The A to Z of royal weddings with Tracy Borman

Many have been the glorious start to long and happy relationships, but others were jinxed from the start by secrets, scandals, riots and disasters. Tracy Borman takes a look at royal marriages through history.
 
This article was first published in the May 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine, and an updated version featured in the Royal Dynasties bookazine
 
A is for Arthur…
 
The wedding of Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest son and heir of King Henry VII, to Catherine of Aragon (a princess from Spain) in 1501 proved to be one of the most controversial in royal history. The source of the controversy was exactly what happened during the wedding night. The 15-year-old Arthur boasted that he had spent the night “in Spain”. He died four months later, and Catherine married his younger brother Henry VIII. When this marriage failed to produce the longed-for male heir, Henry sought to annul it on the grounds that the Bible forbade a man to take his brother’s wife. Catherine insisted that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. The debate still rages today.
 
B is for Bridesmaid…
 
Victoria set a new trend by having 12 bridesmaids to carry her train, which was 18 feet long. After that, bridesmaids became an essential part of proceedings. Princess Alexandra, (a second cousin of the Queen) who married Angus Ogilvy in 1963, chose a train so voluminous it slowed her progress down the aisle to a snail’s pace. Her bridesmaids had their work cut out to keep it in order. Among them was the 12-year-old Princess Anne, who looked aghast when the bride whispered: “Your turn next.” Anne, the Queen’s second child, would indeed be the next royal to marry at Westminster Abbey, but not until 10 years later. In 2011 a bride’s maid of honour, Philippa (Pippa) Middleton, stole the show with her figure-hugging dress when her sister Catherine married Prince William.
 
At the wedding of William to Catherine Middleton, the bride's sister Phillipa caused a stir as a stunning maid of honour. (Getty)
 
C is for Commoner…
 
Until modern times, it was rare for commoners to be admitted into the privileged world of the monarchy. The exception was Charles II’s brother, James, Duke of York (later James II), who married two of them. In 1659, he “entered into a private marriage contract” with Anne Hyde. The marriage produced two future queens, Mary II and Queen Anne. After his wife’s death in 1671, James married Mary of Modena, who bore him a son, James Francis Edward Stewart, later to be known as the Old Pretender. Commoners now regularly feature in royal nuptials – notably Sophie Rhys-Jones (married Prince Edward in 1999); Mike Tindall (married the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips in 
2011) and Catherine Middleton.
 
D is for Dress… 
 
Think of a wedding dress, and the chances are that you’re imagining something white and meringue-like. But the choice of white is a relatively recent tradition in the history of royal weddings. Until the early 19th century, the bride could wear any colour she chose – blue was a particular favourite, as was black. All of this changed with Queen Victoria, who wore white so that she was as visible as possible to the huge crowds that thronged the processional route. Her efforts were rewarded. In her diary entry for that day, she wrote: “I never saw such crowds of people… and they cheered most enthusiastically.”
 
Victoria started a tradition when she wed in white so the crowds could see her from afar. (Getty)
 
E is for Edinburgh…
 
When Zara Phillips, said to be the Queen’s favourite granddaughter, married England rugby star Mike Tindall in July 2011, she was so intent upon a low-key wedding that she chose a location as far away from London as possible. Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh is a modest-looking church but boasts a palace (Holyroodhouse) and castle (Edinburgh) in its parish. This was the first royal wedding to take place in Scotland for 20 years. Royal rebel Zara ensured there were a couple more firsts too: no other royal bride has worn a tongue stud to her wedding, and she also ignored the tradition of taking her new husband’s name.
 
F is for Forbidden… 
 
“She promised to bring into my life something that wasn’t there.” By the time that he wrote these words, Edward VIII had already abdicated from the British throne so that he might marry Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee whom he had met and fallen in love with several years before. His refusal to give her up after he became king in 1936 led to a constitutional crisis that scandalised the world. It was one of the most talked about royal courtships in history, but their wedding was a distinctly low-key affair. They had to wait until Wallis’s second divorce came through before marrying, in June 1937, in a private ceremony in France.
 
Edward VIII abdicated so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The couple are shown here on their wedding day at the Chateau de Cando in France on 3 June 1937. (Getty)
 
G is for Gold…
 
At the start of the 20th century, a nugget of gold from Clogau St David’s mine in north Wales was given to the royal family. From this, the wedding ring of every royal bride from the Queen Mother in 1923 to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was crafted. The Queen was presented with another supply from the company’s mine at nearby Bontddu in 1986. She gave some of this to her grandson Prince William after his engagement was announced to Catherine Middleton so that his bride could continue the tradition.
 
H is for… Henry 
 
No A-Z of royal weddings would be complete without a reference to England’s most married monarch, Henry VIII. Although his courtships were the talk (and scandal) of Christendom, his weddings were surprisingly low-key affairs. He led his first bride, Catherine of Aragon, to the altar with as little fuss as when he attended a normal church service. His last wedding, to Katherine Parr, was just as discreet, taking place in her private apartments at Hampton Court. Ironically, the only wedding to be celebrated in style was to the bride he liked least: Anne of Cleves, the so-called ‘Flanders Mare’.
 
