The pearls, the hoover, and the sponge

by
22 August 2007

The Queen’s diamond wedding anniversary is approaching. Julia McGuinness reports on a new exhibition

Dazzling: above: Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, on the balcony at Buckingham Palace; left: one of the twelve 18th century Meissen chocolate pots sent by Pope Pius XII; right: the Princess’s wedding dress, inspired by Primavera

Dazzling: above: Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, on the balcony at Buckingham Palace; left: one of the twelve 18th century ...

THE BRIDAL gown looks magnificent enough: its ivory silk is decorated with crystals and 10,000 American seed pearls. But when Princess Elizabeth wore it at her wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh, on 20 November 1947, its impact was even more dazzling. Its 13-foot, star-patterned train was inspired by Botticelli’s figure of Primavera, symbolising rebirth and growth after the war. Quite simply, it was a dress for its time.

Sixty years on, the diamond anniversary of the royal wedding is being marked with a special exhibition at Buckingham Palace. Kathryn Jones, the assistant curator of the royal collection, feels that the wedding garments form the centrepiece of the exhibition: “It’s the first time since the actual day that all the outfits worn by the wedding party have been gathered in one place.”

Archive film in the exhibition includes scenes of crowds outside Buckingham Palace, chanting, “We want the bride!” as they wait for the 21-year-old princess and her consort to appear on the balcony. “The footage is a reminder of how much people wanted something to celebrate to lift the post-war depression,” says Ms Jones. “The wedding really captured their imagination.”

Imagination was even more important in the pre-television era. Although it was broadcast on the radio, those outside the capital had to wait for the Pathe newsreels for a glimpse of the occasion. “People queued around the block when these reached their local cinema.”

Filming in Westminster Abbey was severely restricted at the behest of George VI, who felt it inappropriate for a religious service. Although photographs were permitted, the cameras could only start rolling as the wedding party moved beyond the end of the quire, after the register was signed.

It was one of four official registers; the other three were signed after the wedding in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace. These included the royal marriage register, which has been brought out from the Chapel Royal for the exhibition. It shows that the key signatories are augmented by members of the wider royal family, European monarchs, the Prime Minister, and the Archbishop of York, Dr Cyril Forster Garbett.

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The two copies of the order of service that are on display in the exhibition — one belonging to Queen Mary — testify that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, aided by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr Wesley Carr, took the wedding service, while the Archbishop of York gave the address. The Bishop of London, the Bishop of Norwich (Clerk of the Closet), and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland were also present.

Archive records show that there was no money to decorate the Abbey for this first post-war royal wedding. Accordingly, there were just two large vases of flowers by the high altar. The bridal bouquet of white orchids and a sprig of myrtle — supplied by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners — was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Westminster Abbey, by the Dean the next day.

A selection of wedding gifts is also on show, many of which are on loan from the Queen’s private apartments. In the week before the wedding, all 2500 gifts went on display at St James’s Palace, where they remained until the following March. It cost one shilling to go in, and there were 200,000 visitors.

The royal newly-weds were like any other young couple setting up home, says Ms Jones. “It’s just that the range of those giving included both ordinary members of the public and representatives of whole nations.”

President Truman gave an engraved Steuben glass bowl, while President Chiang Kai-shek sent a Chinese porcelain dinner service.

Mahatma Gandhi’s gift, a lace shawl, carries the central motif: “Jal Hind,” or “Victory to India”. Although it was woven by a Punjabi girl, Gandhi spun the original yarn himself. British housewives, meanwhile, crocheted and embroidered a plethora of traycloths, table-runners, and napkins for the royal couple.

Several overseas gifts came in the form of food. The 500 cases of tinned pineapple from the Governor of Queensland, “to be distributed as the Princess wishes,” are, of course, long gone. (The comparative rarity of tinned fruit in a food-rationed nation was a much-appreciated gift by the various charities under the princess’s patronage.)

Other practical gifts included a Singer sewing machine from the Provost and council of Clydebank. “It does look as though it’s been used,” says Ms Jones. A washing machine was sent by the Women’s Voluntary Service, and a vacuum cleaner by the Hoover company.

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Clergy, too, were among the givers of gifts. There is a copy of A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young from the Archbishop of York, while the Archbishop of Canterbury gave two copies of the Book of Common Prayer.

Two 18th-century Meissen chocolate-pots, covers, and stands sent by Pope Pius XII are on display, and the Revd and Mrs Robert Hyde thoughtfully sent a bath sponge.

In a particularly imaginative collaboration, all the Elizabeths, Alexandras, and Marys of the borough of Twickenham joined forces to give a 19th-century silver fruit-basket.

The inevitable sparkling array of jewellery on show includes several pieces given by Queen Mary to her granddaughter, such as the “Girls of Great Britain” tiara, seen in the Queen’s portraiture on banknotes. A diamond bracelet that was a personal gift from Prince Philip is also being exhibited.

