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Royal Weddings – Emily Brand
“A monarchy whose authority lies in its antiquity cannot be disentangled from the traditions that it inherits. The rituals and symbols springing from allegories of love, political gesture or simple personal preference have become traditions that have passed down the generations.”
While modern people, particularly we ancients who can remember back to the 80s and the pomp, circumstance, and puffed sleeves surrounding the marriage of Prince Charles to the then Lady Diana, royal weddings evoke thoughts of elaborate ceremonies, choirs singing, and crowds of Brits and Anglophiles almost maddened with joy.
So it may be a slight shock, perhaps even a knock to historical perspective, to know that up until the 19th century the British royal families have preferred to be married in private.
For some this might have reflected their sense of solemnity at this important political and religious moment. For others it might have been a thought spared for their new bride, who was usually a stranger, unlikely to speak English, was often a child, and most likely terrified. In still other cases the groom’s plan to be very drunk or well on the way, for their blessed union, might have played a part.
There was the odd love match. Edward the IV secretly married the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville in 1464, and only revealed it when his council tried to force him to marry foreign princess. And at times royal couples would come to love each other their marriages progressed – Charles I and Henrietta Maria being a tragic example. But until the 20th century love was considered an unnecessary frivolity for most marriages, not just royal ones.
Romance was all well and good, but didn’t compare to stopping a war with your bride’s homeland. Or acquiring her sizable dowry to bankroll a different one.
After a flurry of royal marriages, and general naughtiness, in the 18th century, both the great British public and the royal family were ready for more harmony on their domestic fronts. And with the expansion of the Empire, there came a taste for more ceremony and celebration.
“In October 1839, the twenty-year old Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, as was proper for a couple of their respective stations.”
Considering Albert was considered one of the handsomest men of his time, as well as being intelligent, scholarly, faithful, and, … potent, one might be tempted to say, “Go, Queen!”
If one were inclined to be vulgar.
Many rituals that are now considered integral to weddings – such as such as the bride wearing white, came from their union. And from the weddings of their numerous children we have Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, myrtle as part of the wedding gown, and heirloom lace veils.
By the 20th century and the onset of World War I, the austerity of the time and anti-German sentiment lead the now-Windsor family to seek British subjects to marry, which is true to this day. With the democratization of much of society the press was given access to the preparations for these events, creating much of the modern wedding industry, as the royal style was copied by designers, florists, and blushing brides throughout the Empire.
The current monarch’s wedding in 1947 was the first to be televised. Reports of the wedding where broadcast around the world in forty-two languages, and millions took the day off of work to line the route the couple took from Buckingham Palace.
To this day there has been little to equal the spectacle of the 1981 royal wedding between Charles and Diana. As the Archbishop officiating said, “This is the stuff of which fairytales are made”
As the marriage of their son Prince William to Kate Middleton approaches the world anticipates a new fairytale for a new day.
Which, we hope, will end happily ever after.