Friday, February 01, 2008

10Mar1863, The Wedding of the Prince of Wales

LONDON, Tuesday, March 10th, 1863.
—The great day of the Prince of Wales' marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. I must try and put down a detailed account, for of course this day has been one in a thousand, and it can hardly be that one life-time should include another pageant so great, magnificent, and stately, combined as it is in this case with so much that is true and beautiful and deeply moving. In short, a pageant with inward as well as outward beauty ! Agnes and her sisters, Toney Gladstone and I, got excellent places in the nave of S. George's Chapel, after some difficulties on the way. The seats in the nave, when we came in, were not half filled ; but by the end of the two hours that we waited, every place was taken. I can't describe the glowing effect of the tiers of bright colour, immensely heightened by the uniformed grandees that kept passing through, the Beefeaters and gold-encrusted trumpeters, and the heralds in their tabards, which are only worn when the Sovereign is present at great State occasions. From time to time gorgeous duchesses, etc., every one in full Court dress (except the train) and diamonds, passed down the nave ; but only to look about them, as they had seats in the choir. About 11½ the Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the officiating Bishops and clergy, of whom the Bishop of Oxford and the Dean of Windsor were in robes of the Order of the Garter, passed into the choir by the N. transept door and later all the Knights of the Garter, in their splendid blue velvet robes. But all this was only preparing one ! Abt 12½ the Danish Prince and Princesses and suite went up the nave into the choir ; and very soon after we heard " God save the Queen," faintly, but quite audibly, played over and over again outside the Chapel, and in the middle of its glorious music, which always overcomes me with its pride and pathos—a burst of cheers. That went through me, somehow, most of all. Then there was a silence of expectation, till the band quickly formed at the W. door, and the 1st procession came in, preceded by the drums and trumpets. This was all the Royal family : the Princess of Prussia, leading her little son, Prince William ; Princess Louis of Hesse, their husbands, Princesses Helena, Louise and Beatrice, and Princes Arthur and Leopold ; Prince Alfred, alas ! kept away by his illness, which he had not quite recovered. All looked graceful and Royal indeed ! Princess Royal become exactly like the Queen, whom in a manner she represented. She looked a little sad, and was the one who cried most during the Service. Princess Alice looked wonderfully well, though her confinement is to be next month : both the younger ones grown pretty, with their fair bright faces, and the tiny one of all, though small and white, very winning and darling. After these had disappeared into the choir, the Lord Chamberlain, preceded by the heralds, left the Chapel, to bring the bridegroom. And very soon after, the trumpets and drums again sounded joyously, the officers of the Prince's household marched in, all glittering in uniform, and then ! as the trumpets filed off into the transepts, and the organ pealed, the Prince of Wales, in the robes of the Order of the Garter, entered the nave ; the blue velvet cloak giving height and dignity to his figure ; his face a little pale, but bright, gentle, and gracious, in its youth and happiness : his bows right and left full of royal grace, his whole manner beautiful and regal. When this procession had passed, the Lord Chamberlain again went out, and this time the clang of the trumpets was followed by the organ and orchestra thundering out the " Wedding March " in Athalie ; and the Bride whom all England was greeting, and for whom the prayers of millions were going up ; our pride and hope ; in all the beauty of her youth, her sweet face bent down, her small head crowned with orange-flower, her step queenly, and her whole look the perfection of maiden grace, entered the nave. Her white train was carried by eight bridesmaids, daughters of the Dukes of Buccleuch and St. Albans, and of Lords Westminster, Elgin, Listowel, Hardwicke, Cawdor, Clarendon, Mount-Edgcumbe and Cowley. 2 of these are in by mistake : which I don't know. And now the Service began, the Archbishop's sonorous voice was so clear, that, having prayer-books, Agnes and I were able to follow it all ; and wonderfully striking it was to hear the simple solemn words, which bless quiet marriages in little country churches, spoken here in the face of all the splendour and pomp of England, and addressed to these two descendants of kings. I know this is a trite thought, but it is a grand one ; and may one not hope that in many hearts it awoke the earnest longing prayer that the King of Kings, thus acknowledged, would pour down upon them the blessing without which vain and false indeed would be all this rejoicing and all our loyal hopes. A beautiful solemn chorale of the Prince Consort's was sung, Jenny Lind's glorious notes ringing above all, and the Deus Misereatur chanted. And the Service ended with the great blessing : " The Peace of God . . ." Then followed a short pause, while the joyful bells chimed, and the guns fired from the Castle. The first was fired immediately after their hands were joined. And now all in the nave rose, while the " Mount of Olives " Hallelujah burst from the orchestra, and the Prince and Princess of Wales, this time heading the procession, left the choir, followed by the whole gorgeous array. Both looked less agitated ; the Princess ventured to raise her eyes, and the beaming, proud happiness on the Prince's face was a joy to see. All this was what we in the nave saw ; but ah me ! what it must have been to have been in the choir ! All agree in saying that the Prince's manner, in the trying minutes that he had to wait alone at the altar, was perfect in its simple, unaffected seriousness. The solemn and most moving point in all the ceremony was the presence of the Queen, who took no public part, but sat in her place (visible to all in the choir) at the N. of the altar, in her widow's weeds. To her the Prince looked up as soon as he reached the altar, and she seemed to bless and pray for them. She bore up through all, crying only very little, though it must have filled her with mournful memories and sad yearnings ; for oh, it would have been a day without a cloud, if his presence had been there ! As it was, the sight of her, around whom all centres, the head and Queen of it all, in her deep sorrow and loneliness, cast a heavy shadow over the sunny hope and joy. May the marriage only be to her a blessed source of cheering and comfort, that her evening time may be light !
The Bride trembled extremely at first, but was heard giving her troth in a clear childlike voice, with a slightly foreign accent. The Prince's " I will " was distinct and emphatic. The Queen knelt, burying her face in her hands, during the concluding blessing. And so—it was over ! Oh that our prayers may prevail ! that Thou wouldst indeed bless them !
Granny had the honour of being with the Queen.
From 8½ to 3½ in the morning Atie. Pussy, Miss Gladstone, Mrs. Talbot, John, Edward, and I, were struggling through the mighty crowds, seeing the illuminations, in a great van. We cd not get into the City, and so failed to see S. Paul's, which was illuminated, but it proved a failure. We saw the W. end illuminations well, but it wasn't worth the hours of jam and wedge. A great sight, however, for never was such universal and vehement rejoicing : millions of excited people, all wonderfully good humoured and well behaved. The Talbots got home abt 3, walking from Waterloo Bridge, where we came to a hopeless stick, but finally got home by the Strand. What an endless acct ! and yet I have not mentioned half, either of facts or feelings. Bright sunny weather till late. Fine night.