17 May 2018

The Mother of the Bride

By Carl Rudolph Sohn
via Wikimedia Commons
Few people today would suspect that staid, old, unamused Queen Victoria was quite the trendsetter, particularly when it comes to weddings. Her choice of a "simple" white wedding gown set the fashion that most Western royal brides still adhere to today. Her preference for more intimate "private" weddings was also enforced for most of her children, a trend that recent royal weddings (with the notable exception of the eventual king Prince William) have reinstated in the last 20 years. Two of Victoria's children married on the family's private estate on the Isle of Wight, four married in St. George's Chapel (like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), and one even married in the private chapel at Windsor. One of Victoria's most surprising wedding innovations may be that of having the mother of the bride to escort the bride.

Princess Alice was married beneath this iconic family portrait.
She is the little girl in yellow bending over the baby.
By Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Royal Collection, via Wikimedia Commons
When Queen Victoria was widowed at age 42, only one of her nine children had already married. Oldest daughter Vicky had indeed been escorted down the aisle by her father Prince Albert, but someone else accompanied her too: Victoria and Albert's shared uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium. Well, why not. The next daughter, Princess Alice, who had nursed the dying Albert was married less than seven months after his death in a very private ceremony that Victoria wrote was "more like a funeral." To keep things as low-key and intimate as possible, Alice was not even permitted to marry in a church. Instead, the wedding took place in the dining room of Osborne House, the family's private home on the Isle of Wight. The couple stood beneath a massive portrait of the royal family (including the recently departed Albert, of course) while the sorrowful widow hid herself in a corner.

Even Victoria's heir, the future King Edward VII, had to have as small a wedding as possible for such an important occasion. Instead of a public wedding in London like his successors would have, the Prince of Wales was the first of Victoria's children to wed at St. George's Chapel, which sits just on the edge of the more private environs of the castle itself.  The perpetually mourning queen watched him wed Princess Alexandra of Denmark from a balcony, dressed (as always) in black with a widow's cap. (She had taken the bridal couple to Prince Albert's tomb the day before the wedding to give them Albert's blessing. Victoria really loved to mourn.)

Princess Beatrice in her wedding dress.
via Wikimedia Commons
Victoria did not take an active role in her children's weddings until her third daughter Princess Helena married in the private chapel in Windsor Castle. This was when Victoria roused herself from deepest mourning to escort the bride down the aisle. Of course, she still dressed in black with a widow's cap, but she did at least throw some diamonds on and had silver thread woven through her dress for the occasion. When daughter #4 Louise married the son of a mere Peer of the Realm, many people were outraged at such a misalliance for a princess. One of the most vocal opponents of the marriage was the Prince of Wales. Nevertheless, there was an expectation that, as the oldest son of a fatherless family, he would give the bride away. Victoria denied him the honor and once again did it herself. By the time, her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice married in the tiny chapel on the Isle of Wight, it was only natural that the mother of the bride would give her away.

As a footnote, unlike her grandfather George III who insisted on the Royal Marriages Act to prevent members of the royal family from marrying "beneath" them, Victoria fully approved of unequal marriages for her children and grandchildren. If she deemed a spouse worthy, she didn't care what anyone else thought. When Princess Louise wanted to marry a mere Peer of the Realm, she wrote that he was the equal of any German princeling. Then, when her granddaughter Victoria of Hesse and daughter Beatrice married princes from the morganatic Battenberg family, she fully supported them. Thus, it was Victoria who launched the trend that would eventually lead to royals marrying spouses from the peerage and now spouses with no noble heritage at all.

For a much more detailed discussion of these and other royal weddings, read Weddings of Queen Victoria's Children on Royal Central.

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