The Wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales & Princess Alexandra of Denmark
Now that their eldest daughter, Vicky, was safely married, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert turned their attention to the marriage prospects for their eldest son, Bertie. As the heir to the British throne, it was vital for Bertie to make a good match but his parents were about to discover it was no easy task due to a shortage of suitable brides.
Bertie had proved to be a disappointment to his parents due to his lack of intellect, however it was his wayward behaviour that was beginning to cause the most concern so his parents were eager to see him settled. Taking advantage of Vicky’s position in Prussia, Queen Victoria tasked her with seeking out suitable brides, preferably German, who would make a worthy Queen of the United Kingdom. While there were plenty German princesses to consider, Vicky was satisfied with none of them because she was already comparing them to a Danish princess who was said to be beautiful and charming.
Alexandra of Denmark came from an impoverished family background but their fortunes had changed in 1852 when the childless Frederick VII had named Alexandra’s father as heir presumptive and the family moved into Bernstorff Palace. However, the prospect of Alexandra as a candidate was complicated by political matters since Prussia and Denmark had been at loggerheads over the twin duchies of Schleswig-Holstein for some time.
The British royal family were pro-German and had close ties to the royal family via the marriage of the Princess Royal so they risked alienating the Prussians by uniting with the Danish. Queen Victoria also had no real liking for the Danish royal family so the match was placed on the back burner, however it soon became clear there were no other candidates.
In the summer of 1861, Vicky finally arranged a meeting with Alexandra at Strelitz and she reported back to her mother that Alexandra possessed every quality they could possibly be looking for in a bride for Bertie. Overlooking the Danish problem, Vicky arranged for Bertie to meet Alexandra in September 1861 although the reasons were kept strictly private to avoid any political controversy. While Bertie was struck by Alexandra’s beauty, he displayed a lack of enthusiasm for marriage in general, maintaining he was too young. However, Bertie’s thoughts were elsewhere and his parents’ concern for his moral wellbeing were about to be realised.
While stationed at Curragh Camp with the Grenadier Guards, Bertie had become involved with Nellie Clifden, an actress, and the affair had continued after Bertie’s return to England. When news of the indiscretion reached his parents, the Prince Consort immediately travelled to Cambridge to confront his son who was soundly lectured. Albert, already gravely ill, would die just a few weeks later and Queen Victoria would never forgive her son.
Bertie was sent away on a tour of the Levant while his mother organised a meeting with Alexandra at the Royal Castle of Laeken. Queen Victoria was very pleased with Alexandra and her son dutifully proposed to her on 9 September 1862. A few months later, Alexandra travelled to Britain aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert II, arriving in Gravesend on 7 March 1863 to great fanfare.
The couple were married on 10 March 1863 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, which did not please everyone as the area was too secluded for large crowds who were keen to see the couple. The guest list also had to be kept small due to the size of the chapel and only Alexandra’s closest relatives were invited.
It was the first royal wedding to take place at St. George’s and was an unusual choice since royal weddings usually took place in London where large crowds could gather. The procession began from Windsor Castle in the morning with a series of carriages carrying the lesser ranked guests first, followed by the family of the bride and then the family of the groom. The Prince of Wales’ cortege took up six carriages with the groom in the last one, while the bride’s four carriages came next with Alexandra in the last one. Queen Victoria, still mourning the loss of her husband, did not take part in the procession, entering the chapel privately where she watched the ceremony out of view of the other guests.
Alexandra was supported by her father, Prince Christian and by George, Duke of Cambridge while Albert Edward was supported by his uncle, Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and brother-in-law, The Crown Prince of Prussia. The service was conducted by Charles Longley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the guests returned to Windsor Castle where a banquet was held in the State Dining Room for the royal guests and in St. George’s Hall for household members, and other guests.
Afterwards, the newlyweds traveled by carriage to Paddington Station where they boarded a train to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight for their honeymoon.
Alexandra’s wedding dress was made from silk satin and had four flounces of Honiton lace trimmed with orange blossoms and myrtle, while the twenty-one foot train was of silver moiré. The material for the dress was produced at Spitalsfield and the dress was designed by Mrs James of Belgravia, while the lace for the flounces was designed by Miss Tucker and depicted English roses, Irish shamrocks and Scottish thistles.
The lace pattern was repeated for the veil which was held in place with a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle. Alexandra’s dress has survived and was displayed at Kensington Palace as part of the Royal Wedding exhibition, however the dress was remodelled by Alexandra after the wedding and the lace removed.
Alexandra carried a bouquet of orange blossoms, white rosebuds, lily of the valley, orchids, and myrtle in a carved crystal holder adorned with pearls, coral, emeralds and diamonds with a jewelled coronet. At the foot was a ball of crystal with rubies and diamonds, which opened to reveal four supports with a plume and cipher. The bouquet holder was a gift from the Maharajah Duleep Singh.
Alexandra wore a pearl necklace, earrings and brooch set given to her by the Prince of Wales, an opal and diamond bracelet from Queen Victoria, a diamond bracelet given by the ladies of Leeds, and an opal and diamond bracelet from the ladies of Manchester.
Alexandra was supported by eight bridesmaids who wore dresses of white glacé silk trimmed with tulle and roses, and wreaths of roses on their heads.
The eight bridesmaids were the unmarried daughters of peers:
- Diana de Vere Beauclerk, the daughter of William Beauclerk, 9th Duke of St Albans
- Victoria Montagu-Douglas-Scott, daughter of Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch
- Victoria Howard, daughter of Charles Howard, 17th Earl of Suffolk
- Elma Bruce, daughter of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
- Agneta Yorke, daughter of Charles Yorke, 4th Earl of Hardwicke
- Emily Villiers, daughter of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon
- Eleanor Hare, daughter of William Hare, 2nd Earl of Listowel
- Feodorowna Wellesley. daughter of Henry Wellesley, 1st Earl Cowley
Happily Ever After?
While the Prince of Wales held true affection for his wife, it did not stop him having numerous affairs throughout his marriage which Alexandra seems to have chosen to ignore. Alexandra enjoyed an active social life, however the arrival of her children and her increasing deafness made her more reclusive. Despite this, The Prince and Princess of Wales seem to have gotten along with each other and made a success of their marriage even if it was not a grand passion.