A private, serious royal wedding

Historical Notes

DOWN THE centuries, the marriages of royalty have more often then not been solemnised away from the public view. Most royal castles and palaces had private chapels, and it was here that kings, queens, princes and princesses made their vows. Such ceremonies were brief and witnessed only by the chief magnates of the realm. It was during the 14th century that royalty began to include the public in its nuptial celebrations, and the concept of the wedding procession was born.

The first royal wedding to take place in public was the marriage of the Prince of Wales, to Catharine of Aragon, in 1501 at St Paul's Cathedral. The bride went in procession through London, to the cheering of vast crowds, and was then escorted to a platform built in front of the cathedral, where she and Prince Arthur took their vows. As was the custom before the Reformation, the bride swore to be "bonair and buxom in bed and at board", and the royal party and their guests proceeded into the church for the nuptial mass. This was followed by a splendid feast, after which the young couple were publicly bedded together in front of many witnesses.

Henry VIII may have been married six times, but every one of those six ceremonies took place in private. His marriage to Anne Boleyn was secretly solemnised before dawn in a turret room of Whitehall Palace; not even the Archbishop of Canterbury was certain of the date.

In the 17th century, during the time of the Stuarts, royal weddings once again became private affairs. George III and George IV met their brides only a day or so before their weddings. George III's marriage to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz proved successful and produced 15 children, but George IV took one look at the rather malodorous Caroline of Brunswick and called for a glass of brandy. His bride recorded that he spent his wedding night lying drunk in the fireplace.

George V had been married privately in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace, but three of his six children were the first of the modern generation of royals to have public weddings. The Princess Royal, the Duke of York and the Duke of Kent all went in procession to Westminster Abbey, and their nuptials were the subject of intense public interest. It was the newly married Princess Royal who, in 1922, began the tradition of making an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The development of the media in the 20th century has enabled the public to participate as never before in the celebrations of royal weddings. The first royal wedding to be televised was that of Princess Margaret in 1960. This was followed in rapid succession by the wedding of the Duke of Kent. Royal wedding fever reached its height in 1981, with the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. Never had media and public interest in a royal wedding been so intense, and it has been estimated that a hundred million people world-wide watched the event on television.

There was a similar response when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. During the following year, however, adverse publicity attached itself to both these marriages and, when they both broke up in the early 1990s, public disillusionment set in. The happy endings promised by the fairy- tale weddings had been an illusion; when Prince Edward announced his engagement to Sophie Rhys-Jones, it was felt that the time for change had come. Wisely, the engaged couple have opted for a more muted ceremony. They have returned to the tradition established by their forebears in an age when marriage was taken more seriously.

It is encouraging that, in an era obsessed with the superficial, Edward and Sophie have indicated their wish to accord substance precedence over style, and are perhaps setting a new trend for royal weddings.

Alison Weir is the author of `Elizabeth the Queen' (Pimlico, pounds 8.99)

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before