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Royal Weddings: The Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip

On the morning of Thursday, 20 November 1947, thousands lined the streets of London along the processional route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey.

Crowds thronged down the Mall, pressing against the Palace gates. Millions listened to the radio broadcast that was made. Post-war Britain took an enormous interest in the royal wedding, and many thousands watched the film of the event which was later shown nationwide at cinemas. In fact, King George VI permitted the procession to be filmed and only still photographs to be made during the actual wedding ceremony.

Over 2,500 wedding gifts were displayed at St James’s Palace, whilst Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress was exhibited throughout the country. After the wedding, the official wedding breakfast was held at Buckingham Palace, after which Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip departed for Waterloo Station to begin their honeymoon.

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret left for Westminster Abbey in the Glass Coach. Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, created Duke of Edinburgh by Letters Patent, had been granted the title of Royal Highness and given the Order of the Garter before his marriage. He left Kensington Palace on the wedding morning, dressed in naval uniform. He was accompanied by his groomsman, the Marquess of Milford Haven, and entered the Abbey by a door near the Poet’s Corner. When the wedding procession reached the Abbey, the bells of St Margaret’s Church rang to announce the arrival of the Irish State Coach.

In a magnificent bridal gown designed by Britain’s foremost couturier Norman Hartnell in duchesse silk satin, embroidered with white seed pearls, crystal beads and appliqued tulle, Princess Elizabeth had left Buckingham Palace at 11.16 am precisely, with King George VI in the Irish State Coach, for Westminster Abbey. Her star-patterned train was woven in Essex, and her bouquet of white orchids also contained a sprig of myrtle from Osborne House. It was this bouquet which was sent back afterwards to the Abbey, with orders that it should be placed on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, continuing the tradition begun by her mother, Queen Elizabeth on her wedding as Duchess of York, in 1923.

Her wedding veil was of ivory silk net, embroidered with pearl beads and she wore the diadem of her grandmother, the so-called ‘Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara’ – lent to her by Queen Elizabeth for the occasion – together with pearl earrings which had belonged to the Duchess of Teck. Queen Mary departed from nearby Marlborough House on the Mall to drive to Westminster Abbey.

At Princess Elizabeth’s arrival, she was joined by her eight bridesmaids – also in white dresses designed by Hartnell. These were Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, Lady Mary Cambridge, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, The Hon. Margaret Elphinstone, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Pamela Mountbatten and Diana Bowes-Lyon. Her pageboys were Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent, who both wore tartan kilts.

The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury but was introduced by the Dean of Westminster and included a short sermon of address given by the Archbishop of York, the text of which has been preserved. The King and Queen took their places near the southern end of the Sanctuary, flanked by visiting royalty. Officials and politicians were seated in the choir stalls, whilst distinguished guests took their positions in the nave. The rest of the remaining 2,000 wedding guests sat in the Abbey transept; there was little extra seating available. Staff and media sat in the triforium.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, photographed after their Wedding; by Bassano Ltd, half-plate film negative, 20 November 1947

Perhaps in a sign of post-war austerity, flowers were only in one part of the Abbey – placed in vases at the High Altar – these included white lilies, chrysanthemums, pink carnations, roses, ivy and camellia foliage. The great plate of the Abbey was displayed on the altar, which was hung with white dorsal gifted by George V and Queen Mary in 1911.  

The Order of Service for the Royal Wedding is preserved at Westminster Abbey, containing the details for example, of the music which was specially chosen for the ceremony, such as the fact that on the arrival of Princess Elizabeth and her bridesmaids. Princess Elizabeth entered the Abbey to a fanfare composed by Sir Arnold Bax, Parry’s Bridal March and the hymn, ‘Praise my soul, the King of Heaven’. These had been preceded by Elgar’s ‘Sonata in G Major,’ Widor’s ‘Andante Cantabile,’ Bach’s ‘Fugue Alla Giga,’ Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ and selections from Handel’s ‘Water Music.’

The Sub-Organist of the Abbey played for the wedding service, whilst Dr William Harris played the two anthems; one of which was ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ by Samuel Sebastian Wesley – sung whilst the marriage register was being signed in St Edward’s Chapel, behind the altar – and the National Anthem. The register was signed by a gold pen in the form of a quill, presented by the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and is still preserved in the Royal Collection. Following the signing of the register, a fanfare was played, and the wedding procession left the Abbey to Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March,’ which had been used for weddings in Queen Victoria’s family. This was possibly because of the particular admiration that Prince Albert had for the composer, introducing his music to Queen Victoria. Mendelssohn visited the royal couple at Buckingham Palace five times between the years 1842-47.

Princess Elizabeth’s wedding ring – in contrast to her engagement ring of diamond and platinum, designed by Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten – was of Welsh gold, from a nugget which had also been used to make Queen Elizabeth’s wedding ring on her marriage to the future George VI at the Abbey in 1923. In memory of their marriage, the then Duke and Duchess of York gave a pair of silver candlesticks to Westminster Abbey, which were placed in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor.

The future Queen Elizabeth II witnessed the Coronation of her father at Westminster Abbey in 1937; her own Coronation was performed at the Abbey in 1953.

Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip have attended Services of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary, Golden Wedding Anniversary and Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.


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