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British Royal Wedding History
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Almost every young girl dreams of feeling like a princess on her wedding day. But only a select few are the genuine thing: royal brides. British royal weddings have always been breathtaking pageants that inspired millions of young ladies around the globe. From Queen Victoria to Princess Diana, this is a look into the majesty and splendor of some of the most memorable royal weddings in England.
Queen Victoria Made White Wedding Gown Popular
When we think of weddings, naturally the first color that springs to mind is white. However, this was not always the case. The traditional "white wedding" came into vogue entirely because of one bride: Queen Victoria of England. Prior to her 1840 marriage to Prince Albert, it was common for brides to wear colorful dresses, and even black dresses. The concept of having a white gown that could only be worn for one day (unlike a gown in a color which would be more practical for future events) was a wild extravagance that was largely undreamt of before Queen Victoria. After her white wedding, however, a white bridal gown so quickly became the standard that it has largely been forgotten that it was not always the custom.
Queen Victoria was a seventeen year old princess when she first met the love of her life in 1836. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was Victoria's first cousin, which was not unusual in the small circles of the aristocracy. It is said that from the moment she met him, Victoria was greatly charmed by Albert and quickly came to realize that she would be very happy to spend her life with him; she wrote to her uncle to thank him for the introduction : "for the prospect of great happiness you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert ... He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy." At the time it was rare for monarchs to marry for love rather than strategical alliance, yet the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was quite genuine and lasted for a lifetime.
Although she was unwavering in her affections for Albert, Victoria was in no rush to be married. The following year, she became the Queen of England following the death of her uncle King William IV on June 20, 1838. A mere eight days later the eighteen year old Victoria was coronated as the Queen of England. Being the monarch of a great empire, however, was not enough to free Victoria from the societal rules of the day, and the young Queen was forced to live with her irksome mother. It is a certainty that Victoria married Albert out of affection, however the prospect of escaping from her mother's daily control was definitely an added bonus.
The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was held on February 10, 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace in London. Prince Albert was handsomely attired in the uniform of a British field marshal with the collar and star of the order of the garter. Following the ceremony, the traditional royal wedding breakfast was held at Buckingham Palace, which was attended by the royal family, the ministry, and the wedding party.
Queen Victoria's choice of a white wedding gown was unusual not only for a bride but also for a monarch. Before her wedding, when a member of the royal family was married, they typically wore all of the opulent regalia of the monarchy. Ermine trimmed robes dripping with priceless gems were the standard attire for royal brides. Queen Victoria broke with this tradition when she chose a comparatively simple white gown. Not only that, but she wore no diamond encrusted tiara, instead opting for a wreath of fragrant orange blossoms, the symbol of fertility (which apparently worked like a charm, as the Queen had nine children). Her white silk satin gown was accented by more orange blossoms, as well as a Honiton lace bridal veil, diamond earrings, and a diamond necklace.
The wedding attire of Queen Victoria was carefully studied by brides around the globe. The engravings and paintings depicting the marriage of Victoria and Albert were distributed around the world, and both their wedding and their loving relationship became an inspiration for romantics everywhere. The wedding would never again look as it did before 1840.
Princess Elizabeth And Phillip
Another British royal wedding of note is that of Princess Elizabeth (who became Queen Elizabeth II) and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (who was named the Duke of Edinburgh shortly before the wedding) on November 20, 1947. Elizabeth and Philip were distant cousins who first met in 1934 when the princess was only thirteen years old. Apparently, Elizabeth was instantly smitten with Philip, and began a friendship with him via letters. The couple was first photographed together when she was eighteen, in 1939. Though their courtship was lengthy, when the Elizabeth and Philip became engaged in 1946, the betrothal was kept a secret.
There were a number of things working against the relationship between Elizabeth and Philip. Philip, although he had noble bloodlines, had no fortune, he was also Greek Orthodox, and perhaps most importantly of all, was not endorsed by Elizabeth's mother. It is important to keep the context of the times in mind when examining what it was that Queen Mum had against her future son-in-law. In 1946, England had just barely come out of the nightmare of World War II, and Philip, though born in Greece and living in the United Kingdom, had ties to Germany. He had spent some time there during his school age years, and all three of Philip's sisters had married German noblemen with suspected Nazi ties. In fact, Elizabeth's mother referred to her daughter's suitor as "The Hun", a title which was meant to be highly derogatory.
