She was the first of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s children to marry and her big day set the template for the royal celebrations that would follow in its wake. Princess Anne’s wedding to Mark Phillips, on 14 November 1973, was a huge state occasion with a massive television audience that captured imaginations around the world. The bride might be famously down to earth but her first royal wedding was a day filled with pomp, ceremony and glamour.
The regal romance which led the couple to the altar had been rather low key. Anne and Mark, both passionate about horses from an early age, had met through their involvement in equestrianism. They got engaged after the Badminton Horse Trials in the early spring of 1973 but didn’t share their news for six weeks. However, on 29 May 1973, Buckingham Palace announced that the couple were to marry.
When they appeared before the press for an engagement photocall, Mark Phillips admitted he had been nervous about asking Prince Philip for permission to wed Anne who had received an engagement ring featuring a sapphire flanked by two diamonds. The bride to be did most of the talking and when asked, suggested mid-November as a possible time for her wedding. Practical Anne got her way.
The date was set for 14 November 1973, the 25th birthday of the bride’s older brother, Prince Charles, and Westminster Abbey was chosen as the venue. The day was declared a bank holiday, special stamps and commemorative coins were issued and as the wedding approached, interest in every aspect of it took hold. The couple received hundreds of presents from well-wishers, among them dishcloths, tea towels and a solitary sweet.
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Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London on the morning of the wedding to see Princess Anne travel from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Glass Coach for the ceremony which was due to start at 11.30am. Around 500 million were watching on television – Anne’s wasn’t the first royal wedding to be broadcast live but it was the first to attract such huge numbers of viewers.
The Abbey, too, was packed out with around 2,000 guests filling its pews. Among them was royalty from across Europe including Ingrid, Dowager Queen of Denmark and Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco. Harald and Sonja of Norway, then Crown Prince and Princess, were also there as were Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and her husband, Prince Claus. The Prince and Princess of Spain, later King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, were also in attendance.
They watched as the bride walked down the aisle on the arm of her father while the congregation sang Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken. The service, which lasted around an hour, was conducted by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, with the bride promising to obey her husband. Mark Phillips presented his wife with a wedding ring made from the same nugget of Welsh gold that had been used to fashion the bands worn by her mother, the Queen, and her maternal grandmother, the Queen Mother.
Its simplicity was matched by the dress chosen by Princess Anne. It was designed by Maureen Baker with a lot of input from the bride who is reported to have suggested a Tudor inspiration for the dress herself. The finished gown featured a high neck, trumpet sleeves, a fitted bodice and a flared skirt, all made from white silk with a modest train. Anne wore the same fringe tiara her mother had worn at her own wedding in 1947 and which had once belonged to Queen Mary, the great-grandmother Anne had known in her early childhood.
The bride had just two attendants with her nine-year-old brother, Prince Edward, acting as pageboy and her cousin, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, as her only bridesmaid. They stood on either side of the newlyweds as they made their first appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony with both Anne and Mark appearing almost overwhelmed by the huge crowds that had turned out to see them.
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The couple and their guests then enjoyed a wedding breakfast at the Palace that included lobster, partridge and ice cream. There was also a five-tier wedding cake, made by the Royal Army Catering Corps, which reportedly measured 5 feet 6 inches, the same height as the bride. Anne and Mark later headed off on honeymoon on board the Royal Yacht Britannia before returning home to enjoy another of their wedding presents – the Queen had given them Gatcombe Park as their new home.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips went on to have two children together – Peter (born in 1977) and Zara (born 1981) but by the late 1980s there were reports that the marriage was in trouble. They separated in 1989 and divorced in 1992 with Princess Anne remarrying later the same year. But while this royal romance had no happy ever after, it was in some ways a beginning to an era of Windsor weddings that made headlines around the world. Anne, the bride who wanted to keep things simple, ended up setting the pattern for the spectacular events that we still enjoy today.