Feeling bridal? Regina and I thought it would be fun to join in Royal Wedding fever this month and do a series of posts on 19th century royal weddings in the lead-up to the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Miss Kate Middleton on April 29. Are you ready?
Surely one of the most momentous royal weddings of the 19th century was that of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Victoria had proposed to her cousin in October—as a reigning monarch, she far outranked him—and the wedding was set for February 10, 1840—a scant three months later. Victoria had hoped for a private wedding, but her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, over-ruled her and so it was the first public royal wedding in decades—since George III’s wedding, back in 1761. The weather was beastly that morning, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds of people who came out to watch the queen drive from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. The Chapel was stuffed with as many seats as possible for visiting dignitaries and as much of the whiggish side of the British nobility as possible (of the Tory nobility, only the Duke of Wellington and Lord Liverpool, a former prime minister, were invited).
Albert, dressed as a British Field Marshal, entered the chapel first, and awaited Victoria, who walked down the aisle on the arm of her uncle, the Duke of Sussex. Her dress (viewable in the London Museum) was of her own design and fairly simple, of British-made white satin with a trim of orange blossoms. Her veil, worn with a wreath of orange blossoms, was literally one of a kind: it was made by lacemakers in Devon, and the design was destroyed so that the pattern could never be copied. She wore her Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and a sapphire brooch Albert gave her as a wedding present.
There were a multiplicity of clergy on hand, with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London all there to officiate. What there hadn’t been was a rehearsal, so that the dowager queen Adelaide was heard whispering to Albert about the proper order of the procession, and Victoria’s twelve bridesmaids (dressed in simple gowns also of Victoria’s design, with wreaths of white roses on their heads) struggled to hold onto the queen’s short train without stumbling over each other. Though Albert often seemed unsure and agitated—his English was not very good at this point, so following the service may have been difficult—Victoria was poised and calm and, as she wrote in her journal, “so very happy!” There were amusing family touches, too: Victoria’s uncle the Duke of Cambridge kept up a very audible, if cheerful, commentary on the proceedings. Her uncle Sussex, who gave her away, still wore his customary black skullcap which he always wore to keep his head warm. And like many mothers of brides, the Duchess of Kent was seen to shed tears.
After the ceremony the married pair returned to Buckingham Palace for a small wedding breakfast (relatively speaking) of family members and their households, the prime minister and a handful of cabinet members, the Royal Household, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. Over a hundred wedding cakes were made, to distribute to various family members, Royal Household members, officers of state, and foreign ambassadors. The main cake was nine feet across and sixteen inches high, and decorated with all sorts of allegorical symbols of marriage and of the queen…oh for a photograph! And then it was time to change (Victoria wore a white satin cloak trimmed with swan’s down and a white velvet bonnet with plumes and Brussels lace) and head off to Windsor for their two-day honeymoon. Yes, two days. As Victoria reminded Albert, “You forget, my dearest Love, that I am the Sovereign and that business can stop and wait for nothing.” Not even true love, it seems!