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Royal Wedding Flowers: the mystery of the Queen Mother’s bouquet

It’s perhaps the most famous and talked about royal wedding bouquet of all. The flowers carried by the Queen Mother, then Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, at her marriage in April 1923 have entered regal folklore after the bride used them to begin a royal wedding tradition known around the world. But do you actually know what this celebrated bouquet looks like?

The chances are that the answer is no and the reason for that is down to that tradition the Queen Mother established at Westminster Abbey almost 100 years ago. On the way into her wedding, this royal bride stopped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and placed her flowers on it in an act of commemoration. It’s a gesture that’s been made by many royal brides since and there’s every expectation that Meghan Markle’s bouquet will rest at the Abbey, too, in her own act of remembrance.

But while we’ll see plenty of Meghan’s royal wedding on TV and social media, back in 1923 photo opportunities were more limited. Most of the images taken of the bride and her groom (Albert, Duke of York, later George VI) were captured after their ceremony and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon laid her flowers on the tomb at the start of the service. So in the official portraits and the cinefilm of the balcony appearance, there’s no record of this royal wedding bouquet.

It’s said to have contained white roses which in the language of flowers, so popular with the Victorians, symbolize purity and innocence. Other reports say the bouquet contained heather. The flower is, of course, associated with Scotland where the bride had spent many happy childhood days at her family home of Glamis Castle. Heather symbolizes good luck while the Victorians saw white heather as a sign of a fulfillment of a dream.

Whether any of these blooms were used can’t be seen in the traditional photos of the wedding. However, we do get a brief glimpse of a bouquet in archive footage of the bride leaving for her marriage. As Lady Elizabeth gets into her carriage, someone else appears holding a rather large arrangement of flowers which a few seconds later, she hands into the coach. The flowers are clearly white with lots of dark foliage and arranged in the loose, rounded style favoured at many weddings of the time. This could well be the most famous royal wedding bouquet of them all.

Those flowers are still talked about because of the gesture made by the bride on her wedding day. As she laid her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was remembering her own brother, Fergus, who died at the Battle of Loos in 1915 as well as paying tribute to the millions of others killed and injured in what we now know as World War One.

This bouquet has lived on without anyone now really knowing what it looks like.  It will be talked about again as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle marry in May and when Princess Eugenie becomes a royal bride at her wedding to Jack Brooksbank in October. But then we don’t really need to know what those flowers looked like to appreciate why they have become so important in royal wedding history. They are, and perhaps always will be, the most famous Windsor bouquet of them all.

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.