Henry VIII married six times, but the ceremonies were low-key affairs. (Getty)
 
I is for Indisposed…
 
Spare a thought for poor Princess Augusta. She was so averse to the idea of marrying the boorish Prince Frederick, eldest son and heir of King George II, that on her way to the ceremony (April 1736) she clung to the skirts of his mother, Queen Caroline, begging: “Please don’t leave me.” Her husband-to-be made matters worse by bellowing in her ear when she stumbled over the marriage vows. When the ceremony was over, she promptly threw up.
 
J is for Joke… 
 
Amid the pomp and ceremony of a typical royal wedding, there is still room for the odd prank or two. Prince Edward was the chief suspect behind the model satellite dish and accompanying ‘Phone Home’ slogan with which his brother Andrew’s carriage was festooned after wedding Sarah Ferguson in 1986. Meanwhile, Princes William and Harry scrawled “Just Married” across the back window of their father’s car after his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles, and the words “Prince” and “Duchess” were sprayed on either side of the windscreen. Rather less good-humoured was Charles II’s jest at his niece Mary’s wedding in 1677. When he heard the wealthy bridegroom promising to endow her with all his worldly goods, he told his niece loudly, “Put it all in your pocket, for ‘tis clear gain.” 
 
K is for Kiss…
 
Queen Victoria began the tradition of displaying the newlywed couple on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. On the occasion of her daughter Princess Victoria’s wedding, she took pity on the crowds who had been denied a glimpse of the royal couple, and ordered the royal family out onto the balcony. Since then, a new element has been added to the traditional balcony appearance: a kiss between bride and groom. Prince Charles reluctantly obliged only after exhaustive chanting by the crowds below at his wedding to Diana; his son William gave a more convincing performance 30 years later. But Charles refused to oblige second time around when marrying Camilla in 2005, as did his younger brother Edward at his wedding to Sophie Rhys-Jones.
 
Charles and Diana set a trend when, bowing to the demands of the crowd, they kissed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. (Getty)
 
L is for Lord Chamberlain… 
 
The task of organising a royal wedding falls to the Lord Chamberlain in his capacity as Impressario of Pageantry to the Queen. Among the myriad duties involved is the drafting of the guest list, and as most full royal weddings involve at least 2,000 invitees, this is no mean feat. It is also his job to arrange the seating plan for the ceremony. At Westminster Abbey, this is complicated by the fact that only 800 of the 2,000-strong congregation are able to see anything of the procession, and fewer still catch a glimpse of the wedding ceremony itself. Any would-be royal wedding guest should therefore take note: the worse the view, the less important the guest. 
 
M is for Myrtle… 
 
Queen Victoria began another royal wedding tradition when she ordered that a sprig of the myrtle from her bouquet be planted at her favourite retreat, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. From that sprig grew a bush that has supplied every other royal bride since with a cutting for their bouquet. Although considered lucky, it has not brought all of them the same happiness in marriage that Victoria enjoyed. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine and William, embraced the botanical theme by having an avenue of 20-foot-tall trees installed either side of the main aisle at their wedding, transforming Westminster Abbey into a veritable forest. 
 
N is for Names…
 
The most nerve-wracking part of any wedding is the exchange of vows. Spare a thought, then, for the royal couples of recent times. Not only have they had to perform in front of a 2,000-strong congregation but the ceremonies have been relayed live to up to 700 million people across the globe. Nerves famously got the better of Lady Diana Spencer when she muddled the order of the names of her husband-to-be, calling him “Philip Charles Arthur George”, instead of Charles Philip Arthur George.
 
O is for Old… 
 
The oldest surviving wedding dress is that of Princess Charlotte, who married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield in 1816. It was an extraordinarily ornate gown made from silver tissue with a netted silk underskirt, richly embroidered shells and bouquets, and trimmed with Brussels point lace. It was then worth in excess of £10,000 – around £400,000 in today’s money. The gown is now preserved at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey as part of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.
 
When Princess Charlotte wed Leopold in 1816 she wore an extravagant gown, now preserved at Hampton Court Palace. (Museum of London)
 
P is for Pricey…
 
The wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in April 2011 was said to have been one of the most expensive ever staged. Despite the couple’s wish to tone down the pageantry in favour of personal touches (such as a chocolate ‘groom’s cake’), the price tag was reportedly £20 million. The cost to the economy of the extra public holiday in honour of the wedding was estimated at a further £3 billion. At least part of this was offset by the substantial boost that the wedding gave to British tourism, however, with an extra 4 million people from across the globe converging on the capital. 
 
