Why wedding bells ring softly for the latest royal couple

The youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II will tie the knot Saturday in a

For the first time in living memory in Britain, The Mall - the broad, brick-colored avenue leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace - will be open to ordinary traffic during a royal wedding.

The reason is that tomorrow's nuptials between Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth II's youngest son, and Sophie Rhys-Jones will be happening 15 miles north of the British capital, at Windsor Castle.

So in the royal heart of London there will be no gilt carriages pulled by well-behaved horses, no red-jacketed guardsmen in gleaming brass helmets, to prevent cars using the thoroughfare that has seen the queen's other three children undertake marriages that all ended in tears.

It is only one of many signs that the queen is content to see Edward and his bride, a public relations consultant, get married in what royal-watcher Harold Brooks-Baker says will be "a deliberately low-key atmosphere."

Even the 75 million commemorative wedding stamps that went on sale in British post offices June 15 are an understatement. They are printed in black and white instead of color, and the young couple is wearing dark polo-neck sweaters.

To ram the point home that the wedding is perceived as a family affair, rather than a state ceremony of the kind that marked the marriages of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer (to whom Ms. Rhys-Jones bears a striking resemblance), and Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson, there will be no military guards of honor.

"The only uniforms the wedding guests will see will be worn by police officers," a Ministry of Defense source says.

NOT everyone is happy about the scaled-down early evening ceremony.

A reporter with the News of the World tabloid says: "A start time of 5 p.m. is just terrible for us. We won't have a chance to take photographs of the blushing bride before presses for our early Sunday editions begin to roll."

Of course, that may be the point.

Yesterday, the Sun, another Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, reported that guests were "snubbing" the couple's wedding registry list because "most items are too dear."

Last month the Sun printed topless pictures of Rhys-Jones, then had to apologize.

So far, the paper said, with perhaps just a hint of malice, nobody had jumped at the 100,000 ($159,500) antique table and six chairs, although quite a few had been ready to pay 85 ($135) for a single coffee cup.

The couple has also requested a hallmarked silver tea strainer (price: $5,000) and a wide-screen television set (price: $8,000).

Prince Edward, who produces television programs, is no friend of the British media, which may explain why he has decreed that there will be no reporters allowed inside St George's Chapel for the wedding. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has exclusive rights to televise the event to an expected global audience of hundreds of millions.

In 1987, he made a show called "It's a Royal Knockout" in which he and other members of the queen's family made fools of themselves in public. Newspapers accused him of dumbing down the monarchy.

"Our newspapers have given Prince Edward a tough time," says Mr. Brooks-Baker. "Perhaps he can see no reason to be more than civil."

After their wedding, the couple will live in a Victorian house near London that Edward has leased from the queen's property managers. As for their honeymoon, one option will be denied them.

Prince Charles and Diana spent their first days together cruising the Mediterranean aboard the royal yacht Britannia. Today however, in another example of a swing toward a scaled-down monarchy, Britannia is unavailable for royal honeymoons.

The queen has sold it, and it is now a tourist attraction cemented to a harbor jetty near Edinburgh, Scotland.

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