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Detail from a portrait of the marriage of Princess Helena

The history of Royal weddings as seen through items in the Royal Collection

Wedding flowers

Pair of brooches in the form of a sprig of orange blossom with gold leaves and white porcelain flowers; one in a green leather box mounted with plaque, engraved with inscription: Sent to me/ by dear Albert/ from Wiesbaden/ Novr. 1839.  
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Pair of brooches from the orange blossom parure ©

The origin of floral bouquets at weddings dates back to ancient Rome. Flowers were a common decoration at Roman weddings because they were known as symbols of new beginnings, fidelity, and fertility.

Over time different plants and flowers rose into, and fell out of fashion. 

Orange blossom became a popular feature for brides on their wedding day. The language of flowers (floriography) was popular in the Victorian era, with orange blossom's symbolic meaning being linked to chastity.

One of the first gifts Prince Albert sent to his fiancée in November 1839 was a gold and porcelain brooch. It takes the form of a sprig of orange blossom. The letter with the gift said "May you think with love of your faithful Albert when you take it into your hand". Queen Victoria had a plaque added to the box the brooch arrived in.

Winterhalter was born in the Black Forest where he was encouraged to draw at school. In 1818 he went to Freiburg to study under Karl Ludwig Schüler and then moved to Munich in 1823, where he attended the Academy and studied under Josef Stieler, a fashion

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ©

For her wedding a few months later, the Queen wore a headdress made of real orange blossoms, and her silk satin dress was trimmed with Honiton lace and more orange blossom flowers. The couple married on 10 February 1840, in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace.

Throughout their marriage, the couple gave each other gifts, and many of the gifts from Prince Albert to his wife were associated with orange blossom. In December 1845 he presented her with a second orange blossom brooch and matching earings, and on their sixth wedding anniversary in 1846, he went further. The Prince gave a headdress made of gold leaves, white porcelain flowers and green enamelled oranges to mirror the real flower headdress Victoria wore on her wedding day. The four green oranges represent their four eldest children.

Headdress in the form of a wreath of orange blossoms with gold leaves, white porcelain flowers and green enamelled oranges. Black plaited velvet band, and silk ribbon.
Within the language of flowers, one remarkably consistent usage was the symbolic meani

Headdress from the orange blossom parure ©

The Queen was delighted with it, and wrote: "it is such a lovely wreath and such a dear kind thought of Albert's".

She went on to wear parts of the jewellery set at every anniversary while Prince Albert was alive. (He died a few months before their 22nd anniversary).

Another royal flower tradition that stems from Victoria and Albert is that of the myrtle sprig, included in the bouqet of every royal bride since the 1850s. The sprig comes from a bush grown at Osborne House from a cutting brought from his home in Coburg by Prince Albert.

A twentieth century tradition has grown that the bride's bouquet is placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, at Westminster Abbey. This was first done by the future Queen Elizabeth, before her marriage to King George VI in 1923, to honour her brother, who had died in the First World War.