The love-match between Queen Victoria and Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was promoted by their mutual uncle, Leopold, King of the Belgians, and he arranged for the couple to meet for the first time in 1836. Victoria was very taken by Albert, recording in her diary how handsome and amiable he seemed, however she was not ready for marriage so no engagement was announced.
Albert and Victoria continued to correspond with each other during which time Victoria became queen, however when Albert visited in 1839, she realised she could no longer live without him and proposed to him on 15 October 1839.
The wedding took place on 10 February 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace and Victoria was walked down the aisle by her elderly uncle, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, while twelve young bridesmaids carried her 18ft train. After the ceremony, the couple returned to Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast before having a three day honeymoon at Windsor Castle.
Victoria wore a plain ivory satin gown which was overlaid with flounces of Honiton lace and was trimmed with sprigs of fresh orange flower blossom which was a symbol of fertility and chastity. The Honiton lace was made from a design specially created by William Dyce and it was destroyed afterwards so the design would always be unique to Victoria. The bodice had a low round neck; the sleeves were full and short gathered in at the elbow to create a double puff. Instead of wearing a tiara, the queen chose to wear a wreath of orange flower blossoms over the lace veil which matched the flounce on the dress.
The sapphire and diamond brooch was a gift from Albert which he presented the evening before her wedding. Albert was fond of designing jewellery and Victoria was the lucky recipient of many such pieces.
From a modern perspective, there is nothing really remarkable about the dress, however it caused a sensation in Victorian England as a white dress was an unusual choice for a bride, particularly a royal bride. Victoria was making a bold statement as her simple dress made her stand out from the crowd, but she was also unwittingly setting a trend whereby white wedding dresses would become synonymous with purity. The image of a virginal bride wearing white on her wedding day began to appear in popular literature and art after Victoria’s wedding.
Photography was still in its infancy when Queen Victoria got married, however she happily wore her wedding dress several times over the years to pose for a commemorative portrait or photograph. The original dress is also on display at Kensington Palace but the lace flounce was removed by the Queen to be used for other things and her veil was buried with her.