Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Royal Weddings, Part 4: Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra of Denmark

Our latest royal wedding wasn’t precisely a love match like Vicky and Fritz’s, but as royal marriages go managed, after a few rocky years, to be a successful one, based on mutual respect and affection. I’m talking about the match between “bad boy” Bertie, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Princess “Alix” Alexandra of Denmark.

Finding a bride for Bertie, the twenty-year-old future king of England, was of course a very important issue. Victoria was in the depths of mourning first for her mother, then for her beloved Albert who’d died in December 1861 (and whose death she partly blamed on poor Bertie's misbehavior with an Irish "actress"), so Bertie’s elder sister Vicky, now Crown Princess of Prussia, stepped in to find a suitable bride for her brother.
She found the young and beautiful Alexandra of Denmark, known as Alix to her family. Although their first meeting didn’t precisely result in sparks, neither outright refused to consider marriage, and a year later, on their second meeting (and after much behind-the-scenes discussion and negotiation), Bertie proposed in September 1862, with the wedding to take place on March 10, 1863. Though traditionally the marriage should have taken place in the bride’s home, Victoria would not hear of her heir being married anywhere but London, and so in London it was.

Because the Queen was still in the deepest mourning, the wedding was held at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. The small venue meant that only Alix’s closest family members were invited, and Bertie was limited to inviting six friends. Holding the wedding at Windsor also denied Londoners the spectacle of the wedding of the heir to the throne, but the Queen would not hear of a more public wedding. Court mourning also decreed that female guests could wear only secondary mourning colors like mauve or grey, which must have been a bit of a disappointment.

Alix’s dress was of white and silver satin, decorated with garlands of greenery; Bertie wore a general’s uniform under his Garter robes. But most of the eyes were on the Queen in a balcony overlooking the altar; she seems to have played somewhat shamelessly to the crowds, making it clear that witnessing what was supposed to be a joyous event was terribly painful to her (“I dread the whole thing awfully, & wonder even how you can rejoice so much at witnessing what must I should think be to you, who loved Papa so dearly, so terribly sad a wedding,” she wrote to her eldest daughter Vicky a few weeks before the happy event.) The Archbishop of Canterbury officiated, operatic star Jenny Lind sang, and Bertie’s nephew, Vicky’s eldest son, four-year-old Willy (later Kaiser Wilhelm II), behaved very badly, crawling about and biting people.

A wedding breakfast for five hundred was held under a tent (fortunately the weather was sunny at this point) with another enormous cake, and then the bride and groom went away to dress for their wedding journey to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. “Ah, dear brother, what a sad and dismal ceremony it was!” the Queen wrote later to the King of Prussia.

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