A match between Victoria, Princess Royal and Frederick William of Prussia had been in the thoughts of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for a number of years as they had formed a close bond with Frederick’s parents when they sheltered in Britain for three months in 1848.
The family returned to London in 1851 for the Great Exhibition and eleven-year-old Vicky acted as a guide for the nineteen-year-old Fritz. Despite the age difference, Vicky and Fritz seemed to like each other much to the delight of her parents who were very much taken with the young prince who seemed to share their liberal ideas. Prince Albert had long dreamed of a united German nation and he had seen the marriage of his daughter as the first step in the process. It was a lot to place on the slender shoulders of a teenage girl but Queen Victoria was eager for her children to experience the same happiness she had enjoyed with Albert so she was delighted when Vicky’s attraction to Fritz became apparent. Three years later, Fritz visited the royal family at Balmoral and requested permission to marry Vicky and her parents happily accepted on condition the marriage not take place until Vicky was seventeen.
The couple’s engagement was announced on 17 May 1856 but the news was not met with enthusiasm from the British public who were still holding a grudge against the Prussians for their neutral stance during the Crimean War and saw the Hohenzollerns as a miserable bunch. The response in Prussia was a mixed one though and unsurprisingly welcomed more by the liberals. For the next two years, Prince Albert carefully prepared his daughter for her future role by studying European politics but he greatly over-estimated her ability to influence the Hohenzollerns.
When it was announced the wedding would be taking place in England on 25 January 1858, it sparked outrage in Prussia as the prince’s countrymen felt a future king should be married in Berlin. However, Queen Victoria insisted her daughter should be married in her own country and was determined to have her way. Prince Albert then aggravated the situation when he announced Vicky would be retaining her title as Princess Royal.
The wedding day was bitterly cold but it didn’t deter large and chaotic crowds from gathering in the streets as the procession made its way from Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Chapel. Fritz, wearing the dark blue tunic and white trousers of the Prussian First Infantry Regiment of the Guard, was accompanied by his father and his uncle Prince Albrecht. Vicky was escorted down the aisle by her father and her godfather, Leopold I of Belgium, who was also her great-uncle.
The service was conducted by a very nervous John Bird Sumner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who apparently skipped over several parts of the service. The newlyweds left the Chapel to the sound of The Wedding March by Mendelssohn which would thereafter be a popular choice at weddings.
After the ceremony, the procession returned to Buckingham Palace where the newlyweds appeared on the balcony before the wedding breakfast.
Afterwards, the couple had a two day honeymoon at Windsor Castle before it was time for the princess to start her new life in Prussia. As expected, the farewells were tearful but Vicky was never far from the thoughts of her parents and her mother wrote to her each week with plenty of advice, welcome or otherwise.
The Wedding Dress
The Princess Royal followed the tradition started by her mother and had her dress made from fabrics manufactured at Spitalsfields. The bridal gown was made of white moire antique embroidered with rose, shamrock, and thistle emblems in gold thread, while the three lace flounces were edged with orange blossom and myrtle.
The white moire antique train was trimmed with rows of Honiton lace and wreaths similar to those on the flounces of the dress. The bride also wore a diamond necklace, diamonds earrings and a diamond brooch. Pinned to her left sleeve was the Order of Louise, a Prussian order of chivalry, and the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert.
On her head, Vicky wore a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle with a Honiton guipure lace veil which was held in place with Spanish pins. The placing of the veil was said to be contrary to how British brides normally wore it but it was at the suggestion of the Queen.
Vicky was the first royal bride to wear myrtle from the bush Queen Victoria had planted at Osborne House from a cutting given to her from Prince Albert’s grandmother. It has now become traditional for British royal brides to have a sprig of myrtle in their bouquet and the tradition has also been passed down throughout the European royal houses by Queen Victoria’s descendants.
The white tulle dresses of the bridesmaids were designed by the Princess Royal herself and were trimmed with bouquets of pink roses and white heather.
Vicky’ eight bridesmaids were the unmarried daughters of peers:
- Lady Susan Pelham-Clinton (1839-1875), daughter of Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle
- Lady Cecilia Gordon-Lennox (1838-1910), daughter of Charles Gordon-Lennox, 5th Duke of Richmond
- Lady Emma Stanley (1835-1928), daughter of Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby
- Lady Katherine Hamilton (1840–1874), daughter of James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Abercorn
- Lady Susan Murray (1837-1915), daughter of Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore
- Lady Constance Villiers (1840–1922), daughter of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon
- Lady Victoria Noel, daughter of Charles Noel, 1st Earl of Gainsborough
- Lady Cecilia Molyneux (1838–1910), daughter of Charles Molyneux, 3rd Earl of Sefton
The Wedding Cake
The main wedding cake was 5ft in height and was decorated with classical figures. Each guest was also presented with a special commemorative medal with a portrait of the bride and groom on one side, while on the reverse, there was a wreath of orange blossom, roses, jasmine and myrtle with the date of the wedding.
Happily Ever After?
Vicky and Fritz had a long and happy marriage which would lead to the births of eight children. However, Victoria and Albert’s dream of a united Germany would come with a high price as Vicky’s eldest son, Wilhelm II, would cause much heartache and be instrumental in the fall of the House of Hohenzollern.