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The weddings of Queen Victoria’s children

Of the nine children of Queen Victoria, one daughter married in London, two on the Isle of Wight and one son in St. Petersburg. The remaining five married at Windsor, four at St George’s Chapel and one in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The College of St George was founded in 1348 and is inextricably linked with the Most Noble Order of the Garter, one of the oldest orders of chivalry in medieval Europe, established by Edward III at the same time that he founded the College of St George. The Order of the Garter was a later incarnation of what he had promised four years earlier to be his so-called Order of the Round Table, itself an imitation of King Arthur’s celebrated circle of knights. Because the College of St George was not founded until the mid-fourteenth century, this meant that the first marriage at Windsor of Henry I to his 18-year-old bride Adelize, daughter of Godfrey I, Count of Louvain in 1121, almost certainly took place at Windsor Castle itself. The choice of St George’s Chapel became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria, most particularly it seems, following the Queen’s widowhood in 1861.

Significantly, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, The Princess Royal, was the only one of their children whose wedding Prince Albert attended. This wedding to Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia took place at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace on 25 January 1858. Significantly, it was in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, where Queen Victoria had herself married Prince Albert in 1840; it had been, for example, also the choice of venue for the wedding of George III and Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761. Queen Victoria would, in fact, have preferred a more private wedding ceremony for herself, for her marriage to Prince Albert, expressing a “horror” of being married before a large assembly and insisting that she would have preferred a simple wedding in a private room at Buckingham Palace instead (Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Pg 120, 2000).

The Princess Royal was photographed with her parents on the day of her wedding, Queen Victoria’s figure famously blurring in the daguerreotype because she was so nervous, as she later admitted. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was played on the organ of the Chapel Royal, and the marriage ceremony was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with The Princess Royal walking up the aisle between Leopold I, King of the Belgians and her father, Prince Albert. The Princess Royal’s veil was described as “hanging back over her shoulders” (Quoted in Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Pg 243, 2000), and the ornamental wedding cake at the Wedding Breakfast as being “gigantic”, in contrast to the diminutive bride. Her wedding veil was photographed, on its own – setting something of a royal precedent in Queen Victoria’s family – other veils would receive similar attention in the years to come. Her wedding dress was decorated with lace flounces containing orange and myrtle blossoms; the train was of white moire antique, the same material as her dress. She had eight bridesmaids – another precedent set for the weddings of the Queen’s children.

The second wedding which took place in Queen Victoria’s family was that of her second daughter, Princess Alice to Prince Ludwig “Louis” of Hesse. The mournful ceremony took place in the Dining Room at Osborne House on 1 July 1862, under the watchful gaze of Prince Albert in the copy of the large painting ‘The Royal Family in 1846’ by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, which hung behind the makeshift altar. Today, it is still above the sideboard, having hung in this position since Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1849. The wedding was by the Queen’s account – although one also detects with her approval – “more like a funeral” and “wretched” (Prince Alfred cried throughout the ceremony) because the Prince Consort had died just over six months previously. At Princess Alice’s wedding, the Queen was more or less “hidden from view” (Ibid, Pg 392) and shielded from even the gaze of a private ceremony, by the presence of her four sons who stood around her. It seems to be this grieving need for privacy, which prompted the next choice of St George’s Chapel, for the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

Alice’s wedding bonnet was photographed the following year together with that of the Princess of Wales, as were Alice’s Honiton lace veil and wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle. Alice wore flowers in her hair but had no bridal train and only four bridesmaids – her sisters, Princess Helena, Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, and her new sister-in-law, Princess Anna of Hesse. Princess Alice’s dress had a “half-high” bodice; photographs of her taken on her wedding day, show her full-skirted wedding dress, with its customary “deep flounce” of Honiton lace, hemmed with myrtle and orange blossom. This dress, in turn, was offset by an “opal cross and brooch”. In a move which shows how the Queen went to literal pains to include Prince Albert in the wedding to her own emotional cost, we read: “[Alice] is dressing in her Beloved Papa’s room, while I am having my widow’s cap adjusted! I think it is a dreadful dream...” (HRH The Duchess of York and Benita Stoney, Victoria and Albert: A Family Life at Osborne House, Pg 172, 1991).

