ROYAL WEDDING GOWNS

by Victoria Hinshaw

Originally posted on February 12, 2011, ahead of the other wedding of the decade, that of William and Katherine.

As I write this, there is no word on the designer Kate Middleton has chosen to create her wedding gown, though I have heard many breathless accounts of who is and who is not in the running.  So let’s indulge our royal wedding mania by looking at some of the gowns worn in the past.

Above is the dress worn by Princess Charlotte of Wales at her May 2, 1816, wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, as exhibited in the Museum of London here.

The Lady’s Magazine of May, 1816, described the gown: White silk net embroidered in silver strip with a spotted ground and borders. The wedding dress, composed of a most magnificent silver lama on net, over a rich silver tissue slip, with a superb border of silver lama embroidery at the bottom, forming shells and bouquets above the border; a most elegant fullness tastefully designed, in festoons of rich silver lama, and finished with a very brilliant rollio of lama; the body and sleeves to correspond, trimmed with a most beautiful point Brussels lace, in a peculiar elegant style.
The manteau of rich silver tissue lined with white satin, trimmed round with a most superb silver lama border, in shells to correspond with the dress, and fastened in front with a most brilliant and costly ornament of diamonds. The whole dress surpassed all conception in the brilliancy and richness of its effects. Head dress, a wreath of rose buds and leaves, composed of the most superb brilliants.”  At right, an engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their wedding in Carlton House. 
 

The portrait of Queen Victoria, at left, is by Winterhalter. It shows a rather wistful young bride at the time of her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (nephew of the above-mentioned Leopold) on February 10, 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace.
It was this gown and veil that supposedly has inspired generations of brides ever since to wear white for their ceremonies, though many brides had previously dressed in fashionable white as well as in a variety of other hues.

At right, an image of Queen Victoria’s dress on a mannequin in the collection of Kensington Palace. 

Left, the wedding gown of Alexandra of Denmark, who married Victoria’s son, eventually King Edward VII, on March 10, 1863 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She was Princess of Wales for almost forty years before becoming Queen in 1901. After her husband’s death in 1910, she was known as the Queen Mother until she died in 1925.

Like Charlotte’s mother, Caroline, Princess of Wales, and like the first wife of the present Prince of Wales, Diana (see below), Alexandra had to endure the infidelity of her husband.  But unlike the other two, she stuck with him to the end. We’ve all heard the possibly-apocryphal story about how Alexandra invited one of his mistresses, Alice Keppel, to comfort Edward VII on his deathbed.

 

Princess Mary of Teck wed Prince George, Duke of York on 6 July, 1893 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace. She had been engaged to Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the Prince of Wales in 1891, but Albert Victor died in the great influenza epidemic of 1891-92.  Mary and George fell in love and were married with the approval of Queen Victoria as well as Edward and Alexandra, Prince and Princess of Wales.  George succeeded his father as George V in 1910.  Queen Mary, who was a godchild of Queen Victoria, had five sons and one daughter.
Her eldest son, known to all as David, was more than a disappointment. After inheriting the throne as Eward VIII in 1936, he abdicated less than a year later to marry Wallis Simpson.


After her husband’s death, Queen Mary chose to be addressed as Her Majesty, Queen Mary, rather than as Queen Mother.  She was very supportive of her second son, who became King George VI after his brother’s departure from the throne. According to several sources, she was the first dowager queen of Great Britain to ever attended the coronation ceremony of her husband’s successor.

 

As Duke of York, the second son of George V and Mary grew up in the  shadow of his dashing older brother.  He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon  on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. At the time of the wedding, it was not expected that “Bertie” would take the throne. Lady Elizabeth’s gown, perhaps for that reason, was not as elaborate as some of her predecessors. It was certainly in the style of the day, a rather loose gown,  slightly less than floor length.  Below is the dress on a mannequin in a Kensington Palace exhibition of several years ago, along with a detail of the veil and bodice.

On 20 November, 1947,  Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip of Greece (later Duke of Edinburgh) in Westminster Abbey. The designer was Norman Hartnell and the fabric is silk spun at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. She wore a diamond and pearl tiara and a filmy veil. The long train was decorated with traditional symbols, such as Tudor roses and wheat.  All the details of the royal romance, the wedding, the gown and the ceremony were eagerly read around the world. It is said the happy event was like a tonic to the war-weary Britons still enduring shortages of goods and rationing.

