One of the most iconic moments in a British Royal wedding, and the one that the public and the press patiently waits for in anticipation, is the scene on the Buckingham Palace balcony. In 2011 Prince William and Kate Middleton (now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) were seen on the balcony after their wedding ceremony kissing not once but twice!!
Throughout the centuries many British Kings and Queens have appeared on the Buckingham balcony for special events such as Coronations, Jubilees, Royal weddings, State occasions and sometimes even in the celebration of the end of war, such as World War I and World War II. In this post I will discuss some of those events in chronological order.
The first recorded balcony appearance was by Queen Victoria in 1851 shortly after the opening of the Great Exhibition. She took to the balcony to acknowledge the crowds that had gathered for the international event being held in the Crystal Palace. The successful exhibition had been organized by Prince Albert to promote British manufacturing and goods.
The earliest photograph showing a Buckingham Palace balcony appearance was taken in 1893 on the occasion of the wedding of Prince George to Princess May (later King George V and Queen Mary). The grainy photograph shows Queen Victoria standing in the center of the balcony with other wedding guests as below a carriage is seen with the bridal couple leaving for their honeymoon.
The photograph above shows Queen Victoria on the Buckingham Palace balcony on the occasion of the wedding of Prince George and Princess Mary in 1858
With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 followed by the death of King Edward VII in 1910 the next in line to the British throne was King George V. With his accession, the planning of his Coronation took almost a year and the event took place at Westminster Abbey on June 22, 1911. Upon their return to Buckingham Palace King George and Queen Mary appeared on the balcony to acknowledge the good wishes of the public waiting below at the gates.
The photograph above shows King George and Queen Mary making an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the coronation in 1911
After the British and their Allies defeated Germany in World War I and when the Armistice was made official on November 11, 1918 crowds gathered at Buckingham Palace calling for the King to make an appearance. King George came out on the Buckingham Palace balcony with Queen Mary and, with thunderous cheers, the crowds joyfully acknowledged their Sovereign and the end of the war. This was the first time that a Royal appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony was recorded on film and the event was shown later in movie theaters across the country.
The photograph above shows the crowds greeting King George V and Queen Mary after the end of World War I in 1918
Following the Great War, England underwent many political and social changes. The role of the monarchy changed with the Sovereign still the Head of State but now the elected Parliament would have the ability to determine legislation. The Constitutional monarchy would developed with more ceremonial duties, such as Royal tours and State dinners for visiting dignitaries. Now the once private Royal weddings would become grand public events with the famous British pomp and ceremony.
When the King and Queen’s only daughter Princess Mary married George Lascelles the Earl of Harewood in 1922 the precedence was set for future Royal weddings when the Royal couple became the first to make an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony as shown in the historical photograph below. King George, Queen Mary and the Dowager Queen Alexandra, the bride’s grandmother, also joined the Royal couple on the balcony. Sadly, a few short years later the Dowager would become a relative recluse at her home in Sandringham as her health declined and she died in 1925. (Special Note: For more detailed information on this wedding, please click on the link to A Royal Wedding: Princess Mary and George Lascelles)
In the photograph above, from left to right – King George V, Princess Mary, the Earl of Harewood, the Dowager Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary
In 1923 there was another Royal wedding when the King and Queen’s second son Prince George married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) The vivacious Lady Elizabeth was the perfect choice to be the bride for the shy “Bertie” and in the years to come she would become a very formidable force within the British Royal family. After the ceremony the new Duke and Duchess of York appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds that had gathered. (Special Note: For more detailed information, please click on the links to A Royal Wedding: Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth and A Royal Bride: Lady Elizabeth)
The Duke and Duchess of York
on the Buckingham Palace balcony on their wedding day in 1923
In 1936 after the death of his father King George V and the abdication of his brother King Edward VIII, King George VI ascended to the British throne and this period became known as “the Year of the Three Kings”. The coronation of King George VI took place on May 12, 1937 at Westminster Abbey and afterwards the King and Queen Elizabeth appeared on the Buckingham Palace Balcony with their two young daughters, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret. The Dowager Queen Mary set a Royal precedence when she attended the coronation of her son and she joined the Royal family on the balcony as the crowds gathered below cheered their approval.
The photograph above was taken at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937
from left to right – Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Mary,
Princess Margaret and King George
In 1945, after the end of World War II, joyfull crowds once again gathered in front of Buckingham Palace cheering for the King to make an appearance. On May 8, VE Day, King George and Queen Elizabeth were joined on the balcony by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Also joining the Royal family was Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister. (Special Note: It has long been rumored that the young Princesses begged their parents to let them join the public in the celebration of the end of the war. The King gave his permission reluctantly and Princess Elizabeth with Princess Margaret are said to have gone unnoticed walking among the crowds on the London streets. It has also been reported that the Princesses stood at the gates of Buckingham Palace later in the day and joined the crowds cheering for the King and Queen!)
VE Day 1945 – from right to left
Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill,
King George VI and Princess Margaret
Just a few years after the end of World War II Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were married on November 20 1947 at Westminster Abbey. Although the cousins had known each other through the Royal family, the story goes that the Princess became smitten with the handsome Prince when she was a young girl and corresponded by letter with him during the war years and eventually the Prince proposed. After the ceremony the Royal couple appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds gathered at the gates. (Special Note: For more detailed information, please click on the links to A Royal Wedding: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and A Royal Bride: Princess Elizabeth)
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip
on the Buckingham Palace balcony on their wedding day in 1947
Five years later, with the death of her father King George in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the British throne. On June 2 1953 her Coronation took place at Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony with her husband Prince Phillip and their two small children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. (For more detailed information, please click on the link to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II)
The photograph above was taken at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953
from left to right – Queen Elizabeth II, a young Prince Charles
and Princess Anne and Prince Philip
One of the most memorable moments to occur on the Buckingham Palace balcony took place on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29 1981. The ceremony was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral instead of Westminster Abbey which has been the traditional site for Royal weddings. What makes the balcony appearance of Prince Charles and Princess Diana such an iconic moment was that it was the first time a Royal couple had kissed. This romantic gesture was not a sign of a fairytale marriage and in 1992 the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales was announced and in 1996 the divorce was finalized. Sadly, in 1997 Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident in Paris.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer
on the Buckingham Palace balcony on their wedding day in 1981
Thirty years later, the oldest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince William married Catherine Middleton in a grand ceremony held at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. After a procession through the streets of London the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony. To the cheers of the crowd, the Royal couple kissed not once but twice!!
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
on the Buckingham Palace balcony on their wedding day in 2011
Throughout the years, there have been other Buckingham Palace balcony appearances. On the occasion of her Jubilee celebrations Queen Elizabeth has made several balcony appearances – 1977 for her Silver Jubilee to mark 25 years, 2002 for her Golden Jubilee to mark 50 years, 2012 for her Diamond Jubilee to mark 60 years as Queen and 2017 for her Sapphire Jubilee. (Special Note: Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch on September 9 2015 when she surpassed the reign of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Most recently, on February 6 2017 Queen Elizabeth became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee, commemorating 65 years on the throne)
Queen Elizabeth II on the Buckingham Palace balcony
in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012
with Prince Charles and Prince William
Recently the engagement of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s second son, Prince Harry to Megan Markle was announced in November 2017: their wedding will take place in May 2018 at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Two months later, Princess Eugenie (the second daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, the Duchess of York) and Jack Brooksbank announced their engagement in January 2018; their wedding will also take place at St. George’s Chapel in October 2018. Since both these weddings will be taking place at Windsor Castle which is located over 30 miles from Buckingham Palace in London do not expect the traditional balcony appearance for either Royal couple.