Princess Eugenie's wedding: Why these royal nuptials are courting controversy

It's bound to bring back royal wedding memories of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's carriage ride through the streets of Windsor.

Harry's cousin Princess Eugenie, 28, and Jack Brooksbank, 32, are planning a horse-drawn jaunt after their wedding in St. George's Chapel on Friday, perhaps in a glass coach if rain seems likely.

But while much shorter than Harry and Meghan's, Eugenie's ceremonial excursion, and the security it will require, have stirred controversy over the nuptials of this more junior royal who seems to be aiming for a wedding to rival the one her higher-ranking relative had in May.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave in a carriage after their wedding ceremony on May 19. (Yui Mok/Associated Press)

"Princess Eugenie … is a private citizen in many respects," says Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. "She doesn't have that range of public engagements, and so there's some popular controversy about the perception that she's trying to emulate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle."

Emulate — and maybe even exceed.

Harry, who is sixth in the line of succession to his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, had about 600 guests watching him wed Meghan in the chapel. Eugenie, three steps down in the royal ranks, apparently has about 850 on her guest list.

Her party, it's said, will be spread over two days, with a more informal gathering for some guests planned on Saturday. Harry and Meghan, whose wedding Harris says was in ways a bit more understated than expected for a royal of his rank, were wed and celebrated in one day.

Who pays?

And then there's the money. While the Royal Family is paying for Eugenie's wedding itself, security costs will be borne by the British taxpayer. That tally has been estimated to be in the range of two million pounds. And that hasn't gone over well in some quarters.

"If the royals want to turn Eugenie and Jack's big day into a public event, they need to pick up the bill — all of it," anti-monarchist group Republic says in an online petition urging the British government to commit "no public money" to Eugenie's wedding.

By late Wednesday, the petition had garnered more than 41,000 signatures.

Armed police secure the route of the carriage procession prior to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan on May 19. The carriage procession for Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank will also come down this road from Windsor Castle and turn at this corner. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

A Labour MP also voiced his opposition to any public expenditure. Chris Williamson told Sky News in August that the security bill facing taxpayers is "completely unacceptable."

Williamson said the "fabulously wealthy" father of the bride, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, should fund the additional expenses himself.

What is unfolding around this wedding could also be the result of Andrew's reported view that Eugenie and her elder sister Beatrice — who will be maid of honour Friday — deserve more than they get from the Royal Family.

"Certainly there have been indications in the past that he would like his daughters to have a more active role in terms of public engagements" and full security, says Harris.

Andrew also reportedly wanted Eugenie's nuptials televised live on the BBC, an idea the British broadcaster turned down, apparently apprehensive about just how many viewers would tune in for a service that begins at 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET). Rival network ITV will offer live coverage in the U.K.

What about the mother of the bride?

Wedding watchers will also likely focus some of their attention on the mother of the bride, Sarah Ferguson, who is divorced from Andrew, but still very close to him.

"In terms of this wedding, there's a lot of interest in … how the Duchess of York will be received by the Royal Family," says Harris.

Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, are divorced, but remain close and have been seen together, including at Royal Ascot in 2015, along with their daughters, Princess Eugenie, centre, and Princess Beatrice, far right. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Scandal surrounded the demise of Andrew and Sarah's marriage in the early 1990s, and it's long been thought that her former father-in-law, Prince Philip, has little use for his former daughter-in-law. The Daily Telegraph has reported that Philip and Sarah haven't spoken since the divorce came through in 1996.

Whether Philip will attend the wedding is unclear. On Wednesday, newspapers were reporting the 97-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth, who had hip replacement surgery in April, will make a last-minute decision about whether to go to the chapel.

Other U.K. tabloids have been reporting that he has agreed to pose in official wedding photos that will also include Sarah.

The wedding also focuses further scrutiny on Eugenie and Beatrice themselves.


The sisters have taken tabloid hits over the years, especially for lavish holidays, and have garnered significant attention for fashion selections that seemed somewhat questionable.

Beatrice's hat for the wedding of Harry's older brother Prince William in 2011 — variously described as resembling a doughnut-shaped spaceship or a toilet seat — was particularly memorable.

The hats Eugenie, left, and Beatrice, right, wore to the royal wedding of their cousin Prince William in 2011 drew a lot of attention – not all of it flattering. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Any further scrutiny on the sisters prompted by this wedding could have a broader impact for the House of Windsor.

"If Eugenie's wedding is perceived as particularly lavish," says Harris, "it's going to lead to wider discussions about the role of junior members of the Royal Family."

What will the junior royals do?

It's a debate Harris says is going to be relevant going into the next generation, when, for example, the question would arise about just what sort of life William's third child, Prince Louis, might lead.

"Beatrice and Eugenie have already granted interviews where they've said that they're unique in a sense, because they are princesses who are also pursuing careers," says Harris.

And that may well be the way things are going, with royal cousins not having the public or official profile of lower-ranking royals in previous generations.

Junior royals were nowhere to be seen as the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations drew to close in 2012. The Buckingham Palace balcony, which has often been jam-packed with royal relatives on formal occasions, was limited to, from left, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Charles; Queen Elizabeth; Prince William; Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Prince Harry. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Certainly there were hints of that as far back as the Queen's 2012 Diamond Jubilee. At that time, a Buckingham Palace balcony appearance featured only the Queen (Prince Philip was in hospital), her heir Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, next-in-line William and his wife, Kate, and Harry. Missing were the numerous royal relations who have often been on the balcony, too.

"The trend going forward seems to be a more streamlined Royal Family," says Harris, "and of course that opens up the wide question [of the] role of more junior members of the Royal Family and what sort of public profile they should have."

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