Overcoming her mother's objections, the young Elizabeth did publicly announce her engagement to Philip on July 9, 1947. The wedding took place shortly thereafter on November 20, 1947. The after effects of World War II were still being felt in Britain, which made for some interesting developments for the wedding. The most significant of these was that while Princess Elizabeth was permitted to marry "The Hun", Philip's German relatives were not allowed to attend the wedding. In addition, post-war England was still using the wartime system of rationing of goods, and surprisingly, when it came time to create the royal wedding gown, Elizabeth had to save up her ration coupons for the fabric like any other bride.
The gown itself was splendid. It was created by designer Norman Hartnell, who began work on it a mere three months before the wedding date. Hartnell had designed for the theater, and had an understanding of the caliber of design needed for such a news-worthy event as the wedding of the heir to the British throne. After receiving the commission for Elizabeth's gown, Hartnell said he "roamed the London Art Galleries in search of classic inspiration and fortunately found a Botticelli figure in clinging ivory silk, trailed with jasmine, smilax, syringa and small white rose-like blossoms. I thought these flora might be interpreted on a modern dress through the medium of white crystals and pearls." Sourcing the proper materials for the royal bridal gown was a challenge. The problem was that the pearls needed to execute the designer's vision were simply not available in England right after the war. In the end, Hartnell had to special order 20,000 pearls from the United States.
The fabric for Elizabeth's gown posed another stumbling block for the talented designer. The Queen Mum had instructed Hartnell to obtain his silk from a mill at Lullington Castle in England. The stiff satin that was produced there was not at all what was needed for the gown. Ultimately, Hartnell struck a compromise: he used the Lullington satin for the train of the gown, and obtained a softer more fluid silk for the body of the gown from a Scottish firm called Winterthur. Post-war resentment nearly ruined this plan when rivals of Hartnell's began to spread rumors that the silk used at Winterthur came from "enemy silkworms" from Japan. Fortunately, the designer was able to prove that the Scottish firm used Chinese silk, and he was free to get on with his creation.
When Elizabeth married Philip on November 20, 1947, it was in a gorgeous white silk satin bridal gown which was richly embroidered with Hartnell's floral motifs of garlands of orange blossoms, syringa, jasmine, and White Rose of York. Wheat, a traditional symbol of fertility, was also included in the elaborate design. The embroidery was executed in sparkling crystals and 10,000 of those imported pearls and decorated the sweetheart neckline, long sleeves, hem, and fifteen foot train of the bridal gown. The princess also wore a silk tulle veil and a small diamond tiara which her mother lent to her as "something borrowed". The final touch was very simple pearl bridal jewelry at her neck.
The royal bride was escorted down the aisle of Westminster Abby by her father, King George VI. She carried a lovely bouquet of white orchids with a sprig of myrtle that came from a bush that was grown from a piece of myrtle from Queen Victoria's wedding bouquet. The day after the wedding, Elizabeth's meaningful bouquet was placed on the grave of the Unknown Warrior.
Prince Charles And Diana
Prince Charles And Diana
The biggest royal wedding of all took place on July 29, 1981 when Queen Elizabeth II's son Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. The wedding was hyped as a fairy tale, the wedding of the century, and much much more. The people of England were even given a holiday in honor of the occasion, and two million of them lined the procession route traveled by Diana's carriage. The wedding itself, and the bridal gown in particular, lived up to the fairy tale billing, though sadly, the marriage did not.
Lady Diana Spencer was born into the "right" sort of family, and led a fairly typical if undistinguished life for a girl of her standing. She was not an outstanding student, although even as a young woman she was praised for her community spirit, and after leaving school at sixteen, spent a little time doing a stint in one of the famed Swiss finishing schools. From there, Diana ended up living in a flat in London (a birthday gift from her family) and dabbled in different career paths, including dance instruction, party hostess, and kindergarten teacher. When she first met Prince Charles, he was actually dating Diana's older sister Sarah.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles was in his mid-thirties, unmarried, and under intense pressure to find a wife and start producing heirs. When his path crossed with that of Lady Diana Spencer, he saw in the sweet young woman of nineteen a potentially suitable mate and future Queen. What Diana saw was true love, but it is unclear if her romantic vision of their relationship was ever fully reciprocated by the Prince. When Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery of Windsor Castle, she initially thought he was teasing her. After all, their courtship had been brief, and she was still very young. When he convinced her of the serious nature of the proposal, Diana said yes, and added, "I love you so much", to which Charles replied, "Whatever love means". Lady Diana's fairy tale romance was more of a marriage of convenience for the heir to the Crown, much as most royal marriages had been before that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At any rate, their engagement was formally announced in the gardens of Buckingham Palace on February 24, 1981, and preparations for the "wedding of the century" commenced.
