was witnessed by 600 guests and 11.5million people on television.
Why did their vows in the garden not count?
Regardless of whether the archbishop visited them in their back garden to witness the exchange of vows, the marriage would not hold up to legal scrutiny.
The garden is not an authorised venue, and there must be witnesses present.
Mr Bolton explained: “They couldn’t have got married in the grounds of Nottingham Cottage as it is not an authorised venue and there were not enough witnesses present.
“You cannot be married with just three people. It’s not a valid ceremony.”
“I think the Duchess is confused. Any certificate she may have of her vows on the wall is not an official wedding certificate.”
Mr Bolton was not present at the garden meeting, but has suggested the unofficial private ceremony could have been a “fashionable” exchange of personally written vows, or just a rehearsal.
He said: “The Special Licence I helped draw up enabled them to marry at St George’s Chapel in Windsor and what happened there on 19 May 2018 and was seen by millions around the world was the official wedding as recognised by the Church of England and the law.
“What I suspect they did was exchange some simple vows they had perhaps written themselves, which is fashionable, and said that in front of the Archbishop. Or, and more likely, it was a simple rehearsal.”
How has the archbishop responded to these claims?
The Archbishop of Canterbury has not responded to calls to clarify what took place in the gardens of Nottingham Cottage, as he will not comment on pastoral or private matters.
However, a Church of England priest reverend did investigate the matter - as he said it caused confusion for other clergymen who had denied couples a private wedding during the Covid pandemic, because it would not be legally binding.
Rev Edwards, the vicar at St Matthew's Church, in Dinnington, and St Cuthbert's Church, in Brunswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, said he was told by a Lambeth Palace staff member that, “Justin does not do private weddings. Meghan is an American, she does not understand”.
Lambeth Palace is the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The spokesperson who responded to Rev Edwards’ enquiry, said: “Justin had a private conversation with the couple in the garden about the wedding, but I can assure you, no wedding took place until the televised national event.”
Before the certificate was published and the date of the wedding was confirmed, Rev Edwards said: “It puts us priests in a difficult position on what constitutes a Church of England wedding.
“Should there be witnesses and licensing and legality or is it now just an ad hoc arrangement with members of clergy? Can we now do private weddings without witnesses in our back gardens?”
Tens of other clergymen also called on the archbishop to respond with regards to Meghan's claims, as they were unsure if the garden ceremony was considered official by the church.
If this had been the case, the Archbishop had acted unlawfully and then presided over a “fake” royal wedding in the presence of the Queen, who is the titular head of the Church of England.