Victoria and Albert were first cousins and their mutual uncle, Leopold I of the Belgians, had been promoting the prospect of them marrying since they were both toddlers. When Victoria turned seventeen, Albert and his brother, Ernest, were invited to England for her birthday celebrations, however it was really an opportunity to see how Victoria and Albert got on. While Victoria liked her Coburg cousins and found them entertaining, she was fully aware of the reason they had come to England and she was determined to steer clear of the subject of marriage. However, once the brothers returned to Coburg, Victoria and Albert kept up a correspondence.
Three years later, Victoria, now queen, was determined to continue enjoying her freedom but Albert was growing restless of waiting and was fully prepared to push Victoria into making a decision either way. However, Albert’s tactic was unnecessary because as soon as the young queen clapped eyes on her suitor, she fell completely in love with him and was soon calling him her angel. A few days later, a nervous Victoria proposed to Albert (she outranked him as queen) and he accepted. The engagement was duly announced and the couple were inseparable until Albert had to return to Coburg.
While the country was pleased their young queen had found love, Albert was a low-ranked prince from an impoverished family and many thought he was not good enough for her. There was also the fact he was German and the government was nervous about how much influence he would have over Victoria once they were married. When Parliament announced Albert was to be given an annual pension of £30,000, it provoked fury in the prince as the normal stipend was £50,000 and Albert felt he had been insulted. A far thornier problem though was the prince’s status at court and the proposed title of King Consort was quickly dismissed. Regardless, Victoria invested Albert with the Order of the Garter as that was at least within her power and she couldn’t understand why he was so bothered about the rest since he would want for nothing as her husband.
The ceremony took place on the afternoon of 10 February 1840 in the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, which was unusual as royal marriages traditionally took place in the evening so the newlyweds could retire to the bedchamber to consummate the marriage. However, the young bride was keen to share her special day with the nation and, as expected, large crowds gathered along the route hoping to catch a glimpse of the wedding party in their finery. Sadly, the weather was against them as it rained for much of the day, however it did not dampen the celebratory atmosphere.
A steady stream of guests began to arrive at the chapel early in the morning, however the last two carriages were reserved for the bride and groom with Prince Albert leaving his private apartments at Buckingham Palace and travelling to the chapel with his father and brother. The Queen left the Palace at noon with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Mistress of the Robes, Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland. The immense crowds cheered loudly as the carriages passed along the route to the chapel and there wasn’t an inch of free space to be seen despite the rain that fell steadily.
Prince Albert took his place at the altar with a small prayer book, which had been a wedding gift from his bride, clasped in his hand. The Queen, who was given away by her uncle, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, walked up the aisles to music by Handel and was accompanied by twelve young bridesmaids who carried her long train. The ceremony was conducted by William Howley, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Victoria chose to obey her husband when they exchanged vows. Afterwards, they returned to Buckingham Palace to attend the Wedding Breakfast.
Victoria also had different ideas about her wedding dress as she wanted to stand out from the crowd and come to the altar as a woman rather than a queen. Royal wedding dresses were generally made of luxurious and colourful fabrics but Victoria decided she would wear white and her choice would revolutionise the wedding industry.
Aware the textile industry in Britain was suffering, the young queen decided to order the lace and material from British manufacturers to give them a boost. 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 Miss Jane Bidney, a woman from the village who was already supplying the royal wardrobe with lace, and she oversaw more than 100 workers who took 6 months to complete the lace. 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 lace cost £1,000 to make and the Queen awarded each worker £10 to celebrate on her wedding day.
Victoria also opted to have her bridal veil held in place with an orange blossom and myrtle wreath tiara which was later copied into jewellery pieces presented to Victoria on their anniversary over a number of years. Victoria’s other jewellery was a Turkish diamond necklace and earrings set, as well as a sapphire brooch given to her by Albert.
The bridesmaids wore white off the shoulder gowns, designed by Queen Victoria, which had sprays of roses on the bodice and skirt. Each bridesmaid was presented with a turquoise brooch, designed by Prince Albert, in the form of a spread eagle, with ruby eyes, and a diamond beak, holding a pearl in each claw.
When the wedding was being organised, Prince Albert had declared the twelve young ladies chosen had to be of impeccable character, however they were chosen according to rank.
- Lady Mary Howard (1822–1897), granddaughter of Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk
- Lady Caroline Gordon-Lennox (1819–1890), daughter of Charles Gordon-Lennox, 5th Duke of Richmond and Lennox
- Lady Adelaide Paget (d.1890), daughter of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey
- Hon. Eleanora Paget (d.1848), granddaughter of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey
- Lady Elizabeth Howard (d.1891), daughter of George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle
- Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope (1819-1901), daughter of Philip Henry, 4th Earl Stanhope
- Lady Sarah Villiers (1822–1853), daughter of George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey
- Lady Elizabeth Sackville-West (1818-1897), daughter of George Sackville-West, 5th Earl De La Warr
- Lady Ida Hay (1821–1867), daughter of William Hay, 18th Earl of Erroll
- Lady Frances Cowper (1820–1880), daughter of Peter Clavering-Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper
- Lady Mary Grimston (1821–1879), daughter of James Grimston, 1st Earl of Verulam
- Lady Jane Pleydell-Bouverie (1819–1903), daughter of William Pleydell-Bouverie, 3rd Earl of Radnor
The Wedding Cake
The main wedding cake, made by Mr. John Mauditt, Queen Victoria’s confectioner, weighed 300 pounds and was topped with Britannia blessing the bride and bridegroom. At the feet of the groom lay the figure of a dog to denote fidelity, while the bride was depicted with a pair of turtle doves, denoting the felicities of the marriage state, at her feet. A cupid was shown writing the date of the marriage in a volume on his knees, while other cupids held British royal symbols.
The cake was also adorned with bouquets of myrtle tied with true lovers’ knots which were given to the guests at the wedding breakfast. However, this cake was just one of a hundred made to celebrate the royal nuptials, the others being sent to various banquets, royal relatives and dignitaries. Slices of cake were presented to the guests in small souvenir boxes with the names of the royal couple and the date of the marriage. A slice of cake from the wedding was sold in it original box at an auction for £1,500 in 2016.
The cake was reconstructed for the BBC documentary Victoria and Albert: The Royal Wedding by a Norfolk bakery, Smiths the Bakers, with a Victorian plum cake recipe containing: butter, sugar, flour, eggs, cherries, currants, candied peel, ground almonds, mixed spice and salt, and 11.5 pints of brandy. The cake took over eight hours to cook in a specially made copper tin and was then hand-decorated with over 1,100 flowers made of royal icing.
After the wedding breakfast, the newlyweds went to Windsor Castle for a three-day honeymoon. Prince Albert had requested a longer honeymoon but Victoria vetoed the idea since she did not want to be away from state business for so long. On the evening of the honeymoon, Victoria had to rest due to a sickening headache but she wrote in her diary about how attentive Albert was to her and she obviously recovered quickly enough as they seemed to have enjoyed a blissful wedding night.
“I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening! MY DEAREST DEAR Albert sat on a footstool by my side, and his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before. He clasped me in his arms, and we kissed each other again and again! His beauty, his sweetness and gentleness, really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!” –Queen Victoria.