Princess Alice in her wedding dress (Public domain via Tumblr)

Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and later of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – the Queen’s second son – married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of Tsar Alexander II and Tsarina Marie Alexandrovna, in the Imperial Chapel of the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg on 23 January 1874, which was thus the only wedding of one of her children, at which the Queen herself was not present. This ceremony was conducted by the Metropolitan Archbishop according to Orthodox tradition, although an English ceremony apparently also took place. The artist Nicholas Chevalier was sent to St. Petersburg at the expense of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales and produced a series of sketches, to document the most critical aspects of the ceremonies. The result of Chevalier’s work, ‘The Marriage of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, 23 January 1874’, was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. The painting does not disappoint in its rich detail – clearly aiming to compensate Queen Victoria’s eyes with the sketches of an eyewitness in St. Petersburg. Queen Victoria erroneously wrote on Princess Beatrice’s wedding in 1885, forgetting facts as she sometimes did in the interest of narrative flourish, that she had been absent from the wedding of Prince Alfred: “Though I stood for the ninth time near a child… at the altar, I think I never felt more deeply than I did on this occasion...” (Matthew Dennison, The Last Princess, Pg 154, 2007).

Entirely why Windsor had not been chosen for a royal wedding since the reign of Henry I is not clear, especially since the founding of the College of St George with its Chapel existed since King Edward III; Edward himself had married Philippa of Hainault at York Minster twenty years before this date. Other medieval wedding venues included the more obvious choices of Westminster Abbey (Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in 1382) and Winchester Cathedral (Henry IV and Joan of Navarre in 1403, Mary I and Philip of Spain in 1554). Charles II’s two wedding ceremonies to Catharine of Braganza were performed at Portsmouth; his father Charles I had married Henrietta Maria of France first by proxy, then in the second ceremony in Canterbury. Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, had married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in a double ceremony in 1818 in the presence of the dying Queen Charlotte at Kew, a service which also constituted the second (English) wedding ceremony of her own parents, the Duke and Duchess of Kent. It was clear, however, that following the death of Prince Albert, the marriages of the Queen’s children were more or less, conducted in private. The first wedding at St. George’s Chapel in Queen Victoria’s reign took place in 1863.

St George’s Chapel – until the Victorian period – was in fact, a more popular choice for royal burial as opposed to marriage. The Kings of the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI and Edward IV had both been buried there, as had, for example, Henry VIII and Charles I, the latter on a wintry night in February 1649, following his execution. The Royal Vault at St George’s Chapel was established by George III to contain the final resting places of his family, the entrance to which is beneath a slab near the vault of Henry VIII, in front of the Quire. Queen Victoria’s own father, the Duke of Kent was interred there after his death in 1820, while her mother, the Duchess of Kent, was temporarily buried at St George’s following her death in 1861, until the completion of her Mausoleum in the grounds of Frogmore, in Windsor Great Park. So, Windsor had very personal connections for the Queen, not least because of the Royal Mausoleum, which contained the tomb of Prince Albert. The Prince Consort had, of course, died at Windsor Castle, so yet again, perhaps another subconscious reason for reviving Windsor as a choice for a royal wedding, at a place of such substantial emotional significance for the Queen. Prince Albert was temporarily buried in St. George’s Chapel, in what is now known as the Albert Memorial Chapel, until the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore was finished.

