Hello! I’m so excited to be making my first official blog post as an Austen Author; and I’m especially glad to do so on such a special day.
After all, it’s a royal wedding day, and as you read this, I’ll be parked in my favorite chair, sipping tea and nibbling on scones as I watch America’s Meghan Markle and Britain’s Prince Harry exchange their wedding vows. I have to admit, I’m a little ga-ga over the whole thing.
With the time difference, I’ve been awake since Oh-Dark-Thirty this morning, taking in every little detail of the processions, the famous guests, the ladies’ hats, the gentlemen’s suits, and everything else that makes a royal wedding special.
After centuries of practice, British royals have learned how to add a fairy-tale element to all their wedding ceremonies, from the bride’s story-book arrival at the church in a state carriage . . .
. . . to her dramatic walk down the aisle on her father’s arm.
It’s no wonder that the British people love a royal wedding, and I’m happy to join my ooh’s and aah’s to theirs as we watch the entire event unfold together.
And since a fair share of royal marriages occurred during Jane Austen’s lifetime, I have to wonder if, like me, Jane got caught up in the spectacle of those moments, too.
A Royal Marriage in 1795
Jane was 19 years old when Caroline of Brunswick married George, Prince of Wales on April 8, 1795. The marriage itself was a disaster, but the wedding was magnificent. Jane would have read details of the wedding day in the newspaper.
As was the custom at the time for royal brides, Princess Caroline wore a gown of silver tissue and enough dazzling jewels to signal her and her home country’s wealth. Her gown was styled in the classic Georgian “sack-back.”
Her train was made of lace and ermine-lined velvet; and next to her heart, Caroline wore a painted miniature of her intended husband, the Prince of Wales.
The ceremony took place at night in the chapel at St. James Palace. Under the candlelight, Caroline’s gown must have glowed and sparkled.
On her way to the palace, Caroline drove through cheering crowds. After the ceremony, the mobs pressed close to the couple’s carriage to wish them joy in their life together—a wish that, unfortunately, did not come true.
A Royal Marriage in 1816
Jane Austen was forty years old when the next major royal wedding took place.
On May 2, 1816 Princess Charlotte—daughter of the aforementioned Princess Caroline and Prince George (and by then Prince Regent)—married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.
The ceremony was held in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, the Regent’s London residence.
Even though Jane didn’t attend the ceremony (she was probably at Chawton at the time), she had a special knowledge of the location because she had been a guest at Carlton House only five months before.
It was during Jane’s tour of the Prince Regent’s library at Carlton House in November 1815 that she received an invitation to dedicate a future work to the Prince Regent—an invitation she accepted. Her 1816 novel Emma includes a proper dedication to the Prince at the front of the book.
No doubt Jane Austen read the newspaper articles about the royal wedding of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold.
The newspapers were filled with accounts of the day, including descriptions of the crowds that gathered outside St. James’s Palace, hoping for a glimpse of the royal bride or groom on their way to the ceremony:
The crowds showed particular affection for Prince Leopold. The Times described how the crowds of people cheered for him, and thronged about his carriage, impeding his progress. The crowd even tried to free his horses and pull the prince’s carriage to Carlton House themselves.
Prince Leopold endured their enthusiasm with patience and indulgent good humor.
Naturally, newspapers described Princess Charlotte’s wedding gown in great detail. Like her mother’s gown, Princess Charlotte’s dress was silver, and sparkled with her every move.
The May 1816 issue of La Belle Assembleé described the princess’ dress this way:
Her dress was silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament.
And like her mother before her, the princess wore a wealth of diamonds—in her necklace, at her wrists in bracelets, in earrings, and in diamond rosebuds arranged in her hair.
The Archbishop of Canterbury performed the ceremony, and as soon as it was complete, the happy couple kissed their family members good-bye, changed their clothes, and immediately set off, unchaperoned, to begin their married life together.
By today’s standards, those royal weddings were surprisingly simple. In our modern times we’ve come to expect British royal weddings to be magnificent in scope, with many nods to traditions and precedents.
Modern Royal Weddings
The first royal wedding I saw (on television, along with 750 million other viewers around the world) was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. I was enthralled by the pageantry.
I remember hearing the roar of the crowd when the bride arrived at the church and stepped from her glass-paneled carriage onto the pavement.
And I recall hearing the crowds cheer even louder when—inch by inch—Lady Diana’s attendants unfurled her incredibly long train as she slowly ascended the steps of the cathedral. It was one of many show-stopping moments that day.
The wedding itself was, as the Archbishop of Canterbury famously said:
“. . . the stuff of which fairy tales are made.”
I’ve been an ardent watcher of royal weddings ever since, including the story-book wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William in 2011.
I expect today’s wedding will have a little bit of the fairy tale magic, too. That’s why I’ll be among the millions of people watching when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle; and I’ll be watching when they exchange wedding vows, and leave the chapel for their reception.
The truth is, I enjoy watching that special brand of fairy tale the British royals are so adept at creating; it feeds the romantic streak in me, and inspires me to create stories with happily-ever-afters.
What about you? Will you be watching the royal wedding? If you have a favorite royal wedding moment, please share it!
Nancy Lawrence is the author of Mary and the Captain, a Pride and Prejudice continuation in which Miss Mary Bennet receives the romantic happily-ever-after she was always meant to have. Nancy’s next Jane Austen inspired novel will be released this summer.