How much planning and work goes into a picture-perfect royal event? From creating a balanced guest list that won’t offend any allies to enlisting local law enforcement to control the crowds and hiring a battalion of designers and decorators, there is much to be organized.
Queen Victoria’s wedding cake weighed hundreds of pounds and was three yards wide; a 25-foot train was created for Princess Diana’s wedding dress; and Prince William and Kate Middleton spent $1.1 million on flowers alone.
For Queen Elizabeth, however, the 2,000-person guest list and extravagant plans for her wedding day had some people more nervous than excited. The post-war atmosphere in Britain had many observers worried about the cost of such an event. However, the global buzz surrounding the day helped stir people across the world to pitch in for what would become known as “the people’s wedding.”
Here’s an inside look at what went into pulling off one of the most elaborate weddings in history, the 1947 wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Then-princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip announced their engagement on July 9, 1947, giving them just four months to plan their wedding. They first met at another royal wedding, of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark to Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1934.
Designer Norman Hartnell’s bridal gown submission was chosen from many applicants but not approved until mid-August, giving him less than three months to complete the extravagant design. He also designed the bridesmaid dresses.
The rationing rules that followed World War II still applied to the princess herself. In order to complete her dress, including a 15-foot train that attached at the shoulders, and those of her eight bridesmaids, then-Princess Elizabeth needed to pay with clothing rationing coupons.
The dress was made from duchesse satin, ordered from the firm of Wintherthur in Scotland, produced at the Lullingstone Castle in Kent and woven by Warner & Sons. The final dress was decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls, imported from the U.S.
Elizabeth wore satin head to toe. Her shoes were made by Edward Rayne, accented with silver and seed pearl buckles.
The official wedding cake, which was baked by McVitie and Price, went on to be nicknamed ‘The 10,000 Mile Cake’ because the ingredients used to make it came in from all around the world. The cake was made with British flour and granulated sugar, demerara sugar from Trinidad, butter, almonds and frozen eggs from Australia, and syrup from Barbados.
These food parcels sent from the United States as wedding gifts were redistributed to British war widows.
The royal couple received over 2,500 wedding presents and around 10,000 telegrams of congratulations from around the world.
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Florist Martin Longman from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners was tasked with putting together the flowers for the bouquet. He kept the design a secret up until the day of the wedding, but followed a tradition started by Queen Victoria of including white orchids and a sprig of myrtle.
Their cake was adorned with the coat of arms of both families, including the monograms of the bride and groom, sugar-iced figures of their favorite activities, and regimental and naval badges.
The final result was a towering nine-foot-tall cake.
There were a total of 91 singers for the wedding day. The organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, William Neil McKie, was the music director for the wedding. McKie composed an original motet (a vocal musical composition) for the occasion: “We wait for thy loving kindness, O God.”
Queen Elizabeth was taken to Westminster Abbey in the Irish State Coach accompanied by her father, King George VI. She was the 10th member of the Royal Family to be wed there.
2,000 guests were invited to the ceremony, with many more spectators filling the streets of to watch the princess and her father pass. The wedding began at 10:30 a.m. on November 20, 1947.
Anticipating the crowds, one girl prepares with her own invention to get a better view.
Others used periscopes and other mirrored contraptions to see over the masses.
Many police were on call to hold back the crowds outside of Buckingham Palace. It’s estimated that 2 million people flooded the streets the morning of the wedding.
The ceremony was recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio, reaching 200 million people around the world.
As the newlywed royal couple went on to a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace after the service, people all over the world continued to celebrate, either in the crowded streets, around their home radios, or out at the pubs.