The Private Chapel at Windsor Castle by Joseph Nash, in ‘Views of the Interior and Exterior of Windsor Castle’ (1848) (By Joseph Nash (1809–78) [United States Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The exception to the Windsor weddings which were performed at St George’s Chapel was that of the Queen’s third daughter, Princess Helena and Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, which took place on 5 July 1866 at Windsor Castle, in the Private Chapel which was destroyed by the fire of 1992. Princess Helena was led up the aisle of the Private Chapel by the Queen – who again wore mourning and her white widow’s cap, although this time with diamonds – accompanied by the Prince of Wales and eight bridesmaids. Instead of Beethoven’s Hallelujah Chorus, Handel’s March from ‘Scipio’ was selected (Supplement to The London Gazette, Issue 23140, 19 July 1866).

For this ceremony, Princess Helena wore a white satin dress, with a “flounce” of Honiton lace, trimmed with traditional myrtle and orange flowers, a long veil and a train. Her eight bridesmaids are a roll-call of mid-Victorian nobility – The Lady Margaret Scott, The Lady Laura Phipps, The Lady Mary Fitzwilliam, The Lady Muriel Campbell, The Lady Caroline Gordon Lennox, The Lady Albertha Hamilton, The Lady Alexandrina Murray, The Lady Ernestina Edgcumbe. The Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony.

The Prince and Princess of Wales on their wedding day, 10 March 1863 (By [Expand]Unidentified 19th-century photographer Unidentified, Unattributed, Anonymous or Unknown 19th-century photographer, Reproduktion Günter Josef Radig, User GjR, (Carte de Visite Photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Princess of Wales, photographed in her wedding dress (By John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813-1901) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The wedding of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark took place on 10 March 1863. For this ceremony, Queen Victoria used the ‘closet’ to attend, which referred to the Royal Closet at St George’s Chapel, also described as the ’Catherine of Aragon closet’ by the College of St George. The closet was so-named after Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first queen, for whom it was constructed in the 1510s and from which she watched Garter ceremonies. The closet is still emblazoned with her personal badge, the pomegranate. The Royal Closet had been used for Sunday services by George III, Queen Charlotte and the Royal Family when at Windsor. Queen Victoria’s choice of the Closet, enabled her to participate in the wedding being performed in the Quire below while maintaining the privacy she saw as necessary to her state of grief. This was the second wedding that the Queen had attended since the death of the Prince Consort, so perhaps the use of the Closet also now underlined her status as a royal widow. The sixth wife of Henry VIII, Queen Catherine Parr, used the Royal Closet in her immediate widowhood, to observe the funeral service of Henry VIII.

The figure of Queen Victoria can be seen in the painting made of the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, by the artist William Powell Frith. She is pictured high up in the right foreground of the painting, wearing her black silk dress and widow’s cap with a white veil, together with her Garter badge and a miniature of Prince Albert. This reinforced the feelings she expressed before the ceremony at St George’s Chapel, of being “too desolate”; even the route she chose to reach the Royal Closet was by way of a covered walk from the Deanery over the leads. The choice of the Closet could also be something of a broader symbol of her withdrawal from public life.

Fittingly, the Prince of Wales wore his Garter robes for the ceremony, which was attended by eight bridesmaids and conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Princess Alexandra of Denmark wore a white court dress made out of English silk, full-skirted and trimmed with Honiton lace, with decorations in the shape of thistles, roses and shamrocks. Honiton lace incidentally appears to have been widely used by the brides in Queen Victoria’s family, Princess Alice having had a wedding dress with a “deep flounce” of Honiton lace, as had Queen Victoria in 1840. A flounce of this lace from Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress is preserved in the Royal Collection. A Brussels lace lappet was given to Princess Alexandra by Leopold I, King of the Belgians as a wedding present, to hang down from her headdress.

