In addition to the private gifts exchanged at royal weddings were also those public gifts given on behalf of a nation. Either to accompany its native bride on her marriage, or increasingly, to take the form of diplomatic presents, such as the Sevres porcelain dinner service from the Government and People of France for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, in 1947.
A plate sometimes formed part of the dowry of a foreign princess, as was, for example, the case with the Spanish-born Catherine of Aragon, who brought gold and silver plate on her marriage to Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501. The recent marriage of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Sussex on 19 May 2018 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, provided the occasion for a commemorative range of wedding china in the Royal Collection Shops, handcrafted in Staffordshire. The first royal wedding at St. George’s Chapel in 1863 had also given occasion for a magnificent service, known as the second Flora Danica, produced by the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory. Most pieces survive still within the Royal Collection. It tells in many ways, the story of that wedding, but also is inextricably linked with the Danish Royal House.
The Princess of Wales, photographed in her wedding dress (By John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813-1901) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
The marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark was celebrated at St. George’s Chapel on 10 March 1863. Princess Alexandra wore waxen orange blossoms in her bridal wreath and following the ceremony, changed into a white bonnet decorated with sprays of orange flowers, not unlike the bonnet Queen Victoria had worn for her honeymoon journey from Buckingham Palace to Windsor, in 1840. So, an association with flowers was present from the beginning, although Princess Alexandra would have known of the existence of the famous first service as a Danish royal princess and of course, of the volumes of the great botanical atlas after which it was named. The wedding gifts for the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra had been laid out at Windsor Castle the day before the wedding. Queen Victoria made a detailed list of these in her journal, although these would not have included the Flora Danica service, because that was only delivered to England, some two years after the wedding, in 1864.
Another gift that Princess Alexandra received as a farewell gift from her native Denmark was a carved and pierced ivory gilt fan from a group of ‘Danish ladies’ on her marriage to the Prince of Wales. (Fans seemed a popular choice for a personal royal gift on this occasion – the future Princess of Wales also received a splendid leather and mother-of-pearl French fan from Princess Feodore of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Queen Victoria’s beloved half-sister from her Kensington Palace childhood days).
The choice of a Flora Danica service was a most appropriate parting gift from the people of Denmark to its princess. The design was based on the critical eponymous botanical encyclopaedia begun in 1761 and added to until 1883 – twenty years after the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales – which documented the native plants of the Danish Crown lands; it was a gift of which Queen Victoria’s paternal grandmother, the ‘botanizing’ Queen Charlotte, may well have approved. The Flora Danica was the passion project of the German-Danish botanist G. C. Oeder; its publisher at the time of the wedding was Johan Lange, who oversaw the volumes from 1861-1883. Flora Danica is still very much in production, with each design exquisitely copied from the copper print in the original encyclopaedia, which consists of 3,240 individual engravings. Each of the plates in the second service made for Princess Alexandra bore the Latin name of its botanical specimen on the underside and a notation which linked directly back to the great atlas itself from which it had been painted.
Part of the first Flora Danica service at Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen (By Edelseider [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons)
Flora Danica was first envisaged as a porcelain dinner service during the nominal reign of Christian VII of Denmark, whose English-born consort, Queen Caroline Mathilda, had been a sister of George III. it may have been originally intended as a ‘diplomatic reconciliation gift’ for Catherine II of Russia; Flora Danica is a Danish porcelain which is indisputably royal. This magnificent service was ordered in 1790 and first used as the plate on which to serve dessert at the birthday party of Christian VII in 1803. From 1772 the King had however, of course, ruled in name only and it was his son, the future Frederik VI who ruled as Danish Crown Prince Regent until his father’s death, in 1808.
The original, first Flora Danica was made between 1790 and 1802 and cost the estimated price of £13,000 until its production was unexpectedly interrupted. The original, first Flora Danica service comprises today of some 1,530 surviving pieces and continues to be used on important state occasions – underlining its position as a porcelain of immense national significance – the last time being for Queen Ingrid’s 80th birthday in 1990. It is kept within the Royal Danish Collections at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. This number of surviving pieces allows for breakages which regularly occurred and of course, the second fire at Christiansborg Palace, in 1884.
Flora Danica as a place setting at Christiansborg Palace (By Thomas Quine (Royal place setting on herbal theme) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
A second dessert and dinner Flora Danica service of Royal Copenhagen porcelain was conceived as a gift for Princess Alexandra of Denmark on her marriage, from the ‘ladies of Denmark’. The service was indeed fit for its parting princess being of no less than 765 pieces, with dentil border. Rather charmingly, the women of Denmark chose the most visually attractive flowers and plant specimens of Denmark and Norway to adorn the new service; views of Danish castles and manor houses decorated the dessert plates in turn – perhaps an unintended historic link back to the first use of the original first service for the King’s birthday dessert in 1803. Each piece was painted with a botanical subject and included a tureen, custard cups and covers, triangular dishes, trays and a sauce boat in the shape of a shell.
It was not the only time that Flora Danica was given as a national gift to its respective Danish royal bride, however, in 1964, Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark and King Constantine II of Greece were given the presence of one such royal porcelain service with pieces to serve sixty at the table.
In 2004, the Danish people presented Crown Prince Frederik and the future Crown Princess Mary with a complete Flora Danica of some 200 pieces, resplendent with a flower motif and their combined monogram, designed by the ever-artistically gifted Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. On his birth in 2005, the baby Prince Christian of Denmark was presented with a child’s set of Flora Danica from the Danish nation on his christening; one of these plates was delicately painted with an apple, symbolic of the month of October when he was born, at which the fruit matures. The service, which was first designed under an earlier King Christian in the late 18th century, was linked to the next heir – another Christian – to the Danish royal house, like a set of so many porcelain pieces being added to.
Several further pieces were added to the Royal Collection’s Flora Danica which had been given to Princess Alexandra of Denmark; this was most fittingly, a wedding gift for Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947 from the new King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark.
Some examples of the Royal Collection’s Flora Danica, made for the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, may be seen in the so-called ‘China Museum’ (Star Buildings) at Windsor Castle.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.