This was so much more cheering than those miserable Christmas episodes of Coronation Street and EastEnders. I don’t expect any better from EastEnders, but really, Corrie! So now we know all about Prince Albert’s bowel troubles, Queen Victoria’s underwear, the problems of finding the toilets at Westminster Abbey and Lord Melbourne’s opinions on how to lose weight. Seeing as the meat served at the wedding reception had been larded with bacon fat, it wasn’t really any wonder that advice on weight loss was required. And I’d thought this was going to be all about white dresses!
This was a mish-mash of a programme – dressmaking and cake-making interspersed with historical discussion and singing. And, being presented by Lucy Worsley, naturally it involved dressing up! The historical discussion was interesting, although nothing that hadn’t been said a million times before – the Kensington Palace system, the Lady Flora Hastings affair, etc etc etc. That wasn’t directly relevant to the wedding, but it was necessary in order to make the point that this needed to be a big PR success, to promote the popularity of the Royal Family. Incidentally, Lucy really should have known better than to refer to the Duchess of Kent as “the Queen Mother”, which she wasn’t, and to say that the marriage was supposed to promote international peace and closer Anglo-German ties – er, no, that was the marriage of Victoria and Albert’s daughter Vicky to the Crown Prince of Prussia, a generation later!
We were informed that the initial meeting of bride and groom wasn’t a great success. I’d always thought that this was because Albert was boring and not keen on dancing, but, according to this, Victoria thought he was too fat, and he was in a bad mood because he had diarrhoea. A bit TMI there. However, as we all know, the second meeting went better – although I’m not sure that I’d describe theirs as “the greatest royal love story of all time”. I think the Queen and Prince Philip could well claim that, actually.
Lord Melbourne was presented as the wedding planner. Lucy insisted that he was in love with Queen Victoria. A lot of people say that it was the other way round, and Victoria was in love with him. Who knows? Whatever the truth, they certainly had a very close relationship, and there was a poignant recreation of the scene in which he visited her after she’d changed into her going away outfit, and then off she went to start her new life with Albert. It was pointed out that someone needed to make a good job of planning the wedding, because the Coronation hadn’t gone very well. I’d heard the stories about the ring being shoved on the wrong finger and the elderly lord falling over umpteen times before, but I can’t say I knew that no-one had shown poor Victoria where the Westminster Abbey ladies’ loos were. You learn something new every day.
Seriously, whilst it was all a bit muddled, there were some interesting points and nuggets of information in there. It’s well-known that Queen Victoria set the fashion for wedding dresses to be white – although I don’t think the idea spread that widely across non-Anglophone countries until Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier – but I’d never really thought that much about how much she must have stood out in pure white. And it was genuinely lovely to hear about the importance of the commission to the British craftspeople who worked on the dress (not to mention the underwear), at a time of economic hardship. Interesting in a different way was the tale of how they couldn’t find twelve aristocratic bridesmaids who met Prince Albert’s condition of coming from families untouched by scandal, so Albert got overruled on that one!
Not much was known about the other details, so they had to improvise. Or guess! But, as they said, the music would probably have been Handel, incredibly popular at the time. Was there no order of service, giving the detail? Evidently not! And all that food! Service a la francaise, which I hate! Service a la russe is the way to go, if you’re an aristocrat – let someone serve you, rather than that incredibly annoying thing of having all the food on the table so that people keep mithering you to pass them this or that or the other. A cake which was 9 feet in circumference, so full of sugar and fruit that the pieces never went off, and loads of smaller cakes being sent out to friends and relatives and embassies.
I thought it was rather mean to go on about Victoria putting on weight. It presumably wasn’t a direct consequence of one meal, however lavish! But I was intrigued by the idea of her asking Lord Melbourne for advice about it. He apparently told her only to eat when she was hungry … and she said that she was always hungry. I have deep sympathy with the Hanoverians over their tendency towards weight gain. George IV apparently went through phases of not wanting to go out in case people laughed at him for being fat. Been there, done that! But the Queen asking the Prime Minister (or possibly the former Prime Minister, by then) for advice about weight issues? That’s different!
And the gossip! Who was invited to the wedding breakfast? Who wasn’t? Who got the best seats? Who didn’t get on with whom? Who’d fallen out? Fast forward to 2018 and nothing’s really changed. But it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding that really popularised the idea of a Royal Wedding being a national event, or even an international event. And it’s nice. In many ways, it’s been, to quote Queen (Queen the group, not the Queen, obviously), “a long hard year”. The two royal weddings, along with the World Cup, provided bright spots and a wonderful feelgood factor. And Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding did that as well.