Over 2,500 gifts were sent to Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, created Royal Highness on the morning of his wedding as well as Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth and Duke of Edinburgh that same day. These gifts were put on public display between November 1947 and March 1948 and were seen by over 200,000 people. They constituted an outpouring of affection in textile and manufacture both at home and abroad, showcasing remarkable examples of both regional trades and skilled craftsmanship, celebrating the cultural traditions of the countries sending them as gifts, along with the 10,000 telegrams of congratulation which were received by the royal couple on their wedding on 20 November 1947. The gifts themselves ranged from the magnificent to the very modest, from the Sevres porcelain dinner service given by the Government and people of France down to a box of Kentish apples, from the exotic 1935 diamond and platinum Cartier Berar necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad, to a single bath sponge. Some of these were detailed as part of the exhibition ‘A Royal Wedding’ in 2007 to commemorate the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, on which I have based this article.
Post-war Britain still had rations in place for food and clothing at the time of the royal wedding, which was one of the reasons why the ingredients for the Wedding Cake were sent in boxes from the Australian Girl Guides Association. Nor were these the only food gifts sent from Australia; the Governor of Queensland sent 500 tins of pineapple. Like the Wedding Cake, these were also expected to be distributed throughout the United Kingdom, to certain charities of which Princess Elizabeth was patron. Sugared almonds and tins of salmon were also among the edible wedding gifts which were sent. Similarly, the items of clothing which were given to Princess Elizabeth were handmade in Britain and included, according to the Royal Collection, “131 pairs of nylons and 17 pairs of silk stockings, 38 handbags and 24 pairs of gloves”. The gifts from Great Britain were sent both collectively and individually and included many practical and exquisitely crafted items, including gifts on behalf of important British societies and boards of manufacture. A gold snuff box was the gift from the Royal Society of Arts, for example. The carpet company Shroffs, established in Bhadohi in 1944, sent 101 carpets to couples who also got married in the royal wedding month. According to Shroffs Carpets, the company was permitted to distribute free carpets to the parents of children born on the Royal Wedding Day. Homemade gifts from the British public also included a knitted cardigan, two pairs of bed socks and a tea cosy.
Silver appears to have been a popular choice; a silver tea caddy came from The Iron and Steel Board. Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs Harold Phillips sent a silver beaker and a silver cream jug; they apparently also sent a pair of muffineers to The Princess Royal on her marriage to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973. Sir Henry “Chips” Channon gave a silver cigarette case. Princess Elizabeth also received a set of 17th-century ‘apostle’ spoons, made in Exeter. Silver gilt milk churns were sent by the Citizens of Guernsey and Alderney, while rather charmingly, a silver bread basket was sent from the girls of Twickenham who were called Elizabeth, Alexandra and Mary, Princess Elizabeth’s full baptismal names. The Lord Mayor and Citizens of Norwich presented Princess Elizabeth with a silver and ivory casket engraved with the arms of the city of Norwich; whilst the Princess’s friends made her the gift of a pair of 18th-century silver-gilt candelabra as well as a Rockingham dinner service. Sir Malcolm Sargent sent a radiogram from His Master’s Voice.
Dinner services and plate was another favoured choice of wedding present – the Brigade of Guards (Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh) sent a Royal Worcester porcelain desert and dinner service engraved with the crests of their respective regiments; a porcelain dinner service was given by President Chiang Kai Shek on behalf of the Chinese Republic, with motives which symbolized joy. An 18th-century Meissen set of chocolate cups, complete with covers and saucers, was the gift of Pope Pius XII.
The Steuben Glass Works produced at least three official American gifts, namely the glass bowl from President and Mrs Truman, the pair of candlesticks from Mr Averell Harriman, Secretary of Commerce for the United States of America, as well as the set of twelve glass plates engraved with birds from Ambassador and Mrs Douglas of the United States of America. Nor was British glass ignored – a glass goblet engraved by the poet and glass engraver, Laurence Whistler with a commemorative verse by Thomas Campion for the marriage in 1613 of another Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James I and future ‘Winter Queen’ of Bohemia, was the present from Mr Mark Bonham-Carter.
There were also more unusual, touching presents. A crocheted, cotton “shawl” woven from yarn personally by Mahatma Gandhi, was among these, containing a motif ‘Jai Hind’, meaning ‘Victory for India’. A wooden writing desk was sent from the Government of New Zealand, whilst an ivory table was the gift of the Maharaja of Patiala.
Princess Elizabeth of course, also received items of jewellery on the occasion of her wedding. The most magnificent of these from Great Britain was arguably the early 19th-century diamond, silver and gold necklace known as ‘The Queen’s City of London Necklace’ because it was the wedding gift from the City of London. A brooch in diamond and platinum by Cartier and supposedly containing the finest pink diamond in the world was the present to Princess Elizabeth from Dr John Williamson, a Canadian geologist. A pair of pearl and diamond earrings was given by the Sheikh of Bahrain, whilst King Farouk of Egypt gave a gold and jade necklace.
Then of course, there were the private gifts from the Royal Family. These included items of great personal significance for both Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip; one of these is now known as ‘The Queen’s Wedding Bracelet’ and was a wedding gift from Prince Philip to Princess Elizabeth, which included brilliants from one of the tiaras that had been owned by his mother, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece. King George VI gave his daughter a 19th-century necklace of diamonds and sapphires, which he bought from Carrington & Co; Queen Elizabeth gave a diamond and ruby necklace by Boucheron, whilst the King and Queen gave jointly a pair of Cartier diamond and platinum earrings. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester sent a French snuff box. Princess Margaret gave the present of a picnic case; Queen Elizabeth also gave her daughter a pair of salt cellars.
There were connections with other previous royal weddings too – Queen Mary gave her granddaughter a cluster of wedding gifts which she herself had received on her own marriage to the future George V, then Duke of York, in 1893. This included a pair of diamond, gold and silver Indian bangles, which had been given to her by the Presidency of Bombay, the diamond tiara from the ‘Girls of Great Britain and Ireland’ (E. Wolff & Co. for Garrards), a bangle with diamonds and rubies from the County of Cornwall, her diamond ‘Bow Brooch’ from the County of Dorset and a pair of pearl and diamond earrings, from the Ladies of Devonshire. To these was added a ‘stomacher’ of diamonds, pearls, gold and white gold, was made up from diamonds from two of her other wedding presents, another stomacher and the so-called ‘Town of Swansea’ crescent. Queen Mary also gave a bookcase.
Other royal gifts included a tortoiseshell, silver-gilt and enamel box with a mechanical singing bird from Queen Helen of Roumania.
These gifts offer a fascinating insight into the personal and official gifts given to mark a royal wedding, setting them within the unique context of their time – in this case, partly within a post-war Britain – which influenced a great deal concerning both their selection and method of production. Other gifts tell us much about the careful thought behind the choice of every present, as being representative of its country or giver. Each gift was chosen with consideration, from the box of Kentish apples to the City of London’s Necklace. In true post-wartime spirit, Britain made some of the gifts of clothing by hand. They were to each form a collection of unique gifts from home and overseas, a token of national – and international – love for a British princess on her wedding day. And just as these were the amassed gifts of many thousands of people, including the Royal Family, individuals, governments, foreign royalty, ambassadors, counties, cities and associations, so it they were enjoyed again by 200,000 people in turn, who visited St. James’s Palace to view them during the four months between November 1947 and March 1948, that they were on public display.