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The Romance of Victoria's Wedding
Really, I do not think it possible for any one in the world to be happier, or ashappy as I am. Heis an Angel, and his kindness andaffection for me is reallytouching...What I can do to make him happywill be my greatest delight.
February 11, 1840
Unlike many royal marriages of the time, Victoria and Albert's was a love match. After they were introduced in 1836, Victoria wrote in her journal, "Albert ... is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression ... full of goodness and sweetness, and very clever and intelligent." She proposed to him on October 15, 1839. "It was a nervous thing to do, but Prince Albert could not possibly have proposed to the Queen of England. He would never have presumed to take such a liberty."
The date of her proposal remained forever special to Victoria, and she had it engraved in Albert's wedding band. Although the Prince had given Victoria a diamond friendship ring four years before their marriage, her engagement ring would be considered decidedly unusual today. It featured a snake with diamond eyes! In the nineteenth century, snakes werepopular emblems of love, their wound coils symbolizing eternity.
The headstrong young monarch oversaw all of the wedding preparations. She was the first royal bride to ignore the tradition of wearing a heavy brocade dress decorated with jewels and half hidden by a velvet-and-ermine mantle. Instead, she ordered a lovely white satin gown trimmed with sprays of delicate orange blossom. Although white silk or satin dresses had been de rigueur for "best dresses" since the 1820s, Victoria's choice of one for her wedding made them popular bridal gowns as well.
In one area, Victoria did not ignore tradition. Her gown, like other bridal dresses of the era, was trimmed with lace. Lacemaking is an ancient feminine art, even older than the weaving of cloth. In the sixteenth century, lengths of bobbin lace, made by crossing and twisting thread around pins on a small pillow, were used to trim bridal posies, much as a length of lace ribbon is used today. Later, the manufacture of needlepoint lace, which was made with tiny stitches overlaying larger stitches on a paper pattern, supported many communities throughout Europe. Generations of lacemakers laboriously produced the same secret patterns, their precious fabric named for the towns in which they lived: Alencon, Lyons, Chantilly, Honiton. By Victoria's time, machine-made lace was available, but wealthy brides or those whose ancestors had spent many hours producing family heirlooms still wore hand-crafted lace.
Jane Bidney, a lacemaker from Beer, outside Honiton, was commissioned to supply the handmade lace for Victoria's royal dress and fingertip-length veil. Jane, who had never been outside Devon, fainted from nerves white waiting to be received by the Queen in London. Once she recovered, the two women discussed the lace for the neck and sleeve frills and for the front panel of the wedding dress. It took more than one hundred lacemakers six months to make the exquisite lace. (The average time for making 1 1/2 square inches of lace is from five to eight hours.) In appreciation, Victoria invited Jane to attend the ceremony and sent each of the lacemakers 10 pounds to celebrate the wedding.On February 10, the Queen awoke to a steady downpour. Shortly before nine she wrote a charming note to Albert, who was staying at the palace:
Dearest How are you to-day, and have you slept well? I have rested very well and feel very comfortable to-day. What weather! I believe, however, the rain will cease. Send one word when you, my most dearly loved bridegroom, will be ready.Thy ever-faithful, Victoria R.
This small message of concern for her husband-to-be, who had suffered from seasickness on a stormy five-hour crossing of the English Channel, shows not only Victoria's thoughtfulness but also her passion and her anticipation of what her life together with Albert would be like.
After breakfast, her governess gave Victoria a "dear little ring" while she was helping her former pupil with her hair and wreath of orange blossoms. The Victorians loved accessorizing with lockets, cameos, tong drop earrings, and jeweled hairpins and combs and their queen was no exception. Diamonds glittered in Victoria's hair, a diamond necklace graced her neck, and Prince Albert's gift of a sapphire - and-diamond brooch sparkled over her heart, the traditional spot for a brooch on an English bride's wedding day.
While Victoria was getting ready at Buckingham Palace, the wedding guests filed into the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace, and the twelve young bridesmaids gathered excitedly in a room set aside for the Queen and her attendants. In contrast to the extravagant gowns and jewels of the women guests, the bridesmaids were a study in understated loveliness. Their enchanting white tulle dresses, trimmed with creamy white roses, had been designed by the bride herself in the classic ballerina style that continues to inspire wedding gown designers today.
About noon, Prince Albert's carriage left Buckingham Palace, followed a short white later by Victoria, her mother, and her Mistress of the Robes in the royal coach as thousands tined London's Mall, waving and cheering. In the century ahead, Victoria's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would follow the same route on their wedding day.