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Historic photo shows unique wedding dress of a royal bride who refused to wear white

It is one of the most unusual and historic royal wedding dresses of the 20th century and it’s being seen in all its glory for the first time, almost a century after it was worn.

When Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester on November 6th 1935, she did so in a very unusual royal wedding dress. For Alice, about to become a royal duchess, had no intention of wearing white.

Instead, she wore palest pink and the full glow of the gown is seen for the first time in an historic photo just shared by the Royal Family. A brand new exhibition at The King’s Gallery in London includes the earliest surviving colour photographic print of a royal – and it is of Alice in her pink wedding dress.

Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, on her wedding day (Royal Collection Trust)

Her fashion pick for her wedding day was a controversial decision and can be seen up close in the exhibition, ”Royal Portraits: A Century of Royal Photography”. For decades, royal brides had arrived at those famous wedding venues of Westminster Abbey and St. George’s Chapel, wrapped in white and often decked in lace with orange blossoms and myrtle adorning their outfits. Many had looked rather similar to one another, from the tiered skirts to the carefully made and usually symbolic intricate veils held in place by fragrant flowers. Lady Alice was having none of it. She had enjoyed her own path in life before her engagement opened another door. And she intended to marry in a gown that suited her own personality. And that meant no to the traditional white.

Perhaps the bride was more aware than anyone of the turbulent times in which she was marrying into the most famous royal family in the world. Her groom, Prince Henry, third son of King George V and Queen Mary, had developed a reputation as a rather shy, stubborn man more interested in the military than matrimony by the time he announced his plans to wed. Lady Alice, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, had spent several years overseas but returned to Britain when her father became seriously unwell. In the early summer of 1935, she found herself repeatedly in Henry’s company and as summer came to an end, they announced their engagement.

Alice later recalled the proposal had been far from romantic, writing in her memoirs that Henry ‘’mumbled it as we were on a walk one day.’’ But both had other things on their mind. Alice, then 34, knew that her father was dying. Henry, aged 35, was also aware of his own father’s deteriorating health and the increasingly real possibility that his eldest brother, Edward, might take the throne sooner rather than later, still unmarried and with no heir of his own. A wedding date was set for November 6th 1935.

Embed from Getty Images

It was against this backdrop of family illness and dynastic discontent that Lady Alice chose her wedding gown. The papers were filled with speculation about what kind of dress the latest royal bride might wear and as autumn turned to winter, Alice found her face on many of the front pages. A royal wedding, even if it was taking place in the midst of turbulence, was a welcome diversion at a time of economic turmoil and political upheaval at home and the march of fascism overseas. Her choice was much debated and her pick was quite a surprise.

By the time the wedding day arrived, the bride was actually in mourning. Her father, the Duke of Buccleuch, had passed away on October 19th 1935. His death meant the grand celebration planned at Westminster Abbey was no longer possible. Instead, Henry and Alice were married in the Private Chapel of Buckingham Palace in front of just over 100 guests by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang.

The bride arrived accompanied by her brother, the new Duke of Buccleuch, and eight bridesmaids, among them her groom’s nieces, nine year old Princess Elizabeth and five year old Princess Margaret. They were in cream satin dresses with gold sashes and golden garlands for their hair. The bride, however, went for a far more innovative gown.

Royal Collection Trust

For while Lady Alice’s wedding dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, was simple and modest, it wasn’t white. The bride chose instead to marry wearing a very pale shade of pink. The dress featured a high neckline with a posy of artificial orange blossom, long sleeves, a fitted bodice and a gently draped full length skirt. However, the changes that had befallen Alice’s wedding plans were evident in the train which had been designed to fill the aisle of Westminster Abbey and which was now piled into the much smaller chapel. The bride also wore a tulle veil but no tiara, choosing instead a headpiece decorated with crystals. Her bouquet was made up of white roses and lily of the valley with the traditional myrtle, taken from a bush grown by Queen Victoria at Osborne House, tucked amongst the blooms.

Henry and Alice appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during their reception before heading off to Northamptonshire for their honeymoon. On their return, they began royal duties, and within months took on more responsibility. King George V died on January 20th 1936, less than three months after their marriage, and within a year, Edward VIII, gave up his throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Henry’s older brother, Bertie, became King George VI. The royal bride who wore pink was now the wife of the third in line to the throne. Within months, a new Regency Act placed even more responsibility on her and her husband. It said that should anything happen to the new king before his heir, Elizabeth, was of age then it would be Henry who would rule for her until she was old enough to take over.

In the meantime, the new Duke and Duchess of Gloucester became mainstays in the monarchy that King George and his queen, Elizabeth, worked so hard to steady.

Alice, Duchess of Gloucester said she had always wanted to be useful and her royal role gave her that opportunity. This low key royal wedding, on a cold November day for a family in mourning, would prove to be a milestone for the House of Windsor.

”Royal Portraits: A Century of Royal Photography” is at The King’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from May 17th to October 6th 2024. Tickets are available to buy on the Royal Collection Trust website.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.