The white satin court dress worn by the future Queen Alexandra is in fact still preserved, in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, as is that of Queen Victoria. It was made by a Mrs. James, a London dressmaker, and described as being “a petticoat of white satin trimmed with chatelaines of orange blossom, myrtle and bouffantes of tulle, Honiton lace, and bouquets of orange blossom and myrtle.” The Honiton lace, similar to the lace worn by Queen Victoria’s daughters and daughters-in-law as brides, incorporated designs of English roses, shamrocks and thistles, emblematic of England, Ireland and Scotland. A matching lace veil was also made. According to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, the wedding dress was altered after the wedding, with the silver moire train making up the dress’s skirt in its present appearance, but the “deep” flounces of lace, veil and orange blossom garlands have however, been preserved. Princess Alexandra’s white wedding bonnet was photographed in its own right, as was the royal wedding cake, a magnificent confection of iced flowers and towers. The Princess of Wales was photographed with the Prince and alone in her wedding dress, images of which feature in the so-called ‘Album of Important Occasions 1837-1885’. The badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert, which she wore pinned to her wedding dress, has also been preserved. Nothing was too small to be commemorated; even a sprig of the artificial orange blossom from Princess Alexandra’s wreath was kept in an envelope, autographed by the Queen. It still exists to this day, in the Royal Collection.

Queen Victoria had been extremely keen to secure Princess Alexandra of Denmark as a daughter-in-law and as a wife for the Prince of Wales, writing “May he only be worthy of such a jewel…” As if to emphasise the need for the Prince Consort at the wedding at which he would, of course, be absent, Queen Victoria significantly had the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore opened the day before the wedding and joined the hands of the couple inside it with the words: “HE gives you his blessing”. Both the Prince and Princess of Wales would be interred at St George’s Chapel, where their marriage had been performed, as Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, in 1910 and 1925 respectively.

During this first wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Queen Victoria was “profoundly melancholy” (Hibbert, Pg 304), something which was observed by all present, including Benjamin Disraeli, who committed the unfortunate faux pas of raising his eye-glass upwards to gaze at the Queen in the Royal Closet. A Chorale was sung, which had been composed by Prince Albert, again as if to include the father of the royal groom in the wedding service and Beethoven’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from the Mount of Olives, because of Prince Albert’s high opinion of the piece. The four-year-old Prince William of Prussia – the future Wilhelm II – created a commotion of his own and showed his disdain for the sacredness of the occasion by biting the legs of his uncles, Prince Alfred and Prince Leopold.

Prince Leopold’s wedding at St George’s Chapel – to Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont – took place on 27 April 1882. Perhaps significantly, Queen Victoria wore her own wedding veil – not worn since 1840 – for this ceremony, a sad symbolism of her widowhood, which she wore draped over her mourning weeds. Wedding veils in Queen Victoria’s family had strange but fascinating lives of their own, being photographed even without their respective royal brides. The veil of Princess Alice became a family heirloom but was famously lost in the tragic plane crash which killed many members of the Ducal Family of Hesse and by Rhine at Ostend in 1937.

Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont’s dress was of white satin and trimmed with Brussels lace as opposed to Honiton. She wore a tiara of diamonds and a veil of white tulle, held by eight bridesmaids. This ceremony featured the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, and the couple walked out to the Wedding March by Mendelssohn, the composer who had been so greatly admired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Their wedding cake was also photographed at Windsor, a spectacular creation which featured iced flowers, swans and children as allegorical figures. Poignantly, the Albert Memorial Chapel at St George’s Chapel, now contains the tomb of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, together with that of the eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale.

The wedding of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, was celebrated at St George’s Chapel on 13 March 1879, attended by some fourteen clergies, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. The ceremony featured the “Hallelujah Chorus” and again, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” Unusually, Queen Victoria’s did not record what Princess Louise Margaret wore and instead described the bride’s appearance generally, so we are forced to rely instead on the photographs that were made instead afterwards. These show that Princess Louise Margaret wore a wedding dress with short sleeves, trimmed with flowers throughout, a bridal wreath and long, sweeping train.

Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise to John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne and future 9th Duke of Argyll, was also performed at St George’s Chapel on 21 March 1871, by the Bishop of London, who stood in place for the Archbishop of Canterbury. It also featured Beethoven’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at its conclusion. Princess Louise wore a wedding dress of white satin with the favourite Honiton lace, trimmed with myrtle, orange blossoms and white heather, with a long veil which again was held by eight bridesmaids. The veil was held in place by two diamond daisy Garrard hairpins, apparent gifts from her siblings Prince Arthur, Prince Leopold and Princess Beatrice.

