A Much Anticipated Wedding

The final count-down has begun! In less than a week American Meghan Markle will marry Britain’s Prince Harry, and I plan to spend the day watching every possible moment of TV coverage from the comfort of my home.

Royal marriages don’t come along every day; neither do royal marriages involving a bride and groom who love each other.

The last major royal wedding was in 2011 when Catherine Middleton wed Prince William.

That may seem like a strange thing to say in our modern times, but even modern British Royals didn’t always marry for love.

When it comes to choosing a spouse, the British Royal Family has to adhere to the pesky rules contained in the Royal Marriage Act of 1772. Instituted by George III after he was angered by his own brother’s ill-judged marriage, the Act decreed that no member of the Royal Family could marry without the reigning monarch’s approval. Those who defied the law risked losing his or her place in the line of succession. The Act even criminalized officiating at or attending an unsanctioned royal wedding.

George III

It didn’t take long for the King George’s eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, to defy his father (out of habit, probably, as he defied his father in many other ways, as well). Just thirteen years after The Act became law, the Prince of Wales secretly married the object of his affection, Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic.

George IV, when he was Prince of Wales

Not only did the Prince of Wales violate the Royal Marriage Act by marrying Mrs. Fitzherbert without his father’s permission, he also violated the Act of Settlement of 1701, which forbade Royal marriages to “papists.” Eventually, their marriage was ruled to be invalid and the Prince of Wales later married Caroline of Brunswick. Theirs was a loveless marriage that proved to be a disaster.

Maria Fitzherbert

History records only one other instance of a British monarch refusing to grant a family member’s petition to marry. It happened in 1946 when King George VI refused to grant a cousin, Prince George William of Hanover, permission to marry Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark. The couple married anyway.

Unofficially, Queen Elizabeth II had to withhold her permission in 1955 when her younger sister, Princess Margaret, wanted to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. After pressure from Parliament that included a threat to strip her of her income and royal privileges, Margaret ended her relationship with Captain Townsend, relieving the Queen of having to decide whether or not to approve their marriage. Princess Margaret married, instead, Anthony Snowdon; they divorced in 1978.

Captain Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret

Interestingly, in 1936, when King Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, the Royal Marriage Act didn’t apply to him. He was the reigning monarch, and had the ability to give himself permission to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson. Their love-match lasted 35 years, but it cost him the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly Edward VII and Wallis Warfield Simpson

In the generations since then, the Royal Family has taken great steps forward to keep up with the times. Although the rule is still in effect that prohibits Royals in line for the succession from marrying Catholics, The Royal Marriage Act was repealed in 2015.

That paved the way for this Saturday’s royal wedding, since Meghan Markle is a divorced woman.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Queen Elizabeth has already issued an official Instrument of Consent, which formally declares her approval in writing of their marriage.

The Instrument of Consent, signed by Queen Elizabeth

So the scene is set, the paperwork has been filed, the dress and the cake have been ordered, and the guests have been invited. All that’s left is for Meghan Markle to walk down the aisle and exchange wedding vows with her prince.

I plan to watch every moment of television coverage, from sun up to sun down. I’ll also be sharing more about royal weddings on the Austen Authors blog on Saturday so please join me!

When a Prince Turns 21

The Prince Regent, about 1790

The Prince Regent, about 1790

I have a friend whose daughter will turn 21 in about a month. They’re busily planning multiple parties: one for said daughter and her friends, and a second party for the family to celebrate the event together. With all the talk about pub crawls, trips to Las Vegas, and what kind of cake goes well with Champagne, I started to wonder how people during the Regency period celebrated birthdays.

To a large extent, turning 21 was just as much of a landmark event during the Regency as it is today. It was a milestone that marked an age when a person became truly independent and was old enough to make life-altering decisions. That was true, for the most part, for the Prince of Wales.

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

The future King George IV was born on August 12, 1762. To an American like me, the particulars of his birth are interesting because of the number of people involved. In those days, Queens of England gave birth to a room full of witnesses. From accounts at the time, the following people were either in Queen Charlotte’s bedchamber or in the room adjoining it with the door open between:

  • The Princess Dowager of Wales
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • The Duke of Devonshire
  • The Duke of Rutland
  • The Lords Hardwicke, Huntingdon, Talbot, Halifax, Bute, Masham and Cantalupe
  • All the ladies of the bedchamber
  • The maids of honor

The only doctor present did not attend the queen. Instead, he remained in the adjoining room so he could attend to any of the witnesses who felt queasy. The future king was delivered by a midwife named Mrs. Stephen.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales

When the prince turned 21 in 1783, he had no official celebration. As it happened, the Prince’s mother, Queen Charlotte, had recently given birth to her fifteenth child; so while the King and the rest of the family congratulated the Prince in private (very heartily, I’m sure), there wasn’t a public commemoration.

So the Prince of Wales turned to his friends to help him celebrate, and they didn’t disappoint him. They joined together at the White Hart Tavern in Windsor. “A large turtle, of the enormous size of four hundred weight, was killed on the occasion, being a present sent to the Prince from the East Indies.” (Yes, you read that right. He killed his present and ate it. I wonder if that’s what the people of East Indies had in mind when they gave it to him?)

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern is similar to the White Hart in Windsor where the Prince celebrated his birthday.

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern
is similar to the one the Prince frequented.

One account of the party hints that not all the guests had the Prince’s best interests in mind. In his book The Private Life of a King, John Banvard wrote:

Deeply did every real friend of the Prince lament that of a pernicious class some had obtained an entire ascendancy over his ingenuous mind; and that, whilst they hailed his independence with hollow congratulations, they dreaded nothing so much as for his spirit to become as independent as his circumstances, and his opinions to disdain the restraint which his person had shaken off.

In other words, John Banvard believed the Prince hung out that night with a bad crowd. There were people at his party that would have a negative influence over the prince in months and years to come; but for one night, at least, the Prince of Wales drank wine, ate turtle and partied like he just turned twenty-one.