Queen Mary was engaged to Prince Albert, the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria. However, he died just weeks before their wedding. As a result, she instead married his brother, Prince George. Because of this, Mary of Teck had not one but two royal wedding dresses designed for her. Unfortunately, little remains of the plans for her first wedding dress, but her second remains iconic.
Mary’s Early Life
Mary was born in 1867 as a princess of Teck, in Germany, as the daughter of a German Duke. Her full name was Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes; but that’s quite a mouthful! When she married into the royal family, she decided to adopt Mary instead of Victoria, due to her grandmother-in-law. However, to her family, she was known as May, due to the month of her birth.
As a princess who wasn’t a relative of Queen Victoria, she was seen as a good match for one of the Queen’s grandchildren. She got on well with Victoria and was soon chosen as a wife for Prince Albert Victor. They became engaged in December 1891. However, an influenza pandemic killed him only six weeks later.
Nevertheless, Victoria wasn’t going to let that stop her from introducing Mary to her family. His younger brother, Prince George, proposed in May 1893, as the two had grown close. They soon fell in love and enjoyed a very happy engagement.
Mary is not the first queen to marry her betrothed’s brother. Possibly the most famous example is Catherine of Aragon, who married Arthur Tudor six months before his death. Famously, she became the first wife of King Henry VII. Happily, Mary’s relationship with George was much better than that of Catherine and Henry.
Their courtship is one that would make a fantastic Hollywood rom-com. As George found himself second in line to the throne, Victoria urged him to marry quickly. However, he did not think it proper to wed someone whom he didn’t care for. Two other princesses were suggested and he eventually sent a marriage proposal to one of them. She rejected him.
When Queen Victoria suggested Mary, they both found it extremely awkward. They were very aware of the newspapers expecting an immanent engagement and found it uncomfortable. They met a few times but they were both shy and awkward.
Then, one day, Mary went to have tea with the Princess Royal, Louise. When she arrived she discovered George, and Louise suggested the two go for a walk together, alone. While looking at frogs in a pond, George finally proposed, and they announced their engagement the following day.
After their two-month engagement, Princess Mary of Teck married the future King George V during the summer of 1893 in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace.
It turns out that, at least with certain things, the royal family can be as superstitious as the rest of us! George glimpsed his soon-to-be wife in Buckingham Palace before the ceremony. He gave her a “low and courtly bow” to make up for it.
The wedding party then set out in a series of four carriage processions. Crowds of well-wishers came to watch as there had not been a royal wedding for 32 years. Mary had ten bridesmaids and George two “supporters” (best men), his father and uncle.
At the Chapel Royal, the Archbishop of Canterbury married the royal couple in front of many important royals and politicians. After the wedding, Queen Victoria encouraged the couple to step onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace to wave at the watching crowds below. This tradition started at Princess Victoria’s wedding to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.
An oil painting by Laurits Tuxen shows the happy couple at their ceremony, and was apparently a good likeness. The painting depicts Queen Victoria wearing her own wedding veil, as she often did, as well as black mourning clothes.
Mary’s Wedding Dress
Mary turned to Arthur Silver (of Silver Studio) to design her wedding dress. Silver had originally designed the dress for her wedding to Albert, called “Lily of the Valley”. Therefore, it seemed fair to ask him again, and this time he created “The May Silks”.
The dress was white, a tradition started by Queen Victoria at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Even in 1893, most women wed in their best dress, no matter what the colour. This is because they would wear the dress again after the wedding.
Seamstresses at Linton and Curtis created the dress based on Silver’s designs. As is traditional in the Royal Family, everything was manufactured in Britain. East London Silk Mills produced the white silk and the silver thread used for the dress, as the bride requested.
As is customary for the wedding dresses of the British royal family, Silver’s design featured emblems of the British kingdoms. Rose, shamrock and thistle embroidery decorated the dress, along with orange blossom (the symbol of fertility) and true lover’s knots.
The dress’ design
The front of the dress was unusual, and possibly inspired by Silver’s love for Japanese design. It had three small flounces of Honiton lace, tiered much like a wedding cake. The material used for this came from her mother’s wedding gown. It was edged with silver thread and also trimmed with bright green orange blossom wreaths. There were long trails on either side of the gathered satin and lace.
The majority of dresses at the time had long sleeves; however, Mary bucked the trend with her wedding dress so it looked ahead of its time. Instead, she had delicate cap sleeves in the same Honiton lace with a light blue ribbon on her left shoulder.
The bodice of her dress accentuated her hourglass figure with what we would now call a Bardot neckline. It had a tight, corset wait that dropped into the A-line skirt. This was also trimmed, at the top, with Honiton lace to soften the silhouette. A small wreath of orange blossom was carried all the way round the bust with a little bouquet on each shoulder, and a larger one in the centre, placed with a little white heather.
Meanwhile, the train of the dress was relatively plain, so much so that journalists wrote she didn’t even have one! It certainly wasn’t much compared to the extreme detailing featured on the front of her gown. Together, the dress really was an ornate Victorian masterpiece.
More orange blossoms were arranged in Princess Mary’s hair. Along with this, she wore her mother’s floating lace veil, which left her face in full view. She secured it with diamond pins, presented to her by Queen Victoria. Mary also wore a diamond tiara from Victoria, as well as a diamond necklace, which was a wedding gift from the Prince and Princess of Wales (Edward VII, George’s father). She wore diamond earrings and an anchor brooch which were wedding gifts from Prince George.
Mary went on to mother Edward VIII (who abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson) and Albert (who became King George VI, married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and fathered Queen Elizabeth II).You can read about all of these royal wedding dresses, as well as plenty of more modern ones, right here.