The wed­ding that in­spired Meghan & Harry

Queen Vic­to­ria’s very mod­ern cer­e­mony set the tone for all fu­ture royal wed­dings, but as it’s re-cre­ated for a new BBC2 show, Mary Greene re­veals that it didn’t quite go ac­cord­ing to plan...

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An­other royal wed­ding? Haven’t we had enough this year? Well, not quite. New BBC2 documentary Vic­to­ria & Al­bert: The Wed­ding is an am­bi­tious restag­ing of Queen Vic­to­ria’s cer­e­mony, re­searched down to the last sprig of orange blos­som by his­to­ri­ans, that re-cre­ates the hap­pi­est day in the life of the queen in hon­our of her bi­cen­te­nary in 2019. Or was it?

I have the hon­our of an in­vi­ta­tion: ‘ The Lord Cham­ber­lain is com­manded by Her Majesty to in­vite you to at­tend the cer­e­mony of Her Majesty’s mar­riage in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, on the Tenth of Fe­bru­ary, 1840...’ Al­though the dress code is ‘ladies with­out trains’ – the chapel at Winch­ester Col­lege, which we’re pre­tend­ing is the Chapel Royal, is too small for such ex­trav­a­gance – I still feel trag­i­cally un­der-dressed for this grand oc­ca­sion: no fan, no jew­els, no Court feath­ers bob­bing on my head like a mon­strous fas­ci­na­tor. But I do have a ring­side seat.

Al­bert is stand­ing at the al­tar rail, po­maded and hand­some. And here comes the bride and her brides­maids – there are only eight, but Vic­to­ria had a dozen – bump­ing into each other be­cause her 18ft train is too short for so many to carry. Ac­cord­ing to royal his­to­rian Dr Lucy Wors­ley, who presents the show, we’d have been in­hal­ing the scent of cam­phor, used aga i nst clothes moths, and musky per­fumes wit h a basenote of civet cat oil. And we’d be damp be­cause it was chuck­ing it down out­side.

Let’s re­mind our­selves why this wed­ding was hap­pen­ing. By 1840 the 20-year- old queen had been reign­ing for less than three years but her pop­u­lar­ity had plum­meted. As view­ers of ITV’s Vic­to­ria know, she was party to spreading ru­mours that her mother’s lady-in-wait­ing Lady Flora Hast­ings owed her ex­pand­ing waist­line to an il­le­git­i­mate preg­nancy. With Vic­to­ria’s con­nivance, Lady Flora, a vir­ginal spin­ster, was sub­jected to a bru­tal in­ter­nal ex­am­i­na­tion – but her swollen belly turned out to be a tu­mour on her liver from which she died months later.

For this lack of com­pas­sion, Vic­to­ria was hissed at in her own draw­ing room at Buck­ing­ham Palace. She was in need of guid­ance and the steady­ing hand of a hus­band. ‘Vic­to­ria was forced to marry,’ says Lucy. ‘There’s quite a lot of prag­ma­tism be­hind the fairy tale.’

By the time Vic­to­ria pro­posed to her Ger­man cousin Prince Al­bert of Saxe- Coburg and Gotha, she found him much im­proved since their first meet­ing in 1836 when they war­ily eyed each other up as 16-yearolds. Vic­to­ria fell in love with Al­bert, de­scrib­ing him in her di­ary as ‘an An­gel’. Al­bert was more ret­i­cent; when he ar­rived in Eng­land in Oc­to­ber 1839, for his sec­ond visit , he had re­solved to wrig­gle out of the mar­riage, re­sent­ful that Vic­to­ria had kept him dan­gling.

Yet Vic­to­ria’s PR makeover was so suc­cess­ful that we still be­lieve in this cou­ple as the great­est royal love match. That’s why her beloved prime minister and men­tor Lord Melbourne in­sisted on the mod­ern wed­ding that has shaped all fu­ture royal wed­dings, even that of Harry and Meghan this year. In­stead of a tra­di­tional in­ti­mate evening cere- mony, Vic­to­ria’s was in the day­time, with crowds cheer­ing the queen as her car­riage rode from Buck­ing­ham Palace to St James’s, then back, and on to Wind­sor for her hon­ey­moon. Back in the chapel for the re-cre­ation, and Al­bert has en­tered on a fan­fare of or­gan mu­sic – Han­del’s See, The Conquering Hero Comes, a sop to his bruised ego as Par­lia­ment hasn’t ap­proved him as large an in­come as he feels he de­serves. He is wear­ing a field mar­shal’s dress uni­form. He’s only 20, with no mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence – it can’t make him any less ner­vous that he’s feet away from a na­tional hero, the Duke of Welling­ton. Mov­ing down the aisle, Al­bert kisses Vic­to­ria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. The queen loathes her mama and keeps her at arm’s length. Sir John Con­roy, the men­tor who tor­mented Vic­to­ria through­out her child­hood, has been left off the guest list. The dig­ni­fied lady in grey silk is Louise Le­hzen, Vic­to­ria’s beloved gov­erness. Al­bert plans to get rid of her – there won’t be three peo­ple in this royal mar­riage! Al­bert has also tried to in­ter­fere with the choice of brides­maids, who are sup­posed to be of un­sul­lied rep­u­ta­tion. ‘A very moral Al­bert dis­cov­ered some were the off­spring of adul­tery,’ ex­plains Lucy. There was Lady Sarah, daugh­ter of the pro­mis­cu­ous Lady Jersey; Lady Eleanora, whose par­ents had di­vorced; and Lady Ida, whose mother was one of Vic­to­ria’s un­cle Wil­liam IV’s il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren by his mis­tress Dorothy Jor­dan, an ac­tress. ‘Vic­to­ria didn’t care, Al­bert did,’ says Lucy. Lord Melbourne, how­ever, was prag­matic: he said there sim­ply weren’t a dozen com­pletely re­spectable aris­to­cratic young ladies to find.

