A British Royal Bride – Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon

Previously I featured a post on the British Royal Wedding of Prince Albert George (later King George VI) and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later known as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother); they were married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abbey in London, England.  In this post I will discuss the bridal dress and accessories that she wore on her wedding day, but first let’s start by discussing her trousseau.

Lady Elizabeth’s bridal trousseau

Prior to her marriage to Prince Albert, Lady Elizabeth’s wardrobe consisted mainly of casual dresses for her simple life in the country and a few evening dresses for when she occasionally socialized with the upper class London society.  Now, by marrying into the Royal family, she would need additional clothes for future Royal daytime engagements and evening State formal occasions.  So, after her engagement, Lady Elizabeth set about assembling a significant trousseau made by several fashion designers from London, Paris and Rome.  Her trousseau included approximately 65 formal gowns and over 100 daytime, tea and evening dresses plus 72 fur coats and a few dozen fashionable hats.  Special Note:  By definition, a trousseau is comprised of the personal possessions of a bride usually including clothes, accessories, and household linens and wares.

Lady Elizabeth’s wedding dress and accessories

For her wedding dress Lady Elizabeth decided to use the same dress designer as Queen Mary, her future mother-in-law,   Despite the fact that the wedding was taking place at the beginning of the 1920s, Madame Handley-Seymour designed an unusual medieval style dress.  The ivory chiffon moiré dress featured a square neckline with a bodice decorated with horizontal silver lame panels embroidered with silver thread and accented with pearl beads.  Also attached to the dress was a long train made of Nottingham lace.  Lady Elizabeth’s shoes were made from ivory silk moiré and embroidered with silver roses.   Special Note: Defying an old superstition of a bride wearing green on her wedding day bringing bad luck, the silver leaf girdle of the dress had green tulle flowing down to the ground and accented with silver roses and thistle.

To add an interesting element a Strathmore family heirloom was incorporated into the dress design, perhaps this was Lady Elizabeth’s “something old”.  It was a historical piece of Brussels lace said to have come from an ancestor’s dress that had been worn on the occasion of a ball given in honor of Charles Stuart, otherwise known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.  Historical Note:  Charles Stuart, who was also known as the “Young Pretender”, led an unsuccessful insurrection to restore his family to the throne of Great Britain but his Jacobite challenge ended in his defeat at the Battle of Culloden effectively ending his claim.

To complete her wedding ensemble, Lady Elizabeth wore an antique ivory veil made of Flanders lace which she secured to her head with a wreath of myrtle leaves, white heather and white York roses; the veil was a gift from Queen Mary.  Finally, due to the inclement weather on the day of the wedding, the bride wore a fur coat trimmed with ermine as she walked a few short steps from her family home in London to climb into the waiting State landau to take her to Westminster Abbey.

Lady Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet

When looking at the formal wedding portraits taken at Buckingham Palace, it is noticeable that Lady Elizabeth is without her bridal bouquet and there is a very good reason for this omission.  The story goes that on the day of the wedding, as tradition usually dictates the bride and her father were the last to arrive at Westminster Abbey and they entered through the Great West Door.  As the bride, her father and her eight bridesmaids assembled for the processional there was a slight delay.  In those few minutes, to honor her brother Fergus who had died a few years earlier in World War I, Lady Elizabeth spontaneously laid her bridal bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Special Note:  Since 1923, Royal brides married at Westminster Abbey have also laid their bouquets on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the exception that instead of it being placed prior to the start of the ceremony, the bouquet is laid on the sacred spot afterwards.

Lady Elizabeth’s bridal bouquet left on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

In researching to find out additional information on Lady Elizabeth’s bridal bouquet, and because there are very few photographs of the bouquet, there has been speculation as to what types of flowers were used.  Some sources suggest that the bouquet was made of white roses, heather and myrtle but this has not been officially confirmed.

Lady Elizabeth’s bridal jewelry and additional wedding gifts

Lady Elizabeth engagement and wedding rings –

Upon her engagement, Prince Albert presented Lady Elizabeth with a platinum engagement ring with a large Kashmir sapphire that featured two diamonds on either side.  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.  Other wedding rings made from the original piece of Welsh gold have also included Princess Diana who married Prince Charles in 1981, Catherine Middleton who married Prince William in 2011 and most recently Meghan Markle who married Prince Harry in 2018.

Lady Elizabeth’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring

The Strathmore Rose Tiara –

The bride’s father, the Earl of Strathmore, gave Lady Elizabeth a beautiful floral tiara that was purchased as a wedding gift for the bride, the tiara dates back to the late nineteenth century.  The lovely design features a garland of diamond wild roses and leaves set in silver and gold.  Elements of the tiara can be dismantled and worn separately as brooches and at one time the five larger diamonds in the center of each flower could be replaced with sapphires to add variety when wearing the piece.

The Strathmore Rose tiara

At the time that Lady Elizabeth received the tiara in 1923, she wore the tiara across her forehead in the typical style of the period.  In later years, the Duchess wore the tiara in a more traditional manner set on the top of her head.  As the years passed the tiara fell out of favor with her and she did not wear it very often in public.  After her death in 2002, the tiara was passed to her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, and she has not worn it for any official royal engagements or State functions.

Lady Elizabeth wearing the Strathmore Rose Tiara
in a 1920s style across her forehead

The Lotus Flower Tiara –

Lady Elizabeth received a diamond and pearl necklace from her new husband, Prince Albert, as a wedding present.  She later decided that the necklace did not suit her personal style and she had the stones reset into a beautiful tiara.  Special Note: Throughout the years it has been very common in the royal family to alter or redesign pieces of jewelry to maximize the appearance of the precious stones.  Sometimes portions of a piece could be removed to wear separately, such as with the aforementioned Strathmore Rose tiara.  Other pieces could be altered with a slight adjustment to be worn in a different way, such as a necklace being converted into a tiara while still retaining the same basic design.  In this case the necklace Lady Elizabeth received from Prince Albert was completely disassembled and redesigned into an entirely different tiara setting.

After Lady Elizabeth’s necklace was redesigned and reset into a tiara in 1925, the frame featured a lotus motif, with diamond arches and two pearls on the base and a central pearl at the top.  The Duchess of York wore the tiara low across her forehead in the distinctive 1920s style, it was one of her favorite tiaras and she wore it frequently.  After her husband ascended to throne in December 1936 as King George VI and she became his Queen Consort as Queen Elizabeth she took to wearing more impressive crowns and tiaras as befit her new role and status.

The Duchess of York wearing the Lotus Tiara

After the short reign and subsequent death of King George Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (as she was would later become known as) passed the Lotus tiara down to her second daughter, Princess Margaret who wore it frequently.  In 1993, on the occasion of her son’s marriage (Viscount Linley), Princess Margaret loaned the tiara to Serena Stanhope, her new daughter-in-law.  After Princess Margaret’s death in 2002 the ownership of the Lotus tiara is unknown but it believed that it was passed onto one of her children.