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Press release

Royal Weddings 1840 – 1947: From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II

Release date: Friday, 2 February 2007

The Drawings Gallery, Windsor Castle
27 April 2007 – March 2008

Marking the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the exhibition tells the story of five royal weddings through photographs, documents from the Royal Archives, rare memorabilia and charming personal gifts exchanged by members of the Royal Family. Over the period of 100 years, royal weddings evolved from strictly private occasions to events of national celebration and public participation, with the medium of photography and the advent of film allowing increasing numbers to witness the festivities.

Queen Victoria ascended the throne three years before her marriage to Prince Albert and was the first reigning queen to marry. For her engagement in 1839, she received a beautiful gold bracelet with conjoined amethyst hearts from her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and ‘a lovely brooch, a spray of orange flowers’, designed by the Prince. The royal couple’s portraits of one another, drawn in the year of their marriage, clearly demonstrate their mutual affection. The Queen considered her future husband to be ‘so excessively handsome’ with ‘such beautiful blue eyes, and exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers’.

At the wedding ceremony on 10 February 1840 Queen Victoria was attended by twelve train-bearers, all daughters of peers of the realm. Each girl received a gold brooch, designed by Prince Albert, in the form of an eagle and set with turquoises and pearls (to represent true love), rubies (for passion) and diamonds (for eternity). The Queen designed their dresses and recorded in her diary her first sight of the bridesmaids ‘dressed all in white with white roses, which had a beautiful effect’. Two boxes containing pieces of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake are included in the exhibition. One of the cakes is said to have measured three yards in circumference and weighed over 300 lbs.

The bride of Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, was Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Her arrival in London for her wedding in 1863 was greeted by huge crowds and celebrated in a welcome address by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This was the first royal wedding since the introduction of photography as a reliable medium of record. Photographs show the beautiful young bride in her wedding dress, which was decorated with swags of artificial orange blossom and foliage to match the floral circlet on her head. A sprig from the headdress, kept by Queen Victoria, is included in the exhibition. The Princess was presented with an exquisite enamelled gold bracelet by her train-bearers. Each section of the bracelet contained one of the girls’ portraits in miniature beneath hinged flaps bearing their initials in diamonds.

Photographs and a telegram announce the engagement in 1893 of Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, the future Queen Mary, to Prince George of Wales, the future King George V. The Princess and her mother, Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, selected a wedding trousseau of entirely British manufacture. A feather-trimmed satin sachet embroidered with trefoils and the bride’s initials is included in the display, along with the velvet-bound ceremonial and handkerchief used by the Princess on the day, and the signed group photograph of the bride and groom with their bridesmaids. Those who wished to show their support for the royal couple wore traditional rosettes or wedding favours. The exhibition includes one presented by Baroness Burdett-Coutts to each of the children who watched the procession from her house at Stratton Street, overlooking Piccadilly.

The marriage in 1923 of the Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother), was the first royal wedding to be recorded on film. Despite the arrival of the motorcar, carriages were used for the procession, and a strict dress code was laid down in the instructions that accompanied the invitations. The religious ceremony was followed by the traditional afternoon Wedding Breakfast, the menu of which lists Consommé à la Windsor, Suprèmes de Saumon Reine Mary, Côtelettes d’Agneau Prince Albert, Chapons à la Strathmore, and Fraises Duchesse Elizabeth. A number of ornately decorated wedding cakes were created for the occasion, including one supplied by McVitie and Price that was nine-foot high and weighed 800 pounds. The exhibition includes the King’s own personal record of the wedding and honeymoon - an album of photographs, annotated in his hand.

On 10 July 1947 the engagement was announced between Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Photographs show the couple’s first publicised meeting at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where Prince Philip was a student, and the 21-year-old Princess wearing her engagement ring in public for the first time. The Poet Laureate, John Masefield, wrote a poem to mark the forthcoming marriage and gave a special copy of the work, inscribed on vellum, to the Princess. The Wedding Breakfast was held in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace. Cakes were made from ingredients supplied from around the world, and pieces were distributed throughout the United Kingdom. One of the silver-coated cake decorations, in the form of a tiny shoe, is included in the exhibition.

The exhibition is accompanied by the book Five Gold Rings: A Royal Wedding Souvenir Album, Royal Collection Publications, hardback £9.99 (120 pp, 260 colour illustrations).

Windsor Castle is open throughout the year. March to October 09:45-17:15 (last admission 16:00), November to February 09:45-16:15 (last admission 15:00). Tickets and information: www.royalcollection.org.uk or 020 7766 7304. As the Castle is a working royal palace, closures may occasionally occur at short notice.

Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, 020 7839 1377, [email protected]. Images are also available from the Royal Collection’s folder in the ‘Companies Available’ section on PA’s Picselect at www.picselect.press.net or through the PA bulletin board.