To continue the ongoing series about the British Royal Weddings, this post will be about the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer which took place on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. At the time it was called the “Wedding of the Century” and it seemed to be the fairytale of the Prince and heir to the British throne marrying the beautiful Lady of a noble birth from an aristocratic family that had been a part of English history for centuries.
Prince Charles was born on November 14, 1948 at Buckingham Palace and he is the eldest son of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (later to become Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh) He was born during the reign of his maternal grandfather King George VI and he would become very close to his maternal grandmother Queen Elizabeth (later to be known as the Queen Mother). Upon the death of his grandfather in 1952, his mother became Queen Elizabeth II and he would attend her coronation in 1953 at Westminster Abbey. Prince Charles was formally given the title of Prince of Wales in 1958 and his investiture would be held in 1969 as a grand televised ceremony from Caernarfon Castle located in north Wales, he holds the record of the longest serving heir apparent to the British throne in the history of England.
Prince Charles received his formal education at Cheam and Gordonstoun, he then went onto the University of Cambridge and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Later served in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy from 1971 to 1976, his naval career followed the Royal family tradition set by his great grandfather, grandfather and father.
Just prior to his military service, Charles took a seat in the House of Lords in 1970 and he would also go on to perform official duties on behalf of the Queen and the Commonwealth. In 1976 he founded the Prince’s Trust which has become one of the most successful charitable organizations in the United Kingdom. The Prince is also a dedicated environmentalist promoting organic farming and awareness of climate change.
Lady Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 and she is the youngest daughter of John Spencer, the 8th Earl Spencer, and Frances Shand Kydd. Diana received a traditional British education; she struggled academically but showed talent as a pianist, excelled at swimming and diving, and also studied ballet and tap dance. After attending one term at a finishing school in Switzerland, Diana would later move to London to share a flat with several friends. She worked numerous minimal jobs and eventually found work as a nanny and then as a nursery teacher’s assistant.
The Spencer ancestral home, Althorp, was located in Norfolk and Diana’s family would occasionally spend time at the Royal estate of Sandringham. Diana was closer in age to Prince Andrew, Prince Charles’ younger brother, and Lady Sarah, Diana’s older sister, briefly dated Prince Charles in 1977. But it was on a country weekend in 1980 that Diana came to the attention of Prince Charles when she graciously commented on the death of his favorite Uncle, Lord Mountbatten who had tragically died in an IRA bombing in 1979. Touched by her acknowledgement of his recent loss, Prince Charles became interested in the charming and rather shy Diana as a potential wife. Subsequently, the couple began a discreet courtship and Prince Charles proposed to Diana in February 1981.
At Buckingham Palace on February 24, 1981, Prince Charles and Diana appeared before the international press to officially announce their engagement. Diana’s large engagement ring was stunning, it was made by the Crown jewelers Garrard and featured a 12 carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire that was encircled by 14 diamonds and set in 18 carat white gold. (Special Note: Thirty years later, in 2011, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s son, Prince William, proposed to Catherine Middleton with the same sapphire and diamond engagement ring)
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on their engagement day
With the wedding date set for the summer, the media attention soon turned to Diana and for security reason she moved into Clarence House, the home of the Queen Mother, Prince Charles grandmother. She stayed there for a short time before moving into Buckingham Palace where it was more convenient during the planning of the wedding. Later she would return to Clarence House and this is from where she left on the morning of her wedding to travel by carriage to St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Special Note: In a strange twist of fate, Prince Charles would later move into Clarence House after the death of the Queen Mother in 2002. Then, in 2011 Prince William left Clarence House on the morning of his own wedding to travel by car to Westminster Abbey)
Since the number of invited wedding guests would be approximately 3,500 it was decided that St. Paul’s Cathedral would be the location for the ceremony instead of the smaller Westminster Abbey which had been the traditional site for previous British Royal weddings. The location of St. Paul’s Cathedral would also provide a longer procession route, it was reported that approximately 600,000 people lined the streets of London to witness this historical event and security was increased with 4,000 police and 2,200 military officers to control the massive crowds.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