The Queen took no active part in the creation of the exhibition, beyond allowing and approving its contents. But she made a private visit, together with the director, before the opening. “I think she enjoyed seeing everything from her special day assembled in one place”, says Ms Jones.

  Aside from its personal significance, because Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is the first reigning monarch to reach a diamond wedding anniversary, the exhibition is a landmark in itself.

“A Royal Wedding: 20 November 1947” runs until 28 September. Open daily from 9.45 a.m.-6 p.m. Timed tickets with admission every 15 minutes. Entrance to State Rooms, special exhibition, and audio tour: Adult, £15; concessions, £13.50; under 17, £8.50; under-fives, free; family (2 adults, 3 under 17), £38.50. For advance tickets phone 020 7766 7300, or visit

www.royalcollection.org.uk

‘A blaze of splendour’

From the Church Times of 21 November, 1947

AS BIG BEN struck the three-quarters before eleven, the last of the King’s guests arrived at the west door of Westminster Abbey yesterday for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich.

Within the Abbey Gold Staff Officers were taking the guests to their seats. The whole of the nave was already full. Here the rows of seats on each side were turned to face inwards, leaving a gangway twelve feet wide, covered with bright red carpet.

At eleven, Queen Mary was received at the west door by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, and a few minutes later the glass coach drew up bringing the Queen herself and Princess Margaret. The two Queens, with Princess Andrew of Greece and foreign royal personages, walked in procession to the sacrarium; and the Bridegroom, with his groomsman, the Marquis of Milford Haven, arrived almost simultaneously at the door in the north transept, by the Poet’s Corner.

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Arrival of the Bride

The moment had now arrived for the coming of the King with Pincess Elizabeth in the Irish state coach. As the Bride’s procession entered the nave the bridesmaids and pages joined her from St. George’s Chapel, and the whole collegiate body of Westminster bowed and prepared to lead the way to the choir.

The procession reflected a blaze of colour — the Dean in cope of gold brocade, the Precentor in yellow cloth of gold, the Canons in the rich red velvet copes made for the coronation of Edward VII., the boys of the Chapels Royal in their livery of scarlet and gold, silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes, the King’s scholars in red cassock and white-winged surplices, the King’s almsmen in purple cloth gowns embroidered with the silver Tudor rose, the King and Princess, with her great train held by her pages, and followed by her maids.

As soon as the procession began to move, the whole length of the Abbey thrilled to the notes of a fanfare from the east end. Trumpets and trombones and drums sounded their loud, exciting call for just one minute, till the King and the Princess reached the choir-screen. Here the procession had to close a little to enter the narrow gate, under the roof of blue with gold-painted stars, into the choir.

The Two Archbishops

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York were awaiting it, in copes and mitres of white and gold. They were accompanied by the Bishop of London (Dean of the Chapels Royal), the Bishop of Norwich (Clerk of the Closet) and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. On each side were ranked tiers of royal guests in resplendent array.

The bridegroom was waiting for the bride under the lantern, and they walked together to the steps of the sanctuary before the high altar. The altar was decorated in mediaeval fashion with a display of gold plate, the treasures of the Abbey. No flowers are allowed on the Abbey altar. They stood in alabaster vases on each side.

The first part of the service was said: the wedding ring of Welsh gold was given: the Archbishop of Canterbury joined the hands of bride and groom and pronounced them man and wife. Then the final prayers were read by the Dean, and the Archbishop of York delivered a short address to the newly married pair.

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Extract from Princess Elizabeth's Wedding, page 7

THE ARCHBISHOP of York’s address at the Royal Wedding was in every way worthy of the occasion. Dr Garbett emphasized that the service in the Abbey, with all its splendid surroundings and public significance, was essentially the same rite as that of the humblest citizens who are joined in marriage in their parish church.

Extract from Princess Elizabeth's Wedding, page 7

THE ARCHBISHOP of York’s address at the Royal Wedding was in every way worthy of the occasion. Dr Garbett emphasized that the service in the Abbey, with all its splendid surroundings and public significance, was essentially the same rite as that of the humblest citizens who are joined in marriage in their parish church.

Appropriately, he added counsel and instruction such as a parish priest might have given to those who enter the adventure of married life. He spoke of the unselfishness which is the fruit of love and the secret of married happiness; the thoughfulness, sympathy and patience which must be exercised every day by husband and wife; the happy home which can be an oasis of peace in a busy life.

Finally, he spoke of the blessing given by God through the marriage rite, and the constant presence of Christ to those who admit Him as their Guest into their home, and seek Him by daily prayer and trust. His concluding words sum up the prayer of English Churchmen for Princess Elizabeth and her husband: “May God’s unfailing love always protect them. May he give them every blessing, peace and happiness.”

Summary, Page 3

Finally, he spoke of the blessing given by God through the marriage rite, and the constant presence of Christ to those who admit Him as their Guest into their home, and seek Him by daily prayer and trust. His concluding words sum up the prayer of English Churchmen for Princess Elizabeth and her husband: “May God’s unfailing love always protect them. May he give them every blessing, peace and happiness.”

Summary, Page 3

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