Four Weddings and a Coronation
During its one thousand year history, and various royal marriages, only four actual monarchs, or future monarchs, have married at Westminster Abbey. As heir to the throne, Prince William of Wales’s marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011 is the fifth.
The first royal wedding at the Abbey was between King Henry I and Matilda (formerly Edith), daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, on 11th November 1100 (that’s 11/11/11 in case you hadn’t noticed). A strategic marriage, between the new French Norman dynasty in England and an established Scottish crown, to be sure.
Most importantly, Matilda was the great-grand daughter of Edmond Ironside (who was also half brother to Edward the Confessor, last Anglo-Saxon king of the house of Wessex). It’s from this union of Henry to Matilda that Prince William of Wales himself can draw a direct line of decent from Alfred the Great.
The second monarch to marry at the Abbey was King Richard II (of Peasants Revolt fame) who married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles V of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, on 20th January 1382. Another strategic marriage, Bohemia was seen as an anti-French bulwark during the 100 Years War. Anne died in 1394 leaving no heir.
A 500 year gap occurred when no royal marriages took place at the Abbey. The third and fourth marriages of future monarch’s were therefore more modern, both in time and temperament. On 26th April 1923 Albert Duke of York married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Prince Albert became King George VI in 1936, on the abdication of his brother King Edward VIII.
King George and Queen Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, married her cousin Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN at the Abbey on 20th November 1947. Princess Elizabeth, as heir to the throne, became Queen Elizabeth II.
So far so interesting, if a little dry. Not so the Coronation of King George IV on the 19th July 1821, which like all Coronations took place at Westminster Abbey.
King George had an estranged legal wife, the Protestant Princess Caroline of Brunswick – whom he married whilst drunk in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace in April 1795, and an illegal wife, the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert – whom he loved and had married in a ‘void’ ceremony in December 1785.
The new Queen Caroline was not invited to the Coronation. But that didn’t stop her, she came anyway. She was first turned away at the door of the East Cloister, then again at the entrance to the West Cloister – all this in public mind you. She then attempted to inveigle her way in by trying to mingle with the invited guests in Westminster Hall. To block her way in the guards held bayonets to her chin. Finally, at Poets Corner door she was persuaded to leave. Apart from that, the Coronation was quite uneventful.