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.
Alexandra would soon become a fashion icon and her wedding dress followed the traditions started by her mother-in-law. The white silk satin dress 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 lace was reused and the dress was remodelled.
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 was supported by eight bridesmaids, all unmarried daughters of dukes or earls: Lady Diana Beauclerk; Lady Elma Bruce; Lady Eleanor Hare; Lady Victoria Howard; Lady Victoria Montagu Douglas Scott; Lady Emily Villiers; Lady Feodore Wellesley; and, Lady Agenta Yorke. The bridesmaids wore dresses of white glacé silk trimmed with tulle and roses, and wreaths of roses on their heads.
The wedding reception was held at Windsor Castle in two rooms: the State Dining Room for close family members and high-ranking royals, while the St. George’s Hall was set for other prominent 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.