When the wedding cake is unveiled for the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we can expect a grand confection, modernized, calling back to the elaborate official royal cake created for the wedding of Harry’s mother and father, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Diana and Charles’ was a fruitcake over five feet tall, adorned with both Charles’ coat of arms and Diana’s family crest, all topped with a spray of blooms.

We can thank Harry’s great-great-great grandmother Queen Victoria for the appearance of modern, and extravagant, wedding cakes. Hers, a large tiered cake with white icing, was crafted for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, which measured nine feet in circumference and weighed nearly 300 pounds. But the history of wedding cakes transcends the royal family.

Wedding Cake Origins

The origins of the wedding cake dates back to ancient Rome, when weddings concluded with the groom breaking a loaf of barley bread over the bride’s head, symbolizing fertility. Guests would scramble to pick up the crumbs in order to take home some of that good luck.

In medieval England, small spiced buns were organized into a huge pile, with the bride and groom expected to share a kiss over the towering bread pile. If they could kiss without knocking the tower over, the belief was that they’d enjoy a lifetime of prosperity together.

Wedding Pies and Dessert Superstitions

Interestingly enough, it was pies, not cakes, that were typically associated with weddings. The earliest recorded recipe created specifically for a wedding is for Bride’s Pye, detailed in the 1685 edition of The Accomplisht Cook, which describes a large, elaborately decorated pie filled with an array of savoury meats, offal and spices. Sometimes rings would be hidden inside these wedding pies, superstition holding that the woman who found it would be the next to marry.

Other wedding confection superstitions include: the belief that sharing the cake with wedding guests will lead to increased prosperity and fruitfulness; fear that bad luck will befall a bride who bakes her own wedding cake; a bride who tastes the wedding cake ahead of the wedding will lose her husband’s love; and every guest must eat a bit of the cake to ensure the couple will be blessed with children.

Cakes and Royal Icing Come Into Fashion

Eventually, wedding cakes outpaced wedding pies in popularity. By the middle of the 16th century, sugar had become widely available throughout Britain, with white sugar seen as the most prestigious, as it underwent more refinement. Pure white icing on a wedding cake was seen as a status symbol and a nod to purity. Queen Victoria’s wedding continued this tradition, which led to white icing being called Royal Icing, a term that’s still used today. 

Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding Cake

Royal wedding cakes have long set the standard by which all others are measured, and that certainly held true of the magnificent cake created for Harry’s grandmother. For the Queen’s wedding to Prince Philip, Scottish biscuit-maker McVitie & Price baked a four-tiered, nine-foot-tall, 500-pound cake using ingredients provided as wedding gifts from overseas, as wartime rationing in the UK was still in place. The couple cut the first slice using Prince Philip’s sword.

Record-Breaking Wedding Cakes

  • The most expensive wedding cake was valued at $52 million, adorned with 4,000 diamonds.
  • The world’s largest wedding cake stood 17 feet tall and weighed in at 15,032 pounds. It was created for the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino for a 2004 bridal showcase.
  • The most expensive slice of wedding cake was taken from the 1937 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which sold at auction in 1998 for $29,900 (USD).

If you’re ambitious (and not superstitious), try making your own contemporary “Naked” Wedding Cake with our step-by-step guide.