 

The Gown on a mannequin

 

Princess Margaret, second daughter of King George VI, married Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Earl of Snowdon) on  May 6, 1960, at Westminster Abbey. Television cameras covered the event and the broadcast was seen worldwide. Like her sister, Margaret chose Norman Hartnell to design her bridal gown.The couple had two children: David, Viscount Linley in 1961 and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones in 1964. The Snowdons were divorced in 1978 and Princess Margaret died in 2002.

14 November 1973  – Anne, Princess Royal, married Captain Mark Phillips in Westminster Abbey. Born in 1950, she is Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter.  Anne and Phillips have two children, Peter Phillips born in 1977 and Zara Phillips born in 1981. After divorcing Phillips in 1992, Anne married Timothy Laurence, in Scotland on December 12, 1992.

 

On 29 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales, were married in St Paul’s Cathedral. Her dress was controversial — and still is. The designers, David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, immediately shot to the top echelon of British fashion. Like many of Diana’s fashions, the gown (or a replica) travels around the world for popular exhibition.


Charles and Diana had two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984, before separating
 in the late 1980s, the Prince living in Highgrove and the Princess at Kensington Palace.  Formal separation came in 1992 and the marriage of Charles and Diana ended in divorce on 28 August 1996. On 31 August 1997, a year after the Prince and Princess divorced, Diana died in a car crash in Paris.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, married at Westminster Abbey on 23 July 1986. The Duke and Duchess of York had two children during their marriage: Princess Beatrice of York (born 1988) and Princess Eugenie of York (born 1990). They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, though they are often together for vacations and family events. 



Of all the gowns shown above, I think I like Sarah’s best, as designed by Lindka Cierach.  It is beautiful, flattering to her and has no gimmicks.  Princess Elizabeth’s was lovely too, but I like Sarah’s veil better.  All in all this one is the winner in the gown category, if perhaps not in the list of “most suitable royal brides.”



If like us, you can’t get enough of this wedding stuff, here is a wonderful exhibition from the Royal Collection you will enjoy. 

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Prinny's Fete Honoring the Duke of Wellington

On July 21,1814 the Prince Regent held a Fete in the temporary rooms in the garden of Carlton House to honor the Duke of Wellington. The first of the two thousand guests began to arrive at nine o’clock. They were received at the grand entrance by equerries who conducted the guests to the fanciful rooms and tents on the garden front of Carlton House.

John Nash built a series of temporary rooms and buildings in the garden at Carlton House to house the fete. The illustration at right depicts the side garden in 1820. A polygonal ballroom one hundred and twenty feet in diameter with a tented roof was the main feature. The room was brick with a leaded roof. The interior of the ballroom was designed to give the impression of summer light, airiness, and festivity. It was designed to replicate a huge bell tent so the umbrella shaped ceiling was painted to resemble muslin. The upper walls and ceiling were then hung with gilt cords and tassels to further the resemblance to a tent. Muslin draperies covered the walls. They were swagged open to reveal mirrors hung on the walls. The ballroom was illuminated with twelve sparkling chandeliers. A pair of flower covered temples had been erected in the polygonal ballroom to screen the bands. A covered promenade hung with draperies and rose colored cords led to a Corinthian temple. Inside was a marble bust of the Duke of Wellington by Turnerelli placed on a column in front of a large mirror engraved with a star and a capital letter W. Another covered walkway hung with green calico displayed transparencies representing such subjects as the “Overthrow of Tyranny by the Allied Power”. Elsewhere in the garden were supper tents and refreshment rooms hung with white and rose curtains and with regimental colors printed on silk.

The Regent himself appeared in his field marshal’s full dress uniform wearing his English, French, and Prussian orders. He had long wished to be made a field marshal of the British army, but his father had steadfastly refused on the grounds that since George was the Prince of Wales and several of his brothers were pursuing military careers they should hold some honors he did not. Now, as Prince Regent, George could suit himself. The fete was a great success. Even the Queen stayed until half-past four and many guests were still there at dawn.

