It wouldn’t seem right if Kate and William married, for instance, in Buckingham Palace instead of Westminster Abbey. No processional, limited guest list, private ceremony off-limits to the press. But prior to George VI’s wedding to the late Queen Mother, royal weddings were held in private chapels.
In 1816, the heiress to the throne, adored by her countrymen, was wed in her father’s house, which did not, like royal palaces, have a chapel. It might have been a fatal error.
And the reason is one that is hauntingly familiar.
Acrimony among royals is a magnet for public fascination, then as now. Princess Charlotte’s parents waged a very public battle over their troubled marriage and the Prince Regent emerged from it little better than an object of derision. His subjects sided very much with his aggrieved wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and cast all their admiration and sympathy onto her daughter once her mother, the Princess of Wales, agreed to leave the country.
Charlotte’s father perhaps believed that holding the wedding at Carlton House would avoid the frenzy of a public processional to one of the royal palaces. But to no avail. Despite the arrangements he made, the people insisted on participating in the wedding of their princess.
The following is a contemporary description from the 1816 issue of the Asiatic Journal of the Princess’ attempt to get to her grandmother’s palace at Buckingham House to dress for the wedding:
“The Princess Charlotte of Wales, at 4 o’ clock, went in a carriage to the Queen’s Palace, and had the windows down to gratify the curiosity of the crowd in Pall-Mall, but they were found to be so extremely numerous, that the coachman could not with safety drive through them, he therefore returned, and went through the Park.”
At the time, the princess was living at Warwick House, a mean, tumble-down residence very near Carlton House on a dead-end lane. She could either drive down the public thoroughfare known as Pall Mall, or access Queen Charlotte’s palace via the gated St. James Park. Remember Kate and William in Edward VII’s carriage heading toward Buckingham Palace? That was the route Charlotte took. But in her time, St. James Park was off-limits to the public when the princess journeyed almost in secret up to Buckingham House.
Even her husband to be, Prince Leopold, had a scary moment just before when he was returning to the Duke of Clarence’s house, which was just across the way from the Duke of York’s house at the edge of the St. James Palace complex:
“His Serene Highness afterwards returned to Clarence House a little before half past three, when the crowd was so numerous, and the anxiety so great to see him, that the footman, in letting him out of the carriage, had nearly been pushed under it. A number of women and children were forced into Clarence House against their will, by the extreme pressure (of the crowd).”
However, the prince took matters in hand and asserted his leadership over the crowd soon after:
“In a few minutes after, his Serene Highness walked across to York House (now know as Lancaster House) when the crowd behaved extremely orderly, and at the request of a few attendants, formed a clear passage for him to pass through; they, however, loudly huzzaed him, and he bowed to the populace.”