To­day, our Vic­tor ia ap­proaches the al­tar to Han­del’s A Vir­tu­ous Wife Shall Soften For­tune’s Frowns. Af­ter the ig­nominy of propos­ing, as pro­to­col de­mands, she wants to marry as a sub­mis­sive girl in love, not a queen. Her cream satin dress with a flounce of Honi­ton lace, made by her dress­maker Mary Bet­tans, is sim­ple by royal stan­dards. For this re-cre­ation, it has taken cos­tume de­signer Har­riet Waterhouse – who was a tai­loress on the BBC’s A Stitch In Time – five days and nights. The brides­maids’ dresses, with roses pinned to tulle skirts, were de­signed by the real Vic­to­ria: again, so sim­ple there were com­ments at the time that the young ladies looked like vil­lage girls. Our Vic­to­ria, like the real queen, wears im­i­ta­tion orange blos­som in her hair, not a crown; her jew­ellery is low-key by royal stan­dards: a sap­phire brooch, a wed­ding gift from Al­bert, and her Turk­ish di­a­monds.

I hear Vic­to­ria promis­ing to obey, de­spite the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury hav­ing given her the op­tion to omit that from her vows. She’s the most pow­er­ful woman in the world, but her groom will as­sert his in­flu­ence. When he pledges his worldly goods to his bride, it’s hard not to laugh. Al­bert is aware that no one else thinks he’s much of a catch. The cer­e­mony is brisk, only 21 min­utes long. On the way out, Vic­to­ria kisses her aunt Adelaide, the queen dowa­ger – and

‘She wanted to marry as a sub­mis­sive girl in love’

of­fers a cool hand­shake to her own mother.

What a shame we aren’t in­vited to the wed­ding break­fast. Food his­to­rian An­nie Gray has re- cre­ated two dozen dishes from the orig­i­nal menu of around 80. She’s made five soups, tur­bot in lob­ster sauce and beef with truf­fles. And ‘a show­stop­per’, as she de­scribes it – two pi­geon pies topped with a taxi­der­mied pi­geon. There are mille­feuilles and brown bread pud­ding à la Gotha. And a gi­gan­tic wed­ding cake. There were com­ments in the press at the time about Vic­to­ria’s cake, which was three yards across, weighed 300lb and was topped with su­gar fig­ures of the cou­ple bizarrely dressed in to­gas. It was cer­tainly a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge: dec­o­ra­tions for to­day’s ver­sion had to be made with the help of 3D print­ers.

On that evening in 1840, spec­ta­tors cheered the cou­ple on their way to Wind­sor. Then, they were fi­nally alone. But Vic­to­ria had a headache... ‘My dear­est dear­est dear Al­bert sat on a foot­stool by my side, and his ex­ces­sive love and af­fec­tion gave me feel­ings of heav­enly love and hap­pi­ness,’ she gushed in her di­ary.

By bed­time Vic­to­ria was vom­it­ing. ‘It was a mi­graine,’ says An­nie Gray. ‘She was prone to ner­vous ex­haus­tion.’ Then they went to bed. ‘Peo­ple think they had great sex,’ says Lucy Wors­ley. ‘But the ev­i­dence isn’t promis­ing. Vic­to­ria said she lay in his arms and there was “pu­rity and re­li­gion in it all”. It was mem­o­rable, but they weren’t swing- ing off the chan­de­liers.’ An­nie con­curs, ‘Al­bert wasn’t that into sex: she was but he wasn’t. He never had a mis­tress, which was re­ally un­usual. He wasn’t that up for it.’

By the next morn­ing, ‘Al­bert was feel­ing very poorly,’ Vic­to­ria wrote in her di­ary, ‘and had to re­main quiet in his room.’ So the four-day hon­ey­moon can’t have been much fun. And to her hor­ror, within weeks Vic­to­ria was preg­nant. ‘I was in for it at once,’ she wrote, ‘and fu­ri­ous.’

And so the seeds of their stormy mar­riage were sown. ‘It’s not happy ever af­ter, that’s the royal pro­pa­ganda ma­chine,’ says Lucy Wors­ley. ‘It gets dressed up as a fairy tale, but that’s just what they’ve told us!’

Yet tra­di­tions were in­vented that day that we still cher­ish to­day. ‘Ev­ery­one who has a big white wed­ding is copy­ing Vic­to­ria,’ says Lucy.

‘They weren’t swing­ing off the chan­de­liers that night’

Vic­to­ria and Al­bert marry in ITV’s Vic­to­ria and (be­low) in the his­tor­i­cal re- cre­ation

A por­trait of the real Vic­to­ria in her royal wed­ding out­fit

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