Royal Weddings Through The Ages

Published in History Today

As the final preparations are made for the Royal Wedding on Friday April 29th, we explore the history of regal marriages, from Tudor times to the twentieth century, through a selection of articles from our archive, historic photographs and videos.

The televised Royal Wedding that most people think of first is likely to be that of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer in 1981. The first involving an heir to the English throne in the mass media era, the wedding was watched by over 750 million people worldwide. Earlier marriages were also caught on camera, however, and despite the changing fashions, the formality of what is one of the most important state occasions has little changed in the past century.

Prince Albert & Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, 1923

Prince Albert, the future King George VI, married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother, on April 23rd, 1923. Although she was the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Elizabeth was legally considered a commoner and was reluctant to submit to the trappings of royal life. She refused Prince Albert's proposals of marriage twice, before eventually accepting to marry him in January 1923.

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Princess Elizabeth Weds, 1947

In 1947, Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) were married at Westminster Abbey on November 20th, 1947.

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Princess Margaret Marries Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 1960

Though perhaps of less significant than that of her sister - Margaret was unlikely to ever become Queen - the wedding of the princess to Antony Armstrong-Jones is perhaps remembered best for the fact that it ended in divorce, the first time a Royal marriage has ended in such a manner since Henry VIII.

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From the History Today archive:

Should the monarch or heir to the throne marry for love? How different were royal weddings in the Tudor era? The following articles from our archive explore issues of love and ancestry in British royal weddings from the Tudor dynasty to the twentieth century.

Marrying for Love:

Since the Norman Conquest (setting aside the present Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles), the only two English or British monarchs to have personally chosen wives are Edward IV (r.1461-83) and his grandson, Henry VIII (r.1509-47). What basic principles then govern the choice of a royal consort? How realistic was it, or indeed is it, for a woman to reject a king’s offer of marriage? 

Prince William’s Ancestry

William’s five-times great-grandmother was Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who in 1761 became the queen of George III. Mecklenburg is a large, desolate, flat, sandy and windswept region in north-eastern Germany. Its ruling dynasty held sway in unbroken descent from the 12th century to 1918 and was one of the longest-reigning in Europe. In our April 2011 issue, Michael Bloch tells the story of this more unusual dynasty related to the Windsors.

The Marriage of a Prince of Wales: March 10th, 1863: Marriage of Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark

The marriage of Prince Charles, on July 29th, 1981, to Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul's Cathedral was only the sixth marriage of a Prince of Wales since the creation of the title. Prior to Prince Charles, the last marriage of a Prince of Wales was that of his great-great-grandfather, later King Edward VII, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.

Tudor Weddings

November 14th, 1501: Marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon

On November 14th, 1501, the wedding of Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s eldest son, and Princess Catherine of Aragon was celebrated in old St Paul’s Cathedral. The marriage was short-lived, however; Arthur died five months later, on April 2nd, 1502.

August 8th, 1503: Marriage of James IV of Scots and Margaret Tudor 

Henry VII’s daughter Margaret was a ‘small, dumpy thirteen-year-old’ when she married James IV of Scots who was 17 years her elder. Their union was celebrated in Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. 

Other resources has a fine selection of Royal wedding photographs from across the globe.

The BBC has an impressively-researched infographic telling you all you'd need to know (and plenty you don't) about past nuptials. There's also a virtual tour of Westminster Abbey.

Planning a visit to London to watch the wedding? Royal Parks has an interactive map showing the best vantage points around St James's Park.

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