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The Wedding Cake of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip

At the Wedding Breakfast of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on 20 November 1947 which took place in the afternoon after the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey, there was a quite extraordinary cake. Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten had been newly granted the title, style and attribute of His Royal Highness by Letters Patent from Whitehall on the morning of the wedding and the announcement featured in the London Gazette, Issue 38128 the following day. It also contained the conferment on him by Letters Patent on 20 November, “the dignity of a Duke of the United Kingdom upon Lieutenant His Royal Highness Sir Philip Mountbatten, K.G., R’.N., and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten, by the name, style and title of BARON GREENWICH, of Greenwich in the County of London, EARL OF MERIONETH, and DUKE OF EDINBURGH.”

The Wedding Breakfast was held in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace, attended by 146 guests which included visiting royalty from Greece, Denmark, Iraq, Norway, Roumania, Spain, Yugoslavia and Sweden. The Ball Supper Room had been used for important functions by the British Royal Family, such as the occasion when it formed the setting for a dinner in 1913, attended by the French President. It was also the location for a charming Children’s Fancy Ball at Buckingham Palace in 1859, to celebrate the sixth birthday of the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Prince Leopold. The Ball Supper Room originally was designed by Prince Albert and his adviser, Ludwig Grüner, with panels of coloured marble and Raphael arabesques, but was remodelled during the reign of Edward VII. The menu included ‘Filet de Sole Mountbatten, Perdreau en Casserole, Bombe Glacee Princess Elizabeth’.

The flowers for the bridal table at the Wedding Breakfast were supplied by Edward Goodyear, the London florist established in 1879, who currently still holds the Royal Warrant as Florist for Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The Florists were located in Mayfair’s Brook Street at the time of the Royal Wedding, having been bombed out of their original location in Bond Street during the Blitz. The flowers on the tables of the guests were carnations, given by the British Carnation Society.

Like many previous cakes in Queen Victoria’s reign, made for marriages within the Royal Family, the Wedding Cake of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip was photographed. Previous cakes within the Royal Family had been fabulous, iced creations which featured symbolic decorations pertinent to the occasion and future married life, such as children, swans, flowers, towers and ornamental figures. The wedding cake of Queen Victoria was made of course, at a time before the art of photography was properly developed and so it was commemorated instead in a hand coloured lithograph; decorated lavishly with sprigs of orange blossom and myrtle. Two pieces of it survive in the Royal Collection, in cardboard boxes from the Wedding Breakfast at Buckingham Palace. Still stamped with a small royal crown, the words identify the pieces as from the ‘Queen’s Bridal Cake, Buckingham Palace, Feby 1840’. The wedding cakes of her children, the Prince of Wales, Princess Louise, Prince Leopold and her beloved youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, were all photographed on their marriages.

The wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, by Bassano Ltd, half-plate film negative, 20 November 1947

The Wedding Cake of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip was produced by McVitie and Price. It stood nine feet high – over 2.5 metres tall – and had four tiers; one of these tiers was kept for the christening of Prince Charles. It weighed an impressive nine hundred pounds, in contrast to Queen Victoria’s Wedding Cake which was about three hundred pounds in weight. It featured the armorial bearings of the families of the bride and groom, with regimental and naval badges and also symbols in sugar-ice to stand for their favourite pastimes. It was made from ingredients which included those given as a wedding given from the Australian Girl Guides Association, each box of which was appropriately numbered and labelled up as ‘Ingredients HRH Princess Elizabeth, from Girl Guides Asscn, Australia”. These were supplied because of the restrictions still in place in Britain due to post-war rations. Pieces of the cake were distributed throughout the United Kingdom, to charities in the Princess’s patronage. Eleven other cakes were offered to the Princess, which were also photographed and displayed in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

The Wedding Cake was actually cut with Prince Philip’s ceremonial ‘Mountbatten’ sword, which had been a wedding present from King George VI. The cake featured exquisite silver-coated shoes as a decoration, just large enough to fit in a miniature bouquet of flowers into the toe. An example of one of these tiny silver-plated shoes survives in the Royal Collection. British Pathe News silent film of the Wedding Cake shows close up stills of the Wedding Cake, which depicted scenes from the life of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

McVitie and Price made the official Wedding Cake for the Duke and Duchess of York, later George V and Queen Mary, on their marriage in 1893. McVitie and Price also produced the principal Wedding Cake for the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York, later George VI and Queen Elizabeth, on their marriage in 1893; it consisted of four tiers and weighed over 350 kg. A pair of white porcelain ornaments which once stood on the Cake, still survive in the Royal Collection.

A slice of the then sixty-eight-year-old cake was auctioned in Sussex in 2015, still with its miniature doily, in the original baking parchment and white cardboard box, stamped ‘EP, Buckingham Palace, 20th November 1947’ in silver letters and an inner card, bearing the words “With the Best Wishes of Their Royal Highnesses The Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh”. Philip Taylor, of Gorringes Auction House at Lewes in Sussex, which sold the slice in 2015 said: “The fruit cake slice was one of 2,000 given to guests at the Buckingham Palace reception after the ceremony at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947… the cake is in a remarkable state considering it is 68 years old. It has been very well preserved due to all the rum and brandy in it”. A slice had been sold at Christie’s in 2013 for £1,750, which previously had been donated to the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey. Another piece was auctioned by Hansons Auctioneers, Etwall in 2017. The slices themselves, which had been cut up using Prince Philip’s sword, measured sizes of 3.5 ins by 7.5 ins.

It was announced that United Biscuits, who now owns the former McVitie and Price, would make two cakes for The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary in 2007.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

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