It’s interesting to note that only a few days before the fete, George IV had much more on his mind besides the upcoming festivities – Princess Charlotte and he had come to loggerheads regarding the question of where she was to live. The following account is from George IV: Memoirs of His Life and Reign by Hannibal Evans Lloyd, though this is just one of a hundred accounts of the episode:

The differences between the Prince Regent and the Princess of Wales caused his Royal Highness some pain on account of the Princess Charlotte, who on several occasions took part with her mother in opposition to his wishes. This led to some very remarkable transactions. Determined that she should be more immediately under his own eye, in the year 1814, on the 12th of July, the Prince Regent visited Warwick House, and informed the Princess Charlotte that he was come to dismiss all her household, and that she must immediately take up her residence in Carlton House, and from thence go to Cranbourn Lodge; and that five ladies, whom he named, amongst whom were the Countess Dowager of Rosslyn, and the Countess of Ilchester, were in the next room in readiness to wait upon her. After some expostulation on the part of the Princess Charlotte, the Prince remaining firm and resolute, she appeared to acquiesce in his determination; but pleading a wish to retire for a moment, to compose herself before she was introduced to the ladies, she was permitted to do so; and whilst the Prince was engaged in close conversation with Miss Knight, a lady of the Princess Charlotte’s household, she, in an agony of despair, privately left Warwick House, and throwing herself into a hackney coach, in Cockspur-street, drove to Connaught House, the residence of her mother. Here she found that the Princess of Wales was gone to Blackheath. She despatched a servant to meet her; and threw herself on a bed, exclaiming, “I would rather earn my bread, and live upon five shillings a-week, than live the life I do.” Before the Princess of Wales arrived, the Archbishop of Canterbury went to Connaught Place, to fetch the Princess Charlotte away; but Sicard, a faithful servant of the Princess, refused to admit him.

As soon as the discovery of the flight of the Princess Charlotte was made known to the Prince Regent, he sent for the ministers, and a council was held at the Foreign Office, and also at Carlton House. The Archbishop of Canterbury not succeeding in the object of his mission to Connaught House, the Duke of York was afterwards sent with a written message from the Prince, containing her father’s commands to bring her to Carlton House.

On the arrival of the Princess of Wales from Blackheath, she drove immediately to the Parliament House, and eagerly inquired for Mr. Whitbread, who was absent; she then inquired for Earl Grey, who was not in town; and, disappointed, she hastened to her own house in Connaught-place, and had an affecting interview with her daughter, with whom she continued till three o’clock in the morning. Soon after this time the Princess Charlotte was conveyed, by the Duke of York, to Carlton House; having been previously informed by Mr. Brougham (who had been sent for by the Princess of Wales), that by the laws of the land, she must obey her father’s commands. Period.

So, aside from that, Princess Charlotte, how’d you enjoy the fete?

Originally published 7/21/10

Regency Reflections: On 5 February, 1811, the Regency Begins…



By February 5, 1811, both houses of Parliament had passed the Regency Act, making George, Prince of Wales, the Regent for his incapacitated father, George III, who was under doctors’ care at Windsor Castle. The Prince took the royal oath on February 6, 1811.

He was 48 years old. He had a legal wife, Princess Caroline, whom he despised, and from whom he had been estranged since shortly after the wedding.  Their daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was 15 years old, and suffered from the great inconsistencies in her father’s attention and attitude.  She was most often ignored by him, but occasionally she was flaunted before the public, which adored her and loathed him.



Princess Charlotte by Richard Woodman,
1816,  NPG
Charlotte was a lively girl who had limited contact with both her mother and father.  She was often with her aunts, the Princesses, and her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, and only rarely with girls of her own age. From time to time, the Prince spent time with her, but he complained that her looks reminded him, painfully, of his wife.  Little wonder she had the German/Hanoverian stamp, since her George and Caroline were first cousins, both grandchildren of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), the son of George II.
Princess Charlotte led a lonely life, though surrounded at all times by attendants and court-appointed companions.