The fanfare leading up to the July 28, 1981 wedding was immense. The number of guests to attend the ceremony was so large (3,500) that the service had to be held in St. Paul's Cathedral because it had a greater seating capacity than Westminster Abby. Lady Diana Spencer was the first Englishwoman to marry the next in line for the British crown in over 300 years, and the public went wild for their "English rose". Not only did two million well-wishers line the carriage route, but another 750 million viewers worldwide watched the marriage ceremony on television, this author included. It was a thrilling event that excited the romantic spirit in people from around the world. There were souvenirs, wedding portraits, and most of all, replicas of Princess Diana's bridal gown.
Oh that gown! The meringue confection that would inform the way brides would dress for over a decade. Imagine that; the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was in shambles before the influence of her bridal gown on wedding fashions waned. Lady Diana's gown was created in great secrecy by British designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel. The ivory silk taffeta gown was made in an ultra-romantic and flouncy design befitting the fantasy of a fairy tale wedding. The gown was best known for its enormous puffy sleeves and the impressive twenty five foot long train. It was adorned with antique lace, hand embroidery, and 10,000 pearls and sequins. The price tag of the royal bridal gown was reputed to be ?9,000 in 1981.
As Diana exited the carriage with her father, the crowd gasped to see her remarkable gown, while immediately companies set to work creating knock-offs (probably before the vows were even completed). A twenty five foot train does not travel easily, and it was fairly crumpled by the time it was unfurled from the close quarters of the glass carriage. Lady Diana glided down the aisle on the arm of her father wearing a cathedral length veil with a full blusher over her face. The veil was accented by a fabulous diamond tiara, which nicely complemented her blue sapphire and engagement ring which was set in white gold. The groom wore his full dress naval commander uniform.
Diana and Charles were wed in a traditional Church of England marriage ceremony, which was made notable by two things. One was that she did not say "obey", which was shocking to many. The nervous young bride also flubbed her vows, promising to marry "Philip Charles", rather than "Charles Philip". Given the circumstances, Princess Diana can be forgiven a bit of stage fright. The wedding ceremony was followed by the traditional wedding breakfast featuring a cake by famous Belgian pastry chef S.G. Sender, who was the "cakemaker to the kings".
A Fairy Tale With A Sad Ending
Unfortunately, the fairy tale wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles did not ensure that they lived "happily ever after". By the late 1980s, the royal couple was leading separate lives, and an official separation was announced on December 9, 1992. According to Diana, the marriage was largely destroyed by her husband's infidelity in general, and by his long standing relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles in particular. The two had been an item before the wedding, and their relationship resumed sometime thereafter, eventually culminating in their marriage in 2005. Diana claimed that Charles and Camilla were having an affair just three years into the marriage; while the prince denied that claim, he did admit that the affair had been resumed by 1986. As Princess Diana once said to the BBC, "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded". The unhappy marriage officially ended in divorce on August 28, 1996, in part at the urging of Queen Elizabeth, who was outraged over the spectacle created by Charles and Diana's public airing of the private royal linens (Diana, too, confessed to infidelity). Barely over a year later, on August 31, 1997, the People's Princess died in a tragic car accident, bringing a sad end to the life that had once appeared to be a fairy tale.
Prince Andrew And Sarah Ferguson
Prince Andrew And Sarah Ferguson
There have been other royal weddings since, such as the 1986 marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, but none that have captured the imagination like that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The royal watchers are hopeful, though; it seems that every day comes another article in a British tabloid or a posting on a blog with updates about the romances and potential future mates of the young royals. There is special attention paid to the girlfriends of Charles and Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry. Who knows, perhaps there will soon come a day when the world is treated to the spectacle of another majestic royal wedding in England.