The marriage of the Prince of Wales

The marriage of the Prince of Wales

NPG D33995; ‘Marshalling the Procession of the Bride, March 10th, 1863’ (including Alexandra of Denmark)

This glorious print is one of a series showing the elaborate preparations for the wedding of the Prince of Wales, only the fifth to have taken place since the creation of the title, and the first at Windsor since 1361. The wedding of Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark on 10 March 1863 was the grandest wedding ever to be held in St George’s Chapel.

Edward had a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man, and for irresponsibility. His parents were worried about his philandering ways, and wanted to see him married in an attempt to bring stability to his life. Alexandra was considered a suitable match and a meeting between the couple was arranged in 1861, where they were introduced by Victoria, Crown Princess of Prussia, who was Edward’s sister. A few months later, Prince Albert died. Queen Victoria blamed Edward for this, believing that the fall-out from his affair with an actress had contributed to Albert’s death. Possibly in an attempt to placate his mother by carrying out the wishes of his father, at their next meeting Edward asked Alexandra for her hand in marriage. However, in a letter to her sister in September 1862, Lady Augusta Stanley, attendant to Queen Victoria, wrote “All seems to go nicely. He desperately in love, and His Mother much more pleased with him…”

With the court in mourning, Queen Victoria wanted the wedding to take place at St George’s Chapel, not in the capital. The Illustrated Times said that “a feeling not unreasonably akin to disappointment arose among the public that the claims of that unpretending town should have been preferred above those of London, the chief city of the empire and the world.” The chapel was “grey, crumbling, hoary, and without, almost ruinous in aspect”, but, when taking into account its standing as the home of the Order of the Garter and the glories of its interior “all things, then, considered, the selection of St George’s Chapel – if even the distinct expression of the Royal will did not enforce cheerful acquiescence – may be justified by a score of motives”. The date was set for 10 March 1863, and preparations began.

In a letter to the Dean, dated 23 January 1863, the secretary for the Board of Works writes:

“I am directed by the First Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Works to inform you that in making the necessary preparations for the approaching marriage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in St George’s Chapel Windsor, the following works will be required to be done by this Board…To erect temporary Buildings at the North and West End of the chapel, and a passage over the Deans Cloisters. To take down the carved Oak Gothic Screens on each side of the altar inside the Chapel…”

The Chapter agreed on the understanding that “the interior of the chapel shall be restored exactly to its former state, with the same old carved work that has to be taken down.” [SGC XVII.30.2]

The temporary buildings at the west end of the Chapel are shown in this chromolithograph by Robert Charles Dudley, published in 1864. Part of a set of 17 drawings created for the marriage, it shows that these were not any ordinary temporary buildings; a newspaper report from the day describes them: “Facing the chapel, the two rooms upon the right were assigned to the bridegroom; those to the left to the bride. Behind her saloon was another appropriated to the Royal Princesses, and, at the west end of all, a suite of rooms for general purposes. This extensive structure was erected under the superintendence of Mr Turnbull, clerk of the works; and furnished and fitted by Mr Seebrook Inspector of Windsor Castle.”

The room shown in this image is the central room opening out of the west door of the chapel. The newspaper continues: “The appearance of the central room is that of the banqueting-hall of a baronial mansion. The roof displays open Gothic beams, springing from the cornice of the walls, round which runs a series of oak panels, each panel displaying the arms of a Knight of the Garter. Upon the walls, a very handsome paper, looking precisely like stamped leather, and designed with an heraldic pattern, admirably sustains the feeling of style intended to be imitated. Beneath, a deep oak wainscoting surrounds the hall, also divided into panels, and upon each another shield and crest is displayed. Light is admitted from the roof, and its glare is subdued by cotton diaphane, which looks like transparent damask linen, with the star of the Order of the Garter worked upon it.”

The rooms for the Princess were even more sumptuous, fitted out with English lace and rose-coloured silk, garlanded with wreaths of orange-blossom and lilies, while those for the Prince were simple and elegant. St George’s Chapel may have been considered unsuitable for the occasion, but these magnificent chambers more than made up for any deficiencies in the exterior of the chapel.

In a newspaper report from New Zealand, the rooms are described as: “… a mysterious reception chamber, hidden by the rich folds of a vast drapery of purple silk, and within are waiting the invited guests of the Queen, ready to form into a procession, when the proper moment comes”.

From these chambers, Princess Alexandra emerged to begin her procession up the Nave to the altar where her husband-to-be waited. She would enter as a Princess of Denmark, and leave as the Princess of Wales.

Edward and Alexandra were married for over 50 years and despite his continued affairs, it was a happy one. By the time he became King in 1901, Edward had been Prince of Wales for 59 years, 45 days.

Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.