Previously I wrote an interesting post regarding the History of Wedding Rings throughout the centuries, for more information please click on the link. In this post I will focus on the British Royal engagement and wedding rings of four Queens and one famous Duchess. I will start with Queen Victoria’s unusual snake ring and finish with the engagement ring of the beloved Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Queen Victoria’s engagement ring
Since 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of England she had been pressured by her Prime Ministers to marry but she strongly resisted because she was finally enjoying her life of away from a domineering mother and the restrictions placed on her by the infamous “Kensington System”. All that changed in 1839 when Queen Victoria was reacquainted with her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. She fell in love with the handsome Prince but because she was the Queen it would not be deemed improper for him to propose so protocol dictated that she needed to ask him. After this was accomplished and the engagement was officially announced, the Queen received a ring from Prince Albert that he had personally designed in the shape of a snake with emeralds eyes. The choice of gemstone was in keeping with the thoughtful custom of an engagement ring featuring the birthstone of the bride and in this case emerald was the Queen’s month of May birthstone. I know a snake ring sounds like a rather strange choice but at the time the snake had a romantic meaning and symbolized everlasting love.
An example of a snake ring similar in the style of Queen Victoria’s engagement ring
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married in February 1840. It has been considered one of the true royal love matches and they were happily married until the Prince untimely death in 1861. Historical records indicate that it is possible that the Queen was buried with her engagement ring along with several other personal and sentimental items, such as her bridal veil.
Princess Alexandra’s engagement ring – (later Queen Alexandra)
In 1861 shortly after the death of Prince Albert, Queen went into deep mourning. Despite this situation the Queen decided to proceed with the plans for her son, Prince Albert Edward, to marry the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The engagement of the royal couple was announced in September 1862.
During the Victorian Era it was a popular custom to hide secret messages that only a loved one would understand, most often this was done in the form of special floral bouquets known as tussie-mussies. Using this same idea, gemstones were also used to spell out secret message in jewelry items. A wonderful example of this was the engagement ring that Princess Alexandra received from Prince Albert (the future King Edward VII). Since he was known as Bertie to his family, the ring spelled out this name by using the first letters of the gemstones – beryl, emerald, ruby, turquoise, jacinth (since no gemstone with an i was available at the time) and another emerald.
An example of a multi-stone ring
similar in the style of Princess Alexandra’s engagement ring
The wedding of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra took place in March 1863. In the years that followed, the royal couple enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle hosting dinner parties at Marlborough House in London or entertaining at their large country estate, Sandringham. Despite the fact that the couple was devoted to each other and their children it did not stop the Prince from dalliances with his many mistresses. Then, after many years waiting as heir to the throne, Queen Victoria died in 1901 and Prince Albert became King Edward VII and the Princess became Queen Alexandra.
Princess May’s engagement ring – (later Queen Mary)
The interesting story about Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (known in the family as “May”) was that she had originally been engaged to Prince Albert Edward Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria and the son of Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward II). The royal couple’s engagement was announced in December 1891. Sadly “Eddy” (as he was known in the family) died of influenza only a few weeks later in January 1892.
Queen Victoria was known to be very concerned about the line of succession of the British Royal family and she often personally selected the prospective spouses of her children and grandchildren. In this case, she had grown very fond of Princess May. So, after a brief period of mourning the death of Prince Albert Edward Victor, the Queen strongly encouraged her other grandson, Prince George (the second son of Prince Albert Edward), to marry his deceased brother’s former fiancé. The Prince duly proposed to the Princess and the engagement was announced in late 1892. This is not as bad as it sounds and after their wedding in 1893 Prince George and Princess May became a truly devoted couple (eventually the couple became King George V and Queen Mary in 1910).
In regards to the engagement ring of Princess May, there is very little information as to whether the ruby ring she often wore was from her first engagement or her second engagement. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the Princess received a marquise-cut diamond and rubies ring from her father-in-law as a wedding present.
An example of a ring similar to Princess May’s diamond and ruby ring
Wallis Simpson’s engagement ring – (later Duchess of Windsor)
Prince Edward, known as “David” in the family, ascended to the British throne as King Edward VIII after the death of his father King George V in January 1936. But there was soon controversy caused by his scandalous relationship with the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. The new King was deeply in love with her but this situation lead to a constitutional crisis because the Church of England did not recognize marriage to a divorced person. It was possible that he could enter into a morganastic marriage but Wallis could never be crowned Queen. This was unacceptable to the King and after months of intense negotiations in trying to reach a solution to this problem the British Parliament denied approval to the marriage. Ultimately, the King was forced to abdicate and thereby renouncing all claims to the throne in order to marry the women that he loved.
The fact is that the King had formally proposed to Wallis in October 1939 prior to his abdication. He had fully intend to proceed with his plan to marry Wallis regardless the outcome of the British Parliment. The engagement ring that he gave Wallis when he proposed was a stunning 19.77 carat emerald ring by Cartier. (Special Note: Later in 1958, Wallis had the ring redesigned by Cartier and the original emerald was placed into a more modern setting of yellow gold surrounded by diamonds)
Wallis Simpson’s engagement ring
After his abdication the former King moved to France and he was given the title of Duke of Windsor. The Duke married Wallis Simpson in June 1937, she became the Duchess of Windsor but was denied the formal title and privileges of a Royal Highness.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s engagement ring – (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother)
Shortly after World War I, Prince Albert, the second son of Prince George and Princess May) meet the charming Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. The Prince became quickly smitten and over the next several years he proposed to her several times until she finally accepted in January 1923.
Prince George selected an engagement ring that featured a large Kashmir sapphire with two diamonds on either side in a platinum setting. After the engagement, the people of Wales gave the Royal couple a large nugget of Welsh gold from which Lady Elizabeth’s wedding ring would be made. Special Note: The same piece of Welsh gold has been traditionally used to make the wedding rings for several other British Royal brides; including the couple’s two daughters – Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) in 1947 and Princess Margaret in 1960, also for Princess Diana who married Prince Charles (their grandson) in 1981 and most recently for Catherine Middleton who married Prince William (their great-grandson) in 2011.
The Duchess of York wearing her sapphire engagement ring
Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth married in a grand ceremony at Westminster Abbey in April 1923; afterwards they were given the title of Duke and Duchess of York. The royal couple lived happily together dividing their time between a home in London and Royal Lodge at Windsor.
In 1936, after the abdication crisis, the royal couple became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Together they showed their strong character as England entered World War II. Sadly, perhaps as a result of the stress and increased workload during the war, the King’s health took a turn for the worst and he died in February 1952.
Queen Elizabeth, later to become known as the Queen Mother, began to wear a large pearl and diamond ring instead of her sapphire engagement ring. (Special Note: There is no documentation as to what happened to the engagement ring and its whereabouts are currently unknown)
A photo of the Queen Mother wearing her pearl and diamond ring
The Queen Mother lived for 50 more years after the death of her husband; she was 101 years old when she died in March 2002.
For more additional information on the other British Royal Family Wedding Rings, please click on Part Two.