One of the features on this blog is that from time to time I will discuss various weddings of the members of European royalty throughout the years. The British Royal Weddings in particular have become known over the past centuries for their grand pageantry. In this first post in the series about the British Royal Weddings I will discuss the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert which set many customs and traditions for future weddings, such as the white wedding dress.
Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Date and location: February 10, 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St. James Palace
In 1837 Queen Victoria had ascended to the throne of England, she was barely 18 years old. The Queen came to enjoy her newly found freedom from her domineering mother and she started to settle into her role as monarch. Her Prime minister and other members of her Privy Council began to strongly suggest that it was time for her to marry but she resisted this pressure. Her uncle, King Leopold of Belgian, was also directly advising her on personal matters and he had hoped that his niece would marry his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The Queen had previously met the young Prince in 1836 before her ascension and it had proved to be unsuccessful.
Three years after their initial meeting King Leopold arranged a second meeting between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Both were a little older and the Queen was more mature and the Prince was even more handsome. This time it was different and she quickly fell in love but it would not be deemed proper for him to propose since she was the Queen so protocol dictated that she needed to ask him. While at Windsor Castle on October 15, 1939 the Queen took the Prince Albert aside and in private she proposed, he happily agreed! Arrangements were finalized for a wedding date at the beginning of the following year, the wedding would be the first time in 286 years that a reigning Queen of England got married.
1840 drawing of Queen Victoria proposing to Prince Albert
In the early morning hours on her wedding day, February 10, 1840, Queen Victoria was getting ready in her private apartments at Buckingham Palace. In attendance were the Duchess of Kent, the Queen’s mother, and the Queen’s ladies of the court; among them were Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Princess Mary, and the Princess Augusta of Cambridge, and the Duchess Gloucester. The Queen was dressed in a lovely white satin gown, a bridal veil of Honiton lace, and a wreath of orange blossoms. She gave the outward impression of being regally composed but underneath the façade she was concealing the excitement of any normal twenty year old bride.
Click on the photo to enlarge
and read from Queen Victoria’s journal about her wedding day
(the British Royal Collection)
Prince Albert, his father and elder brother arrived in England a few days before the wedding and they were staying in suites located in another part of Buckingham Palace. Then, at the appointed time on the day of the wedding, Prince Albert left for St. James Palace where the ceremony would take place in the Chapel Royal. He was dressed in the scarlet and white uniform of a British field marshal with the Star of the Garter proudly displayed on his chest. (Historical Note: In advance of the wedding, Prince Albert was given the prestigious honor of a Knight of the Garter on December 10, 1839 by Queen Victoria; the Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry in England. It wasn’t until June 1857 that the Prince would receive the formal title of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, this is an honor bestow by the reigning monarch to her husband)
Then, a few minutes after the Prince’s Procession left, the Queen Victoria emerged from Buckingham Palace and took a seat in her carriage for the ride to St. James and as she left there was a royal salute of 21 guns to announce her departure. Traveling through the streets of London, the Queen was greeted by large crowds that had been forming since the early hours of the day and she gratefully acknowledge the cheers of the people.
St. James Palace
The Chapel Royal at St James Palace
Upon arriving after the short ride from Buckingham Palace to St. James Palace, Prince Albert proceeded into the Chapel Royal as Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Come” was played. The Prince advanced to the front of the chapel and greeted the Queen Dowager (Queen Adelaide the wife of King William IV) and kissed her hand. He then turned to the Archbishop of Canterbury and gallantly bowed to him before taking his seat to the left of the altar. The ladies present in the chapel that day were noted to almost swoon at the gallant actions of the handsome Prince.
A few minutes after the arrival of the Prince, the Queen’s carriage arrived at the Garden Entrance of St James Palace with a fanfare of trumpets and drums. She then proceeded to the Privy Council Chamber to await the start of the wedding service. At the appointed time, the Queen walked from the Chamber through several of the rooms in the Palace, such as the Throne Room, and proceeded slowly down the Grand Staircase before finally reaching the Chapel. Seated in the rooms of the Palace that she just passed through were several hundred people that had been issued special tickets to witness the Queen’s procession which included various members of the Royal Family and the Queen’s Ministers. Lord Melbourne was given the distinct honor of carrying the Sword of State in the procession and of course, the last person was the Queen with her twelve bridesmaids carrying her bridal train which was attached to her bridal gown.
The Chapel Royal main floor and the galleries above were filled to capacity with Royal Heads of State and Ambassadors from many European countries. To a grand fanfare, the arrival of Queen Victoria was announced and she entered the Chapel on the arm of her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who officially gave her away. Prince Albert meet the Queen and the bridal couple approached the railing were the Archbishop was waiting and the wedding service officially started. During the ceremony, it was noted that when the vows were exchanged, Queen Victoria’s eyes filled with tears possibly as an outward expression of her deep happiness at marrying her handsome prince and finding her true love.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert exchanging their wedding vows
As the ceremony concluded, and before the recessional, Queen Victoria crossed over to the Queen Dowager and kissed her. Then, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert walked slowly down the aisle and left the Chapel Royal. The bridal couple stopped briefly at the Privy Council Chamber for a few short private moments together before finally leaving St. James Palace in the Queen’s carriage to drive through the streets of London and back to Buckingham Palace. (Interesting Observation: In the time preceding the ceremony and immediately afterwards Queen Victoria did not publicly show any attention to her estranged mother, the Duchess of Kent. one hopes that perhaps this was done privately back at Buckingham Palace)
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
After returning to Buckingham Palace, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert greeted their invited guests at a “wedding breakfast”. The celebration included a wedding luncheon during which the guests were served a traditional English meal and the newly married couple cut a massive wedding cake.
An example of a traditional wedding breakfast table
At the wedding reception the main cake was a single layer about nine feet in circumference and weighed three hundred pounds. The cake was covered with white icing and decorated with several figurines and other floral embellishments. The cake top was almost a foot in height and featured a Britannia figurine with additional figurines of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert shown dressed in Grecian gowns. On the right Queen Victoria is shown with a pair of turtle doves at her feet, while on the left was Prince Albert shown with a dog at his feet. A cupid figurine is shown writing the date of marriage into a book and there were several additional cupids bearing the emblems of the United Kingdom.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake
After the conclusion of the wedding reception, Victoria and Albert departed from Buckingham Palace and left London to travel to nearby Windsor Castle for a four day honeymoon.
For detailed information about Queen Victoria’s bridal dress and the items she wore on her wedding day, please click on the link to A Royal Bride – Queen Victoria.