Caroline,  Princess of Wales
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798, VandA

Caroline, by 1811, had set up a separate establishment where she entertained and socialized. Some of her behavior was reported to be scandalous, and her access to her daughter was often restricted. Caroline enjoyed — and often flaunted — her personal popularity with the people. She resented her position as a cast-aside wife with little or no access to court and none of the honors due her. Little wonder that there were constant rumors  circulating in London society.

 
 
 

 
 

Mrs. Fitzherbert by Gainsborough, 1787

Prince George had another wife, Maria Fitzherbert, though the union was not legal according to the requirements of the laws regarding royal marriages. Maria put up with a lot of misbehavior from George too. He left her not only for a legal wife, however temporarily, but also had numerous mistresses while he was associating with her. Like Caroline, Maria loved children; both women adopted other children on whom they poured their maternal love. One hopes that all three of these women – Maria, Caroline and Charlotte – managed some degree of happiness in their lives as they were consistently disappointed by the whims and caprices of George, Prince of Wales.

 Prince George resided at Carlton House in London, a building he had turned into a palace filled with magnificent art works and sumptuous furnishings. Typical of his over-indulgence in all matters, as King, George IV had Carlton House demolished in 1825 for a new plan to enhance the new Regent Street. Meanwhile, he turned his Marine Pavilion in Brighton, from  the tasteful building completed by Henry Holland in 1787, below, into a fantastical building in which the interior is Chinese style while the exterior is Indian-Mughal, whatever that is. Rev. Sydney Smith remarked upon seeing the Pavilion, “It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral came down and pupped.”

The Marine Pavilion, Brighton
 Henry Holland, Architect, 1787

 Brighton Pavilion, as remodeled by John Nash, after 1811

England at the beginning of 1811 had been at war with France on and off for decades. British armies were fighting in the Peninsular Wars in Portugal and Spain. Shifting alliances among the continental European powers kept Britain’s diplomats busy negotiating and re-negotiating treaties and mutual support pacts.  The Prince Regent left the hard jobs to his ministers while he concentrated on his social life, his collections, his designs for army uniforms, and other even more trivial matters.  We will dip further into some of these in future posts.  

But George never was very popular. Sometimes the press was full of praise, but between the essayists, satirists and artists of caricatures, the Regent took his full share of criticism.
Here is a fragment of the praiseful poem published by the Morning Post newspaper in honor of the new Prince Regent:

Adonis! In thy shape and face,
A liberal heart and Princely grace
In thee are seen combined …

But Leigh Hunt and his brother John, editor of a literary magazine called the Examiner, published a different view:
“… An Adonis of 50 … a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demi-reps, a man without a single claim to the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity …”

Though many hailed them as heroes for their position, the Hunts were sued for and convicted of libel and served time in jail. Among the visitors to Leigh Hunt in prison were the poet Lord Byron, Lord Brougham, and essayist Charles Lamb.

Leigh Hunt, essayist and critic, 1784-1859

“The Prince of Whales, or The Fisherman at Anchor:
George Cruikshank,  1812

We will look at the Prince, or Prinny as many called him, and his reign many times in the upcoming months.  It was a time of excess in many ways, and he certainly led the pack. We will see many more caricatures — they were in their glory in those days — and we will look at the real achievements of the Prince, particularly in assembling his collections of art and decorative arts.

At his Pavilion in Brighton, a new exhibition is about to open: Dress for Excess, Fashion in Regency England.  suitable title, don’t you agree?  It will include the magnificent Coronation Robe worn by the Prince as he became George IV in 1921. Below, the King’s portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (who else?).

The Death of Princess Charlotte, 6 November 1817

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales lived a short and largely unhappy life.  But she was always popular with the people and the outpouring of public grief following her sad demise was immense.  Some have compared it to an early 19th century version of the widespread mourning over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.

Above, Princess Charlotte by artist George Davis, c. 1817, in the royal collection.

Last year on this date, we posted an extensive story about Princess Charlotte — click here to read the whole story.


While researching my recent talk “The Sensible Regency Wedding” for the 2011 JASNA AGM in Ft. Worth, I found the account Princess Charlotte wrote to her friend Margaret Mercer Elphinstone about reading Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen’s first published novel, which came out on October 31, 1811.

In her letter of January 22, 1812, the Princess wrote: ” ‘Sence and Sencibility’ I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like. I must say it interested me much.”

Engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their 1816 wedding
As can be deduced from the quotation above, the Princess, who had just turned age 16, was not yet completely at ease with grammar or spelling! Her life was difficult, a pawn between her waring parents, George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales.
my photo of an engraving of Margaret Mercer Elphinstone at Bowood, after a portrait by Hoppner

Mercer, as Charlotte called her, was herself an heiress and well-connected in London society. Her father was Admiral Lord Keith of the British Navy. The correspondence between Princess Charlotte and Meg Mercer lasted from 1811 until just before Charlotte’s death in 1817.  Although requested to return the letters to the Prince Regent, Mercer kept them in her possession.  Through her daughter, who became the Marchioness of Lansdowne, the letters were held at Bowood House in Wiltshire. They were published in 1949, in a volume edited by Professor Arthur Aspinall (1901-72).

Princess Charlotte’s wedding gown, 1816

The letters reveal a lively mind, if somewhat flighty, and a great interest in affairs of government on Charlotte’s part.  The last 18 months of her life, after her marriage to Leopold of Saxe Coburg in 1816, were generally happy, we are pleased to say.  RIP, Charlotte.

The Forgotten Queen


This is the birthday of Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821), Princess of Wales, Queen Consort of King George IV, one of the saddest characters in the last 200 years of British royal history.  Many have pointed out the parallels between Caroline’s life and the more recent sad Princess of Wales, Diana.

 
 Both married men who loved another woman (or women, in the case of George), both were loved by the public, both engaged in questionable romantic relationships outside of their royal marriages, and both died well before their husbands.

 George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and then King George IV, already had a wife when he found himself out of funds again, and had to appeal to his father, George III, and governmental leaders in Parliament for an increase in his allowance.

Some probably knew of the marriage ceremony in which Prince George had illegally wed Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. But since the wedding of a royal heir required the permission of the king, the marriage did not exist officially.  So in return for an increase in his allowance, Prince George agreed to wed Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his cousin from a German principality. The wedding took place April 8,1795.

The marriage was a disaster from the beginning. Prince George did not care for the appearance or the hygiene of his bride.  She thought he was much fatter than his pictures and a drunkard. Worse, he flaunted one of his mistresses, Lady Jersey, by making her Caroline’s lady-of-the-bedchamber, which Caroline did not appreciate. (See Kristine’s post on the Two Lady Jerseys posted April 2, 2010). George and Caroline separated almost immediately and lived in distant households for the rest of their lives.

However, nine months later, Princess Charlotte was born on January 7, 1796, and became the heir to the throne after her father and grandfather. To the right, Caroline and Princess Charlotte of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1802.

We will tell Charlotte’s sad story another day, but it suffices to say that both Caroline and Charlotte led unhappy lives because Prince George tried to ignore their very existence. Eventually, Charlotte married and later died in childbirth in 1817.

By then, Princess Caroline, her mother, was living in Italy at the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. (Victoria will post about this the Villa, now a hotel, soon.)
Caroline was living the high life, it was said, and had a very close friendship with a certain Signor Bartolmeo Pergami, which was widely caricatured.

After George III died in 1820, George IV had Caroline tried for adultery in the House of Lords. Though many believed she was guilty, it was not proved, to the King’s great irritation. He refused to allow Caroline to enter Westminster Abbey for his coronation in July of 1821.  She died just a few weeks later on August 7, 1821.  To the left, a detail of the Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.

There were inquiries into the cause of Caroline’s death, but again, nothing could be proven. She was buried in Brunswick.

To the left, a portrait of Queen Caroline by James Lonsdale. Caroline always had a popularity with many of the people who despised her husband for his profligate ways, overspending and general excesses in everything.  Jane Austen famously wrote, “I will always support her as long as I can, because she is a woman, and because I hate her husband…I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.” (From letter of 16 February 1813 to Martha Lloyd)

Flora Fraser published her excellent book The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline in 1996. It tells most of the story in detail with many more pictures. But, of course, the questions remain, nearly 200 years later. Was her behavior as bad as George IV’s was? Probably not. He was the penultimate spoiled child, self indulgent to the extreme.  But no one probably will ever know the full story of Caroline, the forgotten queen.