Princess Charlotte's wedding
After 21 years without a royal wedding for an heir to the throne, the British public were both overjoyed and relieved to learn that their favourite Princess Charlotte had finally chosen her consort.
In January 1816, the Prince Regent gave his formal consent to the marriage in a Privy Council meeting. Charlotte’s trousseau (a collection of bridal linen and clothes) had already been assembled by her grandmother by the time the engagement was publicly announced.
The date for the long-awaited wedding was set for 4 April (although this date would be moved to 2 May due to the Prince Regent’s poor health). A London house and country residence suitable for the future monarchs of Britain had to be found. For the couple’s first season in London, Camelford House was deemed suitable if a little cramped. The majestic Claremont was purchased for the royal couple by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests for £69,000.
Shortly before the wedding, the Prince Regent made Leopold a General in the British Army to boost Leopold’s position from that of a lowly German princeling. The British public did not seem to mind his modest status, however; when Leopold arrived in London, he was greeted by cheering crowds lining the streets. The acclamations did not subside until the wedding ceremony, especially around Carlton House where Leopold was obliged to appear on the first floor balcony many times a day to appease the crowds.
The big day
On 2 May the public gathered around the royal residences and celebrated throughout the whole day. Before the wedding ceremony, Leopold arrived at Clarence House to host a small dinner and was nearly crushed by the crowds.
Unlike Leopold and the exuberant British public, Charlotte had a very quiet wedding day. In the morning she sat for Turnerelli, who was carving a bust of the princess. After a quick visit from Leopold and a family dinner with the Queen, Charlotte changed into her wedding dress. It consisted of a white and silver slip worn under a transparent dress covered with shells and bouquets, embroidered in silver lamé. To accessorise, she wore diamond jewellery including a necklace, bracelet, earrings and diamond rosebuds around her head. When she was ready Charlotte joined her grandmother, Aunt Augusta and Aunt Elizabeth in an open-top carriage to drive to Carlton House for the ceremony, which began at 9pm.
Leopold had a more difficult time getting to his wedding. An excitable mob crushed the prince and tried to unharness the horses from his coach in order to pull the carriage themselves. Despite the disturbance, Leopold arrived on time to Carlton House wearing his new British general’s uniform.
" First came a crowd of fair beholders
To bless and clap him on the shoulders,
Giving him many hearty smacks
And calling him a lad of wax,
Desiring him to use her well,
With other things I must not tell."
A large crowd of distinguished guests were present to witness the ceremony, including many of her uncles, aunts, great officers of state, ambassadors and members of her household. Notably, her mother Princess Caroline did not return to England for the ceremony; nor did her grandfather King George III, who was in the midst of a bout of madness. Even Charlotte’s best friend Mercer Elphinstone missed the wedding due to illness.
The ceremony took place in the crimson drawing room of Carlton House and was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, with crimson velvet cushions and a prayer book from the Royal Chapel at St James' Palace.
The ceremony lasted around 25 minutes. Once the couple’s health had been drunk to, Charlotte embraced her father, shook her uncles’ hands, kissed her aunts and grandmother and then changed out of her wedding dress. Without further ado the newlyweds departed unchaperoned for their honeymoon at Oatlands before starting their life together as "The Coburgs".
A typical Regency wedding
Charlotte’s wedding ceremony might seem discreet for an heir to the throne, especially compared to weddings of current royals. But weddings in the Georgian and Regency period were different to the extravagant events we expect today.
In the eighteenth century it was very unusual to invite anyone outside of the engaged couple's immediate family. If the couple did have a church ceremony, it was performed before midday and then there might have been a small party, possibly with entertainment, but it was also common for couples to begin their honeymoon as soon as they left the church. Although a bride may have made a dress for her wedding, it was quite normal to wear the dress on multiple occasions after the ceremony. In contrast to a normal Regency wedding, Princess Charlotte’s short ceremony seems very grand.