Many of the current royal wedding traditions were started by Queen Victoria, particularly the white wedding dress which was specifically chosen to showcase the intricate lace work she had already commissioned prior to her engagement. The Queen was aware the textile industry in Britain was suffering so she was careful to have her lace and fabric ordered from British manufacturers knowing the court would follow her example.
The heavy cream silk was made from fabric woven in Spitalfields, while the hand-made lace was designed specially for Victoria in the village of Beer, about 10 miles from Honiton. The lace was made under the supervision of a Miss Bidney, a woman from the village who was already supplying the royal wardrobe with lace, and she oversaw 200 workers. The lace was designed by William Dyce, a pre-Raphaelite painter and head of the School of Design at Somerset House, later the Royal College of Art. Once the lace was complete, the templates were destroyed so the pattern would be unique to the Queen.
The tradition of using a British manufacturer for royal wedding dresses was encouraged by Queen Victoria throughout the generations and it is still relevant today. When Catherine Middleton married Prince William in 2011, her sensational gown was made by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and it was embellished in exquisite lacework. The lace motifs, including the four national emblems of roses, daffodils, thistles, and shamrocks, were hand-cut by the Royal School of Needlework.
Queen Victoria’s wedding gown was adorned with garlands of fresh orange blossoms to symbolise purity, chastity and fertility. The Queen also eschewed a diamond tiara in favour of a simple orange blossom wreath to hold her bridal veil in place. The Queen loved orange blossoms so much they were a prominent feature in her gardens and the tradition for attaching sprigs of it to wedding dresses continued with Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters. The image above shows a wax sprig of orange blossom from the wreath holding the veil of Princess Alexandra who married Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on 10 March 1863.
Myrtle is also another tradition we can relate back to Queen Victoria as she planted a sprig of myrtle, given to her by Albert’s grandmother, in the gardens of Osborne House. A symbol of love and marriage, the myrtle was added to the bouquet of Victoria and Albert’s eldest daughter, Vicky, and has been used in every royal wedding since. Cuttings from the myrtle bush were also taken into the royal households of Europe by Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters so the tradition is also followed in other royal families descended from Queen Victoria.
Other bushes of myrtle have been created from royal bouquets, and a sprig of myrtle from the bouquet of Queen Elizabeth II was planted after her wedding to Prince Philip. Sprigs from both the original Osborne bush and the Queen Elizabeth bush were used in the bouquet of Catherine Middleton. British royal bouquets are now placed on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier the day after the wedding, a tradition instigated by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.