College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

Posts Tagged ‘Royal wedding’

Don’t change the record!

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

The history of royal wedding ceremonies that have taken place at St George’s Chapel is a long and illustrious one that reached its peak in the nineteenth century, when five of Queen Victoria’s nine children solemnised their marriages in the Chapel. Each of these is recorded in the Chapel’s Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, part of a sequence which dates back to the early seventeenth century [SGC R.2].

So when, almost sixty years ago, while preparing for the wedding of a minor royal at St George’s Chapel, the Dean and Canons received a letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office stating that the happy couple would be required to sign the Royal Marriages Register and not the register of St George’s Chapel, Chapter was prepared to fight its corner.

The Dean immediately wrote back explaining that all marriages solemnised at St George’s Chapel were included in the Chapel register and he saw “no reason why this practice should not continue”. Indeed, since the beginning of the Chapel’s then current register, Royals and non-Royals alike were included indiscriminately. The response from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office that, according to the Registrar General, “it is a fact that these Royal Weddings should not be entered in the local register” did nothing to deter Chapter from investigating the matter for themselves, as the Dean promptly informed the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. The response is worth quoting in its entirety: “How splendid! I foresee a war of words which will make the Records of the United Nations Assembly very tame reading in comparison. “Let Right be Done”.”

The Dean’s letter to the College’s lawyer makes for equally interesting reading: “What I wholly fail to understand is that we should, in effect, be forbidden to enter Royal or semi-Royal weddings in the St George’s Chapel register… I can hardly bring myself to believe that this most ancient privilege is to be removed”. His incredulity increased on learning that the marriage register at the Chapel Royal was not subject to the same rules: “Are we then at St George’s less privileged than the Chapel Royal?” The lawyer’s response was plain; there was no real reason behind the Registrar General’s request and he himself had attended a royal wedding previously where the couple had signed the parish register. He recommended that “you carry on exactly as you would have done” and he saw “no reason why you should not ask the parties to sign your own register and no-one present need be any wiser”.

Nevertheless, the Dean did make his intention to use both registers clear to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. This pleased the official in question who stated happily: “I am all for tradition and am delighted that you are going to stand firm. You may be sure that I am on your side and will be prepared to bail you out if this should become necessary!”

This fascinating set of correspondence came to light during a review of twentieth century papers from the Chapter Clerk’s office [SGC CL 109]. The letters offer a glimpse of the relationships between not only St George’s Chapel and the Royal Household at this time, but also those that existed between the Royal Household and governmental departments such as the General Register Office. Furthermore, the letters highlight the importance of the historical status and traditions associated with St George’s, and the desire of Chapter to maintain these.

Anastasia Porteous, Archives Trainee

A very Royal wedding

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Over the years, St George’s has seen a number of Royal occasions take place at the Chapel, all of which are recorded in the Chapel archives, and most recently being the wedding of Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly in 2008.

However, Edward VII is the only monarch to have been baptised, married and buried in St George’s Chapel. He was baptised Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on 25 January 1842 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 21 years later, he would marry Alexandra Caroline Maria Charlotte Louisa Julia on 10 March 1863.

There had been national outcry at the thought that St George’s would host the wedding, as it was, according , according to The Illustrated Times, “Grey, crumbling, hoary and without almost ruinous in aspect”. The now grand ceremonial west steps at the time were narrow, unkempt and little more than a rubbish dump. St George’s was also considered too small, and Windsor too much of a backwater to be worthy of the wedding of the Prince of Wales; however as in most things, Queen Victoria got her way.

Wedding of Edward and Alexandra

Great anterooms were built over the mound to provide somewhere for the procession to gather, as well as offering something a little more spectacular than what was there at the time. These were hung with fine drapes, and Lady Augusta Stanley thought them “fitted up with the greatest taste”.

The day itself was a cold and frosty one, fitting for the air of solemnity and grief which went with the day, since it was less than 3 months since the death of Albert. Despite this, it was a grand occasion, with a gallery at the south end of the organ-loft specially built to accommodate the enlarged choir and an orchestra. Sir George Elvey arranged the music and composed the anthem “Sing unto God”. For Victoria, taking part in the service would have been too much, and she watched from above, as can be seen in this painting. For the rest of her life, she would watch services from this little room, originally built for Katherine of Aragon.

On his death in 1910, Edward VII was placed in the Royal Vault while work was finished on his tomb in the South Quire Aisle. After the death of Alexandra 15 years later, the two coffins were placed side by side in the sarcophagus, which has a lovely personal feel, depicting Edward’s favourite dog Caesar at his feet.

Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)

Royal Wedding at St George’s

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Marriages of the Prince of Wales have been rare events in English history. The current Prince Charles is only the sixth to marry whilst Prince of Wales since 1501. The last one was his great, great grandfather, Albert Edward, the future King Edward VII, in 1863. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had begun the search for a bride in 1858 since an early marriage would mean he would be able to have a son earlier to secure his reign. The bride was not allowed to be a Roman Catholic under the Act of Succession. Although the Queen and the Prince Albert were keen on finding a German match, they agreed to a marriage with Princess Alexandra Caroline, daughter of Prince Christian of Denmark, who was known to be very beautiful, charming and intelligent.

The signing of the Attestation Deed

The signing of the Attestation Deed

The marriage took place in ‘The King’s free chapel of St George’, Windsor Castle, on 10th March 1863. The marriage attestation deed was signed in the State Apartments of the Castle, rather than in the Chapel, as you can see in this print held in the St George’s Chapel Archives. The Chapel Archives also contain the official marriage register signed by numerous witnesses and other letters and documents connected with the wedding. These reveal the names of the important people from around the world who were invited to attend and even indicate where they were seated in the Chapel. The wedding was not open to members of the public but they were allowed to gather outside to greet the Royal couple.

Navid Khanzadeh (The Langley Academy)