On the cur­rent Queen’s 70th wed­ding an­niver­sary, Ju­lian Humphrys of­fers a brief his­tory of regal nup­tials

BBC History Magazine - - History Now / Backgrounder -

Were royal wed­dings al­ways highly public af­fairs?

Some were. When Henry I’s daugh­ter Matilda mar­ried Em­peror Henry V at Worms (now Ger­many) in 1114, no­body could re­mem­ber see­ing so many great peo­ple in one place be­fore. Mean­while, West­min­ster Abbey hosted a num­ber of medieval royal wed­dings in­clud­ing those of Henry I and Richard II.

St Paul’s Cathe­dral was the venue when Prince Arthur mar­ried Cather­ine of Aragon in 1501 but, when his brother Henry mar­ried her eight years later, it was in a pri­vate cer­e­mony in the Queen’s Closet at Green­wich Palace. In­deed, by the 18th cen­tury royal wed­dings were tak­ing place pri­vately in royal chapels, a tra­di­tion only bro­ken in 1923 when the fu­ture Ge­orge VI mar­ried El­iz­a­beth BowesLyon in West­min­ster Abbey.

Was that event broad­cast on the ra­dio?

No. The arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury was con­cerned that men might lis­ten to it in public houses. How­ever, when their daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth mar­ried Philip in front of 2,000 guests in West­min­ster Abbey in Novem­ber 1947, the cer­e­mony was broad­cast on ra­dio to a world­wide au­di­ence of 200 mil­lion lis­ten­ers.

Which was the most low-key royal wed­ding?

A lead­ing con­tender has to be Ed­ward IV’s mar­riage to El­iz­a­beth Woodville in 1464. It was so clan­des­tine that the Earl of War­wick, Ed­ward’s chief ad­vi­sor, set about ar­rang­ing a diplo­matic match with a French princess, com­pletely un­aware that his king was al­ready wed. (See this month’s fea­ture on Richard III for more on Ed­ward’s mar­i­tal life).

Which royal wed­ding day was the most dis­as­trous?

When the fu­ture Ge­orge IV first met his wife-to-be, Caro­line of Brunswick, in 1795, such was his dis­may that his first words were: “I am not well. Get me a glass of brandy.” Ge­orge did what was re­quired of him at the ser­vice which took place at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace but the wed­ding night was an­other mat­ter – he spent it ly­ing on the bed­room floor in a drunken stu­por. Soon, he had re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to do his duty and nine months later Caro­line gave birth to a daugh­ter, Char­lotte. By then the ill-matched cou­ple were al­ready liv­ing apart.

Princess El­iz­a­beth and Philip pic­tured on their wed­ding day in 1947

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