With the exception of coronation ceremonies, nothing compares to the pageantry of a royal wedding. Whether people support the monarchy or not, the ceremony can capture the world's attention like no other event. Indeed, some 750 million people are said to have watched the wedding of Prince Charles & Lady Diana Spencer. These occasions are a time of celebration and at times have lifted the spirit of the British public after the war or challenging economic times. The glamour is enticing, the speculation of what the bride will wear is intense. The rush to sell souvenirs, whether tasteful or otherwise, is competitive. Royal weddings are big business.
There are quite a few traditions associated with royal weddings and there is a special romantic appeal to them. With the upcoming marriage of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker-Bowles some of these traditions have fallen by the wayside. I feel that this is truly a shame as traditions, whether related to weddings or not, seem to be a rare occurrence these days.
Time of ceremony:
Before Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840, most royal marriages were celebrated at night. Queen Victoria chose to break with that tradition and held her own ceremony at one o'clock in the afternoon. Most royal weddings are now held in the early to late afternoon.
Some methods of transportation for the royal party have been coach, carriage, landau or Rolls-Royce. The Glass Coach made it's debut as a bridal coach in 1922. Since then, most royal brides have used it. It is also used to transport the newlyweds back to Buckingham Palace. The first exception to this was the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 when the 1902 State Landau was used. The Prince of Wales rode to his wedding in it and the newlyweds used it for their return to the palace . With the wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, the bride used a more modest form of transportation - a Rolls Royce.
With the majority of weddings, whether royal or not, the wedding dress is usually the centerpiece of the day. Queen Victoria was said to be the first royal bride to wear white at her wedding and Princess Elizabeth is said to have been the first one to wear a veil that covered her face. With royal dresses in the past there was a need to adhere to 'political correctness'. In 1863 Princess Alexandra of Denmark was to wear a dress made of Brussels lace but it was deemed too unpatriotic. At Princess Elizabeth's wedding in 1947 shortly after the war ended, care was taken that the silk worms used for the dress not be of Japanese or Italian origin. Many royal wedding dresses have had beautiful embroidery and long trains, Princess Elizabeth's and Sarah, Duchess of York to name two examples. The record for the longest royal train belongs to Diana, Princess of Wales at 25 feet.
There are two traditions associated with the bridal bouquet, one is that a sprig of myrtle is included. These sprigs come from a bush grown from a cutting which had formed part of Queen Victoria's bridal bouquet. The other tradition is placing the bouquet on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Although the start of this tradition is attributed to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, in fact Princess Mary (daughter of George V) paid a similar tribute first. On her way back from her wedding, she stopped her carriage at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and handed her bouquet to an officer who laid it on the steps of the war memorial.
Public and Private Weddings
It's an understatement to say that Royal weddings tend to be very public occasions. However, one time, all royal weddings were held away from the public gaze with only close family and friends invited. These ceremonies were often brief and business like. The first public royal wedding was in 1501, when Arthur, Prince of Wales, married Catherine of Aragon. At the wedding of Prince Albert & Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon there was some debate on whether or not to broadcast the ceremony for fear that men in taverns would be listening with their hats on! In 1947 Princess Elizabeth's wedding was broadcast on the radio and newsreel footage was shown in the country's cinemas. The 1960's wedding of Princess Margaret was televised. The more recent royal weddings of Princess Anne, Prince Edward and now Prince Charles, seem to be reverting back to becoming more private occasions.
Royal wedding venues
Although Westminster Abbey is the most closely associated with royal weddings, this wasn't always the case. Most royal weddings had been celebrated in one of two places - Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace and St. George's Chapel Windsor. In 1919 Princess Patricia of Connaught married Commander the Hon. Alexander Ramsay at the Abbey. Princess Patricia, felt that as a junior member of the royal family, she should celebrate her marriage in a 'church more keeping with her status.' Prior to this event the abbey had not been used for royal weddings since the 13th century. This wedding set a trend and subsequent weddings were celebrated at this venue.
Notable royal weddings that have been celebrated at the abbey:
Princess Mary and Henry, Viscount Lascelles in 1922
Prince Albert & Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon - 1923
Princess Marina and Prince George of Kent - 1934. As Princess Marina belonged to the Greek Orthodox church, a second ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace in the private chapel.
Princess Elizabeth & The Duke of Edinburgh - 1947
Princess Margaret & Antony Armstrong-Jones - 1960
Princess Alexandra & The Hon. Angus Ogilvy - 1963
Princess Anne & Captain Mark Phillips - 1973
Prince Andrew & Sarah Ferguson - 1986
When Prince Charles married his first wife, Lady Diana Spencer, in 1981, they chose St. Paul's Cathedral. Some of the reasons for this change was the fact that it was larger, had a more open concept for guests, and Prince Charles is a fan of the architecture and acoustics. Also, the Abbey probably brought back painful memories for Charles; in 1979 the funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a close mentor of Prince Charles, was held there.
Other venues for royal weddings:
The Chapel at Buckingham Palace - Prince Henry & Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott - Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1935. The ceremony was originally intended for Westminster Abbey but the Lady Alice's father died suddenly and the venue and scale were changed out of respect. During WW2 the chapel was severely damaged by bombs and it is now the location of the Queen's Gallery.
Chapel Royal at St. James Palace - 4 of Queen Victoria's nine children and many of her grandchildren were married here.
St. George's Chapel Windsor Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (eldest son of Queen Victoria) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, 1863, Princess Louise (third daughter of Queen Victoria) & the Marquess of Lorne 1871. Prince Edward & Sophie Rhys-Jones 1999.
Osbourne House - Isle of Wight - Princess Alice (second daughter of Queen Victoria) 1862
York Minister - The Duke of Kent & Katherine Worsley - 1961
St. Andrew's Church, Barnwell - Prince Richard of Gloucester & Birgitte van Deurs - 1972
Craithie Church at Balmoral. Princess Anne's second marriage to Commander Timothy Laurence - 1992
Windsor Guildhall -Prince Charles & Camilla Parker-Bowles - 2005
In keeping with Royal tradition, the gold for royal wedding rings come froms the Clogau St David's mine in Bontddu, North Wales. It was mined by Cambrian Goldfields Ltd. Previous Royal wedding rings were made from 22ct gold from the same mine.The rings have been made from a celebrated nugget of Welsh gold which has been kept in the Royal vaults for nearly sixty years. The people of Wales gave it to the Queen Mother for her wedding ring in 1923 and it was used to make the rings for the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York.
© Marilyn Braun 2005
www.royal.gov.uk - Royal Insight - March 2005
Royalty in Vogue by Josephine Ross
Invitation to a Royal Wedding: Edward and Sophie by Peter Donnelly
Britian's Royal Brides by Josy Argy and Wendy Riches
Two Centuries of Royal Weddings by Christopher Warwick
Their Royal Highnesses The Duke & Duchess of York by Christopher Warwick and Valerie Garner
Invitation to a Royal Wedding: Charles and Diana by Kathryn Spink
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