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