A British Royal Wedding – Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten

In this post, the fifth post in the series of British Royal Weddings, I will discuss the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) and Philip Mountbatten (Duke of Edinburgh).  It is noted as the longest marriage of a British sovereign and on November 20, 2017 they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten
November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey in London, England

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip are third cousins through Queen Victoria, they are also second cousins once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark.  Princess Elizabeth is the eldest daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (formerly known as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon).  Prince Philip is the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Being from the same royal families, Princess Elizabeth and Philip had seen each other occasionally, once in 1934 and again in 1937.  The most significant meeting took place in July 1939 when Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, accompanied their parents on a visit to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England.  At the time she was 13 years old and the heir apparent to the British throne and he was an 18 year old cadet assigned the task of entertaining the two princesses during their visit and clearly the young Princess became smitten with the handsome cadet.

Left to right – Philip, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, King George and
Princess Elizabeth at the Royal Naval Academy in 1939

Much like Prince Albert before him Philip had an ambitious uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who wanted him to marry a (future) Queen and he encouraged him to develop a relationship with the young Elizabeth.  In the years that followed the two corresponded frequently as Philip continued his career in the Royal Navy by serving in the Mediterranean and the Far East.

By 1946 the couple was deeply in love and Philip secretly proposed to Princess Elizabeth while they were in Scotland and she happily accepted.  Unfortunately there was a four month Royal State Visit scheduled which required Princess Elizabeth to travel overseas with the King, the Queen and Princess Margaret.  Meanwhile under the guidance of his uncle, Philip became a British citizen, renounced his Greek and Danish titles and converted from the Greek Orthodox religion to Anglican Church of England.

When the Royal Family returned to England from South Africa Princess Elizabeth was now 21 years old and her parents finally consented to the marriage.  On July 9, 1947 the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten was official announced at Buckingham Palace.

Princess Elizabeth and Philip at the time of their engagement

Since Philip was considered a poor European Royal and he could not afford an extravagant engagement ring. The story goes that Philip’s mother, Princess Andrew of Greece, had shunned royal life after their exile during the Greco-Turkish War.  Since that time she had joined an order of the Greek Orthodox Church and as a result she no longer possessed her royal jewelry.  So, to solve the problem of selecting an engagement ring that would be worthy of Princess Elizabeth, the heir presumptive and his future bride, Philip used the diamonds from one of his mother’s tiaras and designed a platinum ring with a 3 carat diamond in the center and additional diamonds on either side.

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) engagement ring

At the time of the wedding England was still recovering from World War II which had ended just two years earlier.  The memories of the horror of the Blitz bombings as well as the damage and destruction within London and the surrounding countryside were still evident.  The hostilities toward Germany were also still strong and this affected the bridal couple directly.  Philip’s four older sisters had all married German princes; three of them had been a part of the Nazi party.  Needless to say Philip’s German relatives were not invited to the wedding.  Another person not invited was Princess Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor who had abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, which caused her father to become King George and thus made her heir to the throne.

On the day before the wedding, King George gave Philip the titles of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Earl of Merioneth and the Baron of Greenwich.  Seemingly using the recent war with Germany as the reason, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary (the bride’s mother and grandmother) insisted that any children of the Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip would not bear the surname of Mountbatten (a name with German roots) and that it would the Royal family’s name of Windsor.  Historical Note: Prince Philip deeply resented that his children would not bear his last name.  It wasn’t until many years later after King George and Queen Mary had died and the Prime Minister Winston Churchill had resigned that Queen Elizabeth II (who had ascended to the throne in 1952 and her coronation took place in 1953) requested a change to finally honor her husband.  A compromise was decided that the Royal family would continue as the House of Windsor but that future descendants would bear the name Mountbatten-Windsor to finally honor her husband.

The wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip took place on November 1947 at Westminster Abbey in London.  The Royal procession started from Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret in one carriage and another for Queen Mary.  Prince Philip dressed in his naval lieutenant uniform left Kensington Palace with his best man David Mountbatten, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven, who was the groom’s first cousin.  Finally Princess Elizabeth and her father, King George, traveled in the Irish State Coach and were the last to arrive at the Abbey.  The streets of London were filled with thousands of people and millions listened to the radio broadcast of the wedding ceremony attended by 2,500 invited guests that included six kings and seven queens.

On her wedding day Princess Elizabeth wore an ivory silk dress designed by Norman Hartnell and embellished with embroidery and thousands of pearls.  The 13 foot bridal train featured a beautiful star pattern which was attached to her head by the diamond Queen Mary Fringe Tiara which had been “borrowed” from the bride’s grandmother.  Unfortunately before leaving for the Abbey the tiara broke but luckily the court jeweler was able to repair the damage.  (For more detailed information about Princess Elizabeth’s bridal dress and other accessories she wore on her wedding day, please click on the link to A Royal Bride – Princess Elizabeth)

Princess Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids in attendance.  They were Princess Margaret (her younger sister), Princess Alexandra of Kent (her first cousin), Margaret Elphinstone (her first cousin), Diana Bowes-Lyon (her first cousin), Lady Mary Cambridge (her second cousin), Pamela Mountbatten (the groom’s first cousin), Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott and Lady Elizabeth Lambart.  There were also two page boys that carried her bridal veil as she walked down the aisle of the Abbey, they were her cousins Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent.

Princess Elizabeth walking down the aisle of the Abbey
with her father, King George

The wedding ceremony was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York.  The director of music for the ceremony was William Neil McKie who was the Abbey’s Master of the Choristers; he also coordinated the music in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the altar of the Abbey

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip leaving the Abbey after the ceremony

After the ceremony, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to Buckingham Palace for a wedding breakfast.  Served at the wedding reception were several wedding cakes and the main four tiered cake was nine feet tall and weighed 500 pounds, the cake was cut with Prince Philip’s military sword.  According to tradition, one tier of the wedding cake was saved and would be served at the christening of their first child.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip wedding cake

After the wedding reception Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip departed for a honeymoon at the Broadlands, the home of the Earl of Mountbatten.  Later the couple spent the rest of their honeymoon at Birkhall on the Royal Estate of Balmoral located in Scotland.  Then, while Clarence House in London was being renovated the couple leased Windlesham Moor near Windsor Castle.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip went onto have four children – Prince Charles born in 1948, Prince Anne born in 1950, Prince Andrew born in 1960 and Prince Edward born in 1964.

In 1952 Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George died and she ascended to the British throne.  In 1953 she was crowned in an elaborate coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Most recently the public and personal lives of the Royal couple have come into focus with the popular Netflik series, “The Crown”.  Also earlier this year it was announced that Prince Philip would be retiring from his public engagements, he holds the record as the longest serving consort.  The 91 year old Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch in British history at over 65 years and still counting, this record was set in 2016 when she surpassed the length of Queen Victoria’s reign.

For more information about the previous posts in the British Royal Wedding series, just click on the links to the first post in the series about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.