Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage of Inconvenience

Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage of Inconvenience

Article excerpt

'TWO large windows to be had cheap on the processional route. Entrance from the rear,' the Times advertised in March 1863. Or rather that is what the notice should have read. But a waggish printer changed windows into widows. It was the first of many hazards to enliven the wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

Not since the year 1121, when Henry I married Adela of Louvain, had there been a royal wedding in the seclusion of Windsor. Both Queen Victoria in 1839 and her daughter Vicky in 1858 had married in the chapel of St James's Palace, followed by appearances on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, illuminations and revelry in the streets. The muted celebrations at Windsor in 1863 naturally enough provoked resentment.

London's discontent was reflected in the pages of Punch, which described Windsor as an obscure Berkshire village, noted only for an old castle with bad drains: a cruel joke: only 15 months after the Prince Consort had died of typhoid fever aged 42. The tragedy of that early death cast his widow into self-absorbed, almost demented grief for the remaining 40 years of her reign.

As for Bertie, the 21-year-old heir to the throne, he remained in disgrace after a playful entanglement with an actress had supposedly broken his father's heart and hastened his death. To prevent further scandals, he must be married off without delay. But the Queen commanded that there should be no noise, much less rejoicing, in her presence. And as if to emphasise the penitential aspect of the wedding, she insisted that it should take place in Lent.

Queen Victoria, German by blood, marriage and sentiment, with two daughters already married to German princes, accepted Princess Alexandra with reluctance. For although Alexandra was young, sweetnatured and exceptionally beautiful, she lacked one desirable quality. `Oh,' the Queen sighed, `if Bertie's wife were only a good German and not a Dane!' In the absence of other suitable candidates, she could do no more than warn the patriotic, headstrong Princess to be silent on the continuing dispute between Denmark and Prussia over the border territory of Schleswig-Holstein.

Alexandra's arrival in England and drive through London to Paddington were marked by public ecstasy and official incompetence. One paper described her carriage procession as `the very dregs of that singularly ill-appointed establishment known as the Royal Mews, Pimlico'.

At the other end of the social scale, the guest-list bred similar disappointment and ill-will. The Queen excluded the King of Denmark because of his disreputable private life, and many others of the bride's family. The bridegroom was allowed to invite only six of his friends, mostly peers and including a forebear of the present Lord Carrington.

It was unfortunate that the quire (or choir) of St George's where the ceremony itself took place, out of sight of the far more spacious nave, contained scarcely more than 200 places. They were filled largely by royalty and their entourages, leaving room only for the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet and great officers of state.

On the exclusion of the social world, Lord Clarendon, a Whig grandee, noted, `So many swells in the nave who ought to have been invited to the chapel and so many very small people sweeping by them in their finery to take their allotted places there.'

Disraeli, most romantic of monarchists, was left out originally. He was reinstated after the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, told the Queen that to give a place to a former leader of the Commons and supporter of a generous civil list for the bridegroom 'might be a gracious as well as a not unuseful thing'. …

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