Q is for Quick…
 
The wedding of Sarah Armstrong-Jones – daughter of the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret – to her long-term partner, Daniel Chatto, on 14 July 1994, was one of the most rapid in royal history. It took place at the small church of St Stephen Walbrook (designed 
by Christopher Wren) in London, which holds just 200 guests. The ceremony was so quick it caught the chauffeurs of the guests unaware, and several members of the royal family, including the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Diana, were obliged to make small talk while waiting for their cars to arrive.
 
R is for Reluctant… 
 
Throughout history, royal weddings have been made more for policy than for love. But not everyone was prepared to accept this. In 1795 the future George IV proved to be one of the most reluctant grooms in history. Madly in love with Maria Fitzherbert (whom, it was rumoured, he had secretly married), he steadfastly refused to wed Caroline of Brunswick, the bride whom his father had chosen. Upon first meeting her, he had been so horrified that he had called for a brandy and spent the next 24 hours in a drunken stupor. The marriage proved a total disaster and George and Caroline separated after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte.
 
An 18th century cartoon shows Caroline catching her husband, the future George IV, in the embraces of his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. (AKG images)
 
S is for Secret…
 
Not all royal weddings were celebrated with the ceremony that we are used to now. One of the earliest, between William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders in the 11th century, was so secret that to this day nobody knows exactly when or where it took place. They were marrying in defiance of a papal ban – something Henry VIII would have sympathised with. Edward IV kept his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 a secret because he did not dare tell his council he had married a widow and, worse still, a commoner. He only admitted to it five months later. It aroused such opposition it was declared invalid after his death in 1483.
 
T is for Turkey…
 
What do you give the couple who have everything? A turkey, apparently. A woman in Brooklyn sent this bizarre gift to the future Queen Elizabeth II on her marriage to Philip Mountbatten in 1947 because she thought that the princess was going hungry on the same rations as everyone else in postwar Britain. To avoid such unwanted presents, the royal family now traditionally invites donations to nominated charities instead. 
 
U is for Undressed…
 
The consummation of the marriage was by no means as private an affair in the past as it is today. At the end of the wedding day, the ceremony of undressing would begin. Once disrobed by her ladies and put into bed, the bride would be joined by her husband, led in by a group of rowdy, drunken friends. This is when the party really started. Everyone would drink ‘benediction posset’ – hot wine mixed with milk, eggs, sugar and spice – then play a game of ‘fling the stocking’, a little like throwing the bouquet today. When the couple were at last alone, they would be serenaded with lewd songs from the other side of the door, often until the following morning.
 
V is for Virgin… 
 
Elizabeth I was having none of this wedding caper. She had witnessed the disastrous marital history first of her mother, Anne Boleyn – who Henry VIII had executed in 1536 – and then the string of unfortunate women who had taken Anne’s place as the king’s wife. Later on, there was  Mary, Queen of Scots, whose notorious marital escapades were the scandal not only of Scotland but of Christendom. Little wonder that Elizabeth resolved to remain a virgin. She famously declared: “I am married to England.”
 
W is for Westminster Abbey… 
 
Founded in the mid-10th century and rebuilt by Edward the Confessor almost a hundred years later, the abbey is steeped in royal history. As well as being the traditional venue for coronations, it also soon became popular for royal weddings. The first  to take place there after the Norman conquest was that of Henry I to Matilda of Scotland, and it was used on numerous occasions up to 1986, when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson there. The abbey was subsequently abandoned in favour of less grand venues, but it enjoyed a glorious resurgence when Catherine Middleton and Prince William chose it in 2011.
 
Westminster Abbey is a popular venuw for royal weddings. Prince Andrew, the Queen's third child, married Sarah Ferguson there on 23 July 1986. (Rex Pictures)
 
X is for Xenophobia… 
 
Mary Tudor was so intent upon marrying Philip II of Spain that she rode roughshod over her subjects’ objections to a foreign king. It was love at first sight, even though it was only his portrait she had seen. She was no less besotted when she met him, and married him two days later, on 25 July 1554, at Winchester Cathedral. The marriage was deeply unpopular with the English, and there was a rebellion against it even before Philip set foot on English soil.
 
Y is for York…
 
There have been some notable royal nuptials at York Minster. The first was between Edward III and Philippa of Hainault in January 1328. They were not put off by the fact that it was still being built and the nave lacked a roof. True to form, the British weather spoilt the day and the ceremony was conducted in a heavy snow storm. Six centuries later, in 1961, the Queen’s cousin the Duke of Kent chose the more sensible month of June for his wedding there to Katharine Worsley.
 
Z is for Zzzz… 
 
Since Victorian times royal weddings have been held during the day. Before, they were always evening affairs, conducted in private with a handful of guests. One such wedding was that of James II’s daughter Mary, who married her first cousin, Prince William of Orange, in 1677, in a ceremony that took place at 9pm in her bedchamber at St James’s Palace, London. The lateness of the hour is something that can never be repeated by future royals – not without a change in the law.  
 
Dr Tracy Borman is joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces and an expert on the Tudor period. You can follow Tracy on Twitter @BormanTracy or visit her website www.tracyborman.co.uk.
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