Importantly, there is no mention of the Royal Closet any more than there had been at any of the other previous ceremonies, except for the marriage of the Prince of Wales. The Queen only specifically mentioned using the Closet at this one wedding in 1863, describing on other occasions as processing herself up towards the altar at St George’s Chapel, thereby actively participating as opposed to merely attending. Princess Louise’s wedding cake was photographed for posterity; in the shape of a tower and topped with a female figure – appropriate enough, given Princess Louise’s distinguished later career as a sculptor. A piece of Princess Louise’s bridal wreath was also preserved at the time of her wedding, a parallel to the portion of Princess Alexandra of Denmark’s bridal wreath that was kept. Clippings from royal wreaths were again not unusual in themselves; on a sadder occasion when Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse died in 1878, her second daughter, Princess Elizabeth, sent Queen Victoria a sprig which she had picked from one of the funeral wreaths. Still today it is kept in its own envelope at Windsor.

Princess Louise, in her wedding dress, (Royal Collection Object 2905647 [Public domain]

Princess Beatrice, the last of Queen Victoria’s daughters and the second to marry on the Isle of Wight, finally married Prince Henry “Liko” of Battenberg (“Beatrice’s Lohengrin”, as the Princess of Wales called him) on 23 July 1885 at St Mildred’s Church, Whippingham – the church used for private worship when Queen Victoria was in residence at nearby Osborne.  Beatrice entered the church to Wagner’s “Brant Chor” from Lohengrin but walked out to the preferred “Wedding March” by Mendelssohn.

Beatrice had ten bridesmaids: Princess Louise of Wales, Princess Irene of Hesse, Princess Victoria of Wales, Princess Maud of Wales, Princess Alix of Hesse, Princess Marie Louise and Princess Helena of Schleswig-Holstein, Princess Victoria Melita, Princess Marie and Princess Alexandra of Edinburgh. The bridesmaids wore matching white dresses, gloves, stockings and bouquets of red and white carnations. The ceremony was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by the Dean of Windsor and the Canon of Whippingham. Princess Beatrice dressed for the occasion – also in Prince Albert’s room – and wore a diamond tiara of stars and a massive diamond cross. Her dress was of ivory white satin, “very long, trimmed with my wedding lace [Queen Victoria’s own wedding veil, which none of her other daughters had been allowed to wear] and some small garlands and sprays of orange blossoms, myrtle and white heather….” (Dennison, Pg 152). A replica of Beatrice’s wedding dress may today be seen in the permanent exhibition next to St Mildred’s Church at Whippingham. The wedding cake was similar to that of her other siblings, with trailing iced flowers and classical figures holding up the three tiers.

Princess Beatrice in her wedding dress (By Hughes and Mullins (Worldroots) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The last of the royal weddings which would take place at St George’s Chapel, in Queen Victoria’s lifetime was that of Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, to Prince Aribert of Anhalt, on 6 July 1891. Following the Queen’s death in 1901, the first wedding to be celebrated at St George’s, was that of Princess Alice Mary of Albany and Prince Alexander of Teck, later Earl of Athlone on 10 February 1904.

Significant or not, 10 February had been an important date to Queen Victoria, (“the happiest day of my life”) who had been obsessed by the personal meaning of anniversaries. On 10 February 1840, her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had taken place, in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. With royal dates ever overlapping, however, this did not break the circle. Following the marriage of Princess Alice Mary of Albany and Prince Alexander of Teck, six more wedding ceremonies within the Royal Family would be performed, with an additional service of prayer and dedication following the marriage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall, celebrated at St George’s Chapel on 9 April 2005.

St George’s Chapel will shortly add the first of two weddings this year to its roll-call of royal marriages – on 19 May 2018.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

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