There are so many traditions that many of us adhere to when marrying. The royal family has a lot of expectations on their weddings, too. But, did you know that a lot of these started with the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert?
Victoria was completely besotted with Albert. In fact, after his death in 1861, the queen wore black mourning dress for the rest of her life. To many accounts, she considered herself a wife and mother first, and a queen second.
And so, with a marriage that remained important to the queen until the end of her life, let’s have a look at the relationship, and the dress, that started the union…
Blood is thicker than water
Victoria and Albert were cousins, sharing the same grandparents. At the time a match was first considered between them, in 1821, Victoria was fourth in line to the throne. However, a series of deaths in the family meant that she quickly became heir presumptive. Moreover, a set of rules meant that the young princess was unable to meet anyone her mother deemed undesirable.
Not only were they blood relations, but they were also delivered by the same midwife. Charlotte von Siebold was the first German gynaecologist, who delivered Victoria in London in May 1819, and Albert in Coburg in the August of the same year.
The first time the idea of marriage between the two was brought up was in 1821 in a letter to Albert from their grandmother. Their uncle, Leopold I of Belgium, had the same idea. The queen lived with her mother, who she did not like, and was advised that the easiest way to cease living with her would be to marry. Victoria was shocked by this idea, but quickly began seeing Albert as a potential partner. However, she refused to rush into marriage.
Albert and Victoria met again in October 1839 and liked each other. She proposed on 15th October, five days after his arrival at Windsor.
The wedding day
Nowadays, we see royal couples tying the knot in the grand Westminster Abbey. However, this was not the case in Victoria’s day. In fact, the marriage of Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Patricia, in 1919 was the next to take place in the Abbey. As a result, the queen instead wed in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. More recently, the same chapel held the christening for Prince George.
The happy couple married at 1pm on Monday 10th February 1840. As her father was dead, her uncle the Duke of Sussex gave her away instead. Behind them followed twelve young bridesmaids who carried her train – a first for a royal bride. In fact, long trains were a symbol of wealth and power for the simple fact that fabric was expensive. However, getting other people to carry the 18 feet of fabric was probably even more of a power move!
Images of the dress
As this was before the time of the commercial photography that couples enjoy today, we have little visual reference of Victoria on her wedding day. However, the young queen did keep a diary in which she wrote about the day and what she wore.
Victoria also wore the gown to pose in a portrait which she gave to Albert as a first anniversary present. Furthermore, years later, Victoria and Albert posed in their wedding attire so that they could have photographs taken as the technology became more advanced.
The royal wedding dress
Her gown was designed by William Dyce, head of the Government School of Design (now the Royal College of Art). The dress itself was made by a woman called Mary Bettans, along with over a hundred lace makers. They worked on the exquisite design for over six months. Victoria ordered the destruction of the patterns for the dress soon after, so that they could not be copied.
In her diary, Victoria wrote, “I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, and imitation of an old design”. The white dress featured a full skirt, taken in at the waist with a number of pleats. There was also a large panel of lace cut into the front. Short sleeves gathered into double puffs and sat off the shoulder with plenty of lace detailing. Meanwhile, the bodice had a low, sweetheart neckline which showed off her sapphire brooch, a wedding gift from Albert. She also wore a Turkish diamond necklace and earrings which her “Angel” designed.
Her train was an impressive eighteen feet in length and was embellished with orange blossoms. And, onto a cotton, machine-made net, seamstresses had appliquéd handmade lace motifs.
The veil, which matched the ruffles of the dress, was four yards long and nearly a yard wide. This veil was so special that she subsequently allowed only one of her five daughters to wear it.
She carried a small posy of snowdrops, which were Prince Albert’s favourite flower. On her feet, she wore slippers which matched the white colour of the dress.
Queen of the Empire
Queen Victoria was queen not only of England, but also of the British Empire. This was also the first wedding of a reigning British monarch since Bloody Mary almost 300 years previously! As a result, she needed to make an impact.
