Royal weddings of past and present continue to enchant the nation.
Across the world, 200 million people tuned in to listen to the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten. Certainly it was a massive event, and one that is still talked about in relation to the royal marriages of today.
As homage to the Queen, we thought we would take a nostalgic look back at the iconic wedding dress Queen Elizabeth II wore in 1947.
When Princess Elizabeth walked up the aisle at Westminster Abbey on 20th November, her dress was not just a fashion statement; she personified the new-born hopes of a nation that had only just seen the end of the Second World War. In fact, the princess even bought the fabric for her wedding dress using ration coupons. This was due to the austere effects of the war, and to pay respect to the public.
Despite this, the dress was nothing short of elaborate and opulent. Royal dressmaker Norman Hartnell was chosen to design the masterpiece. He decorated the gown with garlands of spring flowers, influenced by the famous late 15th century painting Primavera by Sandro Botticelli.
The painting is heavily abundant in floral motifs and flowers, documenting around 500 individual plant species. In addition, the painting itself was believed to have been created for the marriage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco in May 1482. Therefore, love and marriage is at the heart of its symbolism, a fitting influence for Elizabeth’s dress.
As is traditional in the Royal Family, Elizabeth’s dress featured delicate floral embroidery, taken from the Botticelli masterpiece. Her ivory duchesse satin gown featured a soft sweetheart neckline in a simple cut, with a fitted bodice and a floor-length panelled skirt.
The bodice is appliquéd with satin flowers, each one painstakingly sewed on. These are lush and abundant around the zig-zag neckline and fade as they reach the bust of the dress. Perfectly symmetrical wheat (which symbolises fertility) and flowers are sewn in diamante and pearls to the upper body of the bodice.
During this time long sleeves were typical, even though more ration coupons were needed for the fabric! Nonetheless, sleeves were befitting for the future queen. Hers were naked silk at the shoulder and bejewelled at the cuff with a scalloped edge.
Finally, the bodice ends in a low v waist with a line of five-petalled star lilies.
The dress was heavily embellished with crystals and over 10,000 seed pearls which were imported from America. Overall, this created a shining and resplendent gown fit for the future queen.
Most of these pearls lay in the skirt of the dress. The duchesse satin was bought from the Winterther Silk Factory in Dunfermline, Scotland. In fact, there is now a museum where the factory once stood which commemorates the hours of labour woven into the princess’s dress.
The embroidered flowers and ears of wheat weaved down the skirt. Similarly to the bodice, everything is perfectly symmetrical and the curves of decoration almost resemble tinsel around a Christmas tree.
The train was 15-foot long and created using silk produced at Lullingstone Castle, near London. Typically Italian or Japanese silkworms would be used for the task. However, as the war was so recent, Chinese silkworms were imported instead.
This elaborate train was attached at the shoulders and cascaded down the dress and the aisle of Westminster Abbey. It was arranged to delicately float down the Abbey steps like a waterfall. All of the 350 women working under Hartnell were asked to stitch at least one flower so they could remember taking part in a piece of history.
The flowers on the train include jasmine, smilax, lilacs and white rose, all in transparent applique tulle embroidery. Above all, orange blossoms were featured on the train; there are lines of the flowers around the borders. Queen Victoria started the royal tradition of orange blossom flowers, which in itself is a popular wedding flower. In fact, the bloom is a symbol of chastity.
Myrtle was another feature of Queen Victoria’s wedding in her bouquet. Subsequently all royal weddings have included a sprig of this plant in their bridal bouquets. Victoria’s myrtle bush was a gift from her grandmother-in-law, which she planted at her home on the Isle of Wight. After that, when her daughter Victoria got married in 1858, the queen took a cutting from the bush for her bouquet.
When Elizabeth married Philip, she also took a cutting from this same bush. Since this, she has grown her own plant from that same myrtle bush, and this is the one that royals take from to this day.
Alongside the myrtle, which is a symbol of Aphrodite and therefore love, the princess’ wedding bouquet included cascading white orchids. Designer Martin Longman used three different varieties. However, the queen mislaid her flowers partway through the day and photographs in the Throne Room show her empty handed.
Furthermore, the princess chose to accessorise the gown with duchesse satin heeled open toed sandals by Edward Rayne. The buckles of these were decorated with silver and yet more seed pearls.
She held her veil in place with a stunning tiara from the royal collection, the Queen Mary Fringe Tiara. This was borrowed from her mother. However in an emergency just hours before the wedding the frame snapped, but the royal jewellery managed to avert disaster.
The then Princess Elizabeth wore a short pearl necklace called the ‘Queen Anne’. In addition, she wore the longer ‘Queen Caroline’; both were wedding gifts from her father.
Finally, the future queen applied her own makeup before the wedding. We can assume that this was due to the austere measures of the time, yet this also presents a humbling view of the Royal Family.
To conclude: some more facts about the wedding
Many royal weddings have taken place in this historic building. Firstly, King Henry I married Matilda of Scotland in 1100. Likewise, the Queen Mother married King George VI here in 1923. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II queen was the tenth royal to marry in this elaborate and iconic church.
The Dress Tour
Following the wedding, the dress was displayed at the St James Palace. After that it underwent a tour of exhibitions across the country: Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Preston, Leicester, Nottingham, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Huddersfield.
In a rather touching gesture of loyalty, women from all over Britain also saved up their coupons and sent them on to Buckingham Palace. However as the transfer of ration coupons were illegal, the Royal Family returned the coupons with a note appreciating their gesture. The queen received over 2,500 wedding presents from all over the world.
In 2007, The Queen became the first British Monarch to celebrate a diamond wedding anniversary. And, in 2017, Philip and Elizabeth achieved their platinum wedding anniversary. To commemorate this, the royal family released official portraits of the Queen and Prince Philip together against a platinum backdrop.
To summarise, the wedding dress of Queen Elizabeth II was a masterpiece. The design was perfect for the first royal celebration since the end of the Second World War. In short, it was a dress that the whole world was going to be watching.