On this day - 10th Feb 1840: Queen Victoria married Prince Albert

Today 175 years ago Queen Victoria married her dashing cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. (I know the cousin thing seems a bit weird but they were really into that back then. Stopped any outsiders getting, well, in.) Their wedding in 1840 was a stunning affair and shaped generations of weddings to come. In fact, it was not so much about THAT wedding as about THAT dress.  For her special day Victoria cast off her ermine and her robes of state and opted instead for a radiant but simple gown of white satin. You note I said simple, not cheap - she didn’t descend to being painted with a bacon roll a la Miliband. Far from being cheap, her lace was actually rumoured to have cost over ten times what the average labourer earned in a year. However, hefty price tag or not, the symbolism was lovely. For one day she wasn’t just a Queen. She said her vows as women up and down the country did, as a bride. A pure and adoring bride. Wearing a white dress for a wedding was not totally new but Victoria was the first Queen to fully embrace the image of the bride dressed in white. From that moment on we were hooked and we haven't looked back yet. 


Queen Victoria in her wedding dress. Painted for her husband Prince Albert for their anniversary.

Painted - 1847 Image: Franz Xaver Winterhalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This wedding was a significant moment for Victoria. As a woman, social convention required her to reside with her parents until marriage, presumably to prevent any scandalous impropriety. These were racy times, even the glimpse of a bare ankle could send men’s ahem ‘hearts’ a flutter. Although this seemed very sensible - I mean who wouldn’t want their ankles parentally censored until they had a husband to appreciate them? - there was just one wee snag with this arrangement. With Papa dearly departed, Victoria was left with her darling Mamma, whom she despised. Unusually for teenage daughters who despise their mothers, Victoria had a pretty good reason… 

Together with her ally and possible lover (bit naughty) Conroy, Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent, devised ’The Kensington System’ and ruled Victoria’s childhood with an iron fist. Just as an aside, I LOVE Conroy’s name. If ever a name was perfectly designed for a man, it was Conroy. It’s so just so hard and severe and efficient. It’s almost chilling, feels a bit Fifty Shades. Anyway back to story: the Kensington System was thorough and relentless. It was designed to diminish Victoria totally so they could rule through her. She was allowed no real contact with the outside world for starters. No time was unsupervised and lessons were carefully restricted incase she stumbled upon anything unsuitable (ankles again?). It was essentially Net Nanny with knobs on…

Victoria’s uncle, King William IV, frequently complained about it to the Duchess. He saw her pretence at maternal protection as the mask it was. Conroy and the Duchess were determined to rule as regents if Victoria became Queen before she was eighteen. To thwart them the King swore to their faces (drama drama!) to live until Victoria’s eighteenth birthday. A proper ‘I’ll do it if it kills me’ act. Unfortunately for him it did kill him and less than a month after she turned eighteen Victoria was Queen. Freedom beckoned. One of her first acts as Queen was to have her bed moved out of her mother’s room. Never has the argument ‘I just need some space’ been so appropriate. Marriage to Albert cemented her freedom and Victoria kicked her mother out of the Palace as soon as the deed was done. Thankfully, Albert’s devotion ensured that she did not exchange one oppressor for another and he supported her in her rule for the rest of his life. After Albert’s early death, Victoria retreated from public life wearing only black until her own death forty years later. Once again she was not just a Queen but a wife who was now, tragically, incomplete.

Together in life Albert and Victoria were passionate in their support of social reform. Albert was particularly vocal about this, frequently adhering to his belief that those blessed with fortune and power must make it their duty to aid the less fortunate. Words still so applicable today if only they were heeded. The wedding, 175 years ago became therefore, not only a marriage which brought great happiness to the couple and release for Victoria, but a marriage that tempered the ambition of politicians and money makers. They fought for the powerless and left a legacy which will be remembered for many generations to come and not just of white wedding dresses. 

© Isla Robertson 2017