Furthermore, she wanted to support British industries and show the strength of her country across the globe. She had eyes on her globally. Because of this, she wanted to include a lot of lace in her gown to boost the British lace industry. She chose a wedding gown design which incorporated it heavily. This is also the reason why she chose to wear white, as she thought it suited the material the best. From here, she started the tradition of wearing white on your wedding day.
Of course, all the materials that went into Queen Victoria’s dress were British. The silk for her gown was spun at Spitalfields in London, and she chose Honiton lace from Devon.
Nowadays we associate the white colour of wedding dresses with purity. However, white was actually a colour which reflected wealth. Before Queen Victoria, white wedding dresses were reserved solely for the very wealthy. White was a very difficult colour to keep clean, and thus the gown would not be worn a lot after the big day.
Until this point, brides simply wore their Sunday best, or else found a dress they could easily reuse afterwards. Many gowns were colourful, sometimes with gold or silver embroidery running through them. However, from this point onwards, women began to recognise the wedding dress as a one-off piece of attire.
The colour white quickly became so popular for wedding dresses that Godey’s Lady’s Book mistakenly wrote that it was an ancient tradition. Here also started the idea that white symbolised virtue and virginity. And all because it suited lace better! Victoria certainly did her bit for the British lace industry.
Let them all eat cake
After the ceremony, Buckingham Palace hosted the wedding breakfast. Numerous illustrious guests attended.
The wedding cake weighed 300lbs, was three yards in circumference, and was designed by confectioner Mr Mawditt. The cake was decorated with the figures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, dressed in Ancient Greek costume. Orange blossom and sprigs of myrtle entwined together covered the many layers. Multiple cakes were baked so that all of the guests could enjoy a piece.
To love, cherish, and obey…
As monarch, the queen was given the opportunity to change her vows to not include the line “to honour and obey”. Importantly, the groom was never expected to say this line. However, Victoria was adamant that she would say it, queen or not.
However, she broke her promise to always obey her husband just a day later when she refused to take any longer than two days off from royal duties. After the feast, the bridal party had set off for Windsor Castle, attended by the military. Once there, the couple supposedly read, walked, rode, and hosted dinner parties before returning to Buckingham Palace on Friday 14th February.
Albert still got all that he needed from their three short days away, though. Although the queen had a bad headache that afternoon and needed to lie down, she regained her energy and wrote in her diary that the night was “most gratifying”.
A royal bride
Aside from the union taking place in a royal building, of course, Victoria wanted to be seen as a doting bride before a queen. As such, she refused to wear anything explicitly “royal” on her wedding day. She forwent a crown or tiara and chose to wear a wreath of orange blossoms instead.
Orange blossoms featured on the trim of her dress, too. The flowers were a symbol of fertility and as such used by many couples. We can only assume they worked because the queen ended up having nine children and was pregnant for nearly 20 years! Unfortunately, the Queen hated being pregnant and found breast feeding disgusting. Yet, the bond between Victoria and Albert was strong, and they were both thoroughly love struck.
Orange blossoms were not the only flower used by Victoria that has become tradition for all other royal brides to use.
Queen Victoria spent a lot of time at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She used to sit in the lower terrace of the gardens and paint watercolours. Here, Victoria planted a myrtle bush given to her by Albert’s grandmother. Cuttings from this famous bush have been taken to be used in countless royal bouquets since, including Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Camilla and Kate. Queen Elizabeth took a cutting from Victoria’s bush to grow her own, so now flowers from this plant are used in royal bouquets, too.
Until death us do part
Diagnosed with typhoid fever, Albert died on 14th December 1861 aged 42. Victoria went into mourning as she was thoroughly distraught, and proceeded to wear black for the remainder of her life.
The queen was aptly nicknamed the “widow of Windsor” and was rarely seen in public and her weight increased as a result of her unhappiness. In her later years, Victoria was overcome with cataracts in her eyes and rheumatism in her legs. The queen died on 22nd January 1901 at the age of 81, as the longest reigning British monarch (until Queen Elizabeth II overtook her in September 2015).
When she died, she was buried wearing her wedding veil and a white dress.
Which of these traditions did you not know came from Queen Victoria’s wedding? Are there any you are hoping to implement, or avoid, at your own wedding? Let us know below!