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The royal wedding that glittered for a dynasty heading for crisis

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

It was a wedding featuring two very popular royals and two ceremonies and it led to one of the most influential unions of the 20th century. The marriage of Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece, on November 29th 1934, was a day that changed the House of Windsor forever.

The couple matched each other in popularity and royal suitability. The groom was the dashing fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary. George Edward Alexander Edmund, born in 1902, had served in the Navy and by 1934, he had enjoyed a successful career while his charm made him a hit with the public. The bride, born in 1906, was the daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia and counted the Tsars of Russia and the Kings of Denmark among her many royal ancestors.

The pair met in 1932 and their engagement was announced on October 9th 1934. The wedding preparations were already in full swing as the public was let into the secret of the new royal romance with a date set for November 29th.

The bride had been forced into exile when she was just 11 years old on the deposition of her uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, but she was expected to wed in the Orthodox faith. Two ceremonies were arranged with a large, Anglican wedding at Westminster Abbey to be followed by a smaller Greek Orthodox ceremony held behind the closed doors of Buckingham Palace.

Huge crowds turned out for the big day, the first major Windsor wedding in over a decade. They were treated to all the pomp and ceremony we’ve come to expect from royal marriages with a carriage procession taking the royals from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. George, who had been made Duke of Kent weeks earlier, was supported by his brothers while Marina was accompanied down the aisle by eight very royal bridesmaids including two future queens – Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Princess Elizabeth of York.

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The bride was already known for her sense of style and her wedding dress was keenly anticipated. She chose Edward Molyneux to design her gown which became a sparkling sensation. It was made of white and silver brocade which shimmered in the bright lights illuminating the dark November day. At Marina’s request, the seamstresses included Russian refugees as she wanted to offer support and work to those affected by the revolution in her mother’s home country.

The end result was very 1930s with a simple, fitted silhouette which featured a draped neckline and long, trumpet sleeves as well as a full length skirt. The train was fifteen feet long and covered by the bride’s tulle veil which was held in place by a diamond fringe tiara given to her by the City of London ahead of her wedding. Her flowers included lilies as a nod to her Greek heritage. However, her dress was dominated by a delicate embellished pattern of English roses in recognition of her new life.

The Anglican wedding ceremony was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, while more people than ever before heard the couple exchange vows as this was the first royal wedding to be broadcast by radio. After returning to Buckingham Palace, the couple underwent a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony, too. They were joined on the Palace balcony by their royal families to wave to the cheering crowds before they headed off on honeymoon.

George and Marina welcomed a son, Edward, in October 1935 and were already expecting their second child as they approached their second wedding anniversary. But as the due date for their baby drew nearer, so did the possibility of a throne. George’s eldest brother had become Edward VIII in January 1936 on the death of their father, George V, but the new king quickly showed a determination to do things his own way that put him at odds with courtiers and politicians alike. By November 1936, he had made it clear he was going to marry his partner, the twice divorced Wallis Simpson, while those in power were just as set against the wedding.

As the possibility that Edward would give up his throne for love turned into an approaching reality, George and Marina were considered by some as ideal candidates to replace him. The Duke of Kent was confident and charming and seemed far more suited to the rigours of kingship than his shy brother, Albert, who stood next in line. His Duchess was the epitome of royal glamour with an impressive interest in social issues to match. The fact that they had a male heir also made the prospect of King George and Queen Marina attractive, as did her impressive royal pedigree.

In the end, it was Bertie who inherited the throne of his brother on the Abdication and George and Marina settled into successful supporting roles to the new Monarch and his consort. Their daughter, Alexandra, was born on Christmas Day 1936, a moment of celebration in a year that had seen the House of Windsor wobble precariously. A third child, Michael, joined the family in 1942 but just weeks later, the Duke of Kent was killed in a plane crash. Marina remained a dutiful member of the royal dynasty she had married into until her own death in 1968.

It was the end of a royal story which had begun at a glittering royal wedding over three decades earlier.

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.