On the day of the wedding, notable International heads of state and the Commonwealth, members of the European Royal families and other invited guests had gathered at the Cathedral. Precisely at the scheduled time members of the British Royal family left Buckingham Palace in a procession of eight carriages and were escorted by several different regiments from the Commonwealth. The 1902 State Landau was used to transport Prince Charles and his brother Prince Andrew, the groom wore the full dress naval commander uniform, a full dress sword was attached to the uniform and tasseled in gold, a pair of gold Prince of Wales Royal ciphers attached to the epaulettes on both shoulders. He also wore a trio of stars from the orders of the Garter, Thistle and Bath as well as the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal. (Special Note: The 1902 State Landau would also be used by Prince Charles and Princess Diana after the wedding ceremony to travel from the Cathedral back to Buckingham Palace. Thirty years later the carriage was used for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding in 2011)
Diana and her father traveled from Clarence House to the Cathedral in the Glass Coach which was built in 1881 and later purchased by the Crown in 1911 to be used throughout the years for various official events such as the State Opening of Parliament and various Royal Weddings. Since the inside of the carriage is very small there was very little space for Diana, her father and the voluminous wedding dress and the large train. So, as a result when Diana emerged from the carriage at the Cathedral the dress appeared to be winkled but was quickly smoothed out before she would proceed down the aisle. Diana’s much anticipated wedding dress was designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel and was made of ivory silk which featured a full voluminous skirt, fitted bodice with full 3/4 length sleeves trimmed with antique lace, hand embroidery, sequins and pearls. The massive 25 foot train, the longest to be worn by a British Royal bride, featured ivory silk taffeta and antique lace. The 153 yards of silk tulle were used to make the wedding veil that was secured with the Spencer tiara. (For more information regarding the wedding dress and other items worn on the wedding day, please click on the link to Lady Diana Spencer – A British Royal Bride)
As Diana took the arm of her father to begin the 31/2 minute walk up the aisle, the choir sang “Trumpet Voluntary” by Jeremiah Clarke. Following them down the aisle were the bridal couple’s seven attendants: Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (the groom’s cousin), India Hicks (the granddaughter of the Earl of Mountbatten), Catheringe Cemeron, Sarah Jane Gaselee and Clementine Hambro, the two page boys were Lord Nicholas Windsor (son othe Duke and Duchess of Kent) and Edward van Cutsem (godson of the groom). Waiting at the main altar with Prince Charles were his two younger brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, who were supporters (the English version of a best man).
The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alan Webster, presided over the traditional Church of England wedding service and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, would conduct the marriage ceremony. In regards to the vows, it was the first time in recent British Royal history that the word “obey” was omitted. In keeping with a tradition set at the 1923 wedding of Prince George and Lady Elizabeth (the groom’s grandparents), Diana’s wedding ring was made Welsh gold.
Performing at the wedding service were the Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir the Chapel Royal, the Bach Choir, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra with a fanfare performed the Royal Military School. The musical selection included the “Prince of Denmark’s March”, “I Vow to Thee, My Country”, “Pomp and Circumstance No. 4” and the British National Anthem. The New Zealand soprano, Kiri te Kanawa sang “Let the Bright Seraphim” by Handel.
At the conclusion of the wedding service, the bridal couple and 120 invited guests returned to Buckingham Palace for a four course wedding luncheon. The menu included quenelle of brill in lobster sauce, Princess of Wales chicken (an entrée especially created to honor Diana, chicken stuffed with lamb mousse), served with new potatoes, butter beans and cream of corn, also served were strawberries with clotted cream.
As customary at Royal wedding, several wedding cakes were served (there was a total of 27 cakes). The main wedding cake featured a five foot tall multi-tiered fruitcake weighed 225 pounds and was created by David Avery, the head baker at the Royal Naval cooking school. The traditional wedding cake was covered with white icing and featured with the coat of arms of Prince Charles, the Spencer family crest and fondant flowers including roses, lilies of the valley and orchids.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding cake
During the day Prince Charles and Princess Diana (now known as the Princess of Wales) made the traditional appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. This was the first time a British Royal Couple would publically kiss on the balcony on their wedding day. (In 2011, Prince William and Catherine Middleton also made history when they kissed not once but twice on their wedding day!)
Prince Charles and Princess Diana would travel by train from Waterloo Station in London to the Broadlands, the private estate which was owned by the Earl of Mountbatten. After spending three days there, the couple flew to Gibraltar to board the Royal Yacht, Britannia, for an eleven day cruise of the Mediterranean Sea. Later they flew to Scotland to spend time with the Royal family on during their annual holiday at Balmoral Castle.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their honeymoon at Balmoral
The couple would go on to have two children, Prince William born in 1982 and Prince Harry born in 1984. Unfortunately, the future would not be kind to Prince Charles and Princess Diana and they would endure an unhappy marriage that included infidelities on the part of the Prince and Princess as well as malicious and very public gossip involving both of them. The Royal couple would ultimately divorce in 1996 and sadly the Princess would die in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana with Prince William and Prince Harry at Highgrove