This year marks the 200th anniversary of the births of both Queen Victoria (24th May) and Prince Albert (26th August) and, in celebration, we’re running a special series on London locations that played a key role in their joint lives.
First up is the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where the royal couple were married on 10th February, 1840. It was the first marriage of a reigning queen since Queen Mary I in 1554.
The chapel, which hosted the christening of Prince George in 2013 and Prince Louis in 2018, was built in about 1540 and substantially altered since, including under the eye of Sir Robert Smirke in 1837. It was built on a north-south axis rather than the more usual east-west (a sizeable window on its northern wall can be seen to the right of the palace’s main gatehouse – see picture).
The chapel, which features a richly decorate ceiling said to have been painted by Holbein, has been used regularly by the Chapel Royal – a department of Royal Household – since 1702.
At the wedding, the Queen wore a white satin gown with a deep flounce of handmade Honiton lace, designed by William Dyce, which featured a long veil and an 18 foot long train (she had 12 train bearers). Her jewellery included a sapphire broach given to her by Albert and she wore a headress of orange blossoms. Victoria’s dress is said by some to have popularised the idea of the white wedding dress among the English (although there is apparently some debate over this).
Among those in attendance was Victoria’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent and Strathearn, Albert’s father and brother, the Duke and Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha respectively, and various other royals including Queen Adelaide, the widow of King William IV, as well as the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (who, in fact, carried the Sword of State). Given the fact Victoria’s father was dead, it was her uncle, the Duke of Sussex, who walked her up the aisle.
It was a big affair in the city – people lined the roads between Buckingham and St James’s palaces and some reportedly even climbed trees for a better view. Victoria wrote in her diary that she’d never seen such crowds “and they cheered most enthusiastically”.
The wedding breakfast, which featured a 300lb cake which was nine foot in circumference, was held at Buckingham Palace after which the newly weds headed off to Windsor for a two day honeymoon.
Famously, before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury had apparently asked Victoria whether, given she was Queen, she wanted to remove the word “obey” from her wedding vows. Victoria had refused.
There are limited opportunities for the public to attend services in the Chapel Royal at certain times of the year.