20 Facts About Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's Wedding

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

When you hear the term "royal wedding," Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer might be the first couples who spring to mind. But what about Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's big day?

While the couple recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary, their romance was far from a fairytale. Elizabeth's family wasn't thrilled with the pairing, and Philip's German heritage meant that he couldn't invite his sisters to attend. There was drama, and romance, and gifts galore—not to mention one ill-timed broken tiara. Read on for all the royally fascinating details about Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's wedding.

1. THE COUPLE MET AT ANOTHER ROYAL WEDDING.

Weddings are known as a great place to meet potential mates, and Elizabeth and Philip prove that, though it would take more than 10 years for them to get together. Which is for the best, as (then-Princess) Elizabeth was only 8 years old when she first met Philip at the 1934 wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip's cousin) to Prince George, Duke of Kent (Elizabeth's uncle). The two, who are distant cousins, met again in 1939, and began a kind of courtship via written correspondence (the 1930s equivalent of texting).

2. HE POPPED THE QUESTION AT BALMORAL CASTLE.

The exterior of Balmoral Castle
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The couple didn't get to see much of each other during World War II, as Philip was a Royal Navy officer. In 1946, Philip was back in London and a regular visitor to Buckingham Palace. That same year, while spending a month at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, Philip proposed to Elizabeth—who happily, and immediately, accepted.

3. THEY KEPT THEIR ENGAGEMENT A SECRET FOR A WHILE.

Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and her Fiance Philip Mountbatten (also the Duke of Edinburgh) pose in the Buckingham Palace on July 09, 1947 in London, the day their engagement was officially announced.
AFP/Getty Images

While Elizabeth was quick to accept Philip's marriage proposal, that's not the way that royal marriages work. Elizabeth's parents—her father, the King, in particular—should have been consulted. When he learned of his daughter's plans, he agreed to let the marriage go forward—but only if the couple waited until after her 21st birthday to announce their engagement. They agreed. On July 9, 1947, the official public announcement was made. And the couple tied the knot on November 20, 1947, just over four months later.

4. ELIZABETH'S FATHER WAS NOT THRILLED ABOUT HER CHOICE OF MATE.

 From left to right, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth, King George VI, and Princess Margaret Rose wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace August 15, 1945 on VJ Day in London, England
Getty Images

Though they eventually came around, Elizabeth's parents were not overjoyed by her relationship with Philip. "Despite Philip's British background and his fine war record, George VI was deeply worried about how British opinion, particularly its left wing, would take to a Greek Prince as the husband of the heiress presumptive," according to a 1957 article in TIME Magazine. "There was also something about his daughter's brash young man with his loud, boisterous laugh and his blunt, seagoing manners that irritated the gentle King. Besides, the fellow couldn't shoot."

Shooting prowess aside, it was obvious that Elizabeth had no plans of backing down—or out. At the King's request, Lord Louis Mountbatten (Philip's uncle) began quietly sussing out what the public's opinion of the match might be. When a poll in the Sunday Pictorial (now the Sunday Mirror) showed that 64 percent of its readership was rooting for the couple, Elizabeth finally got her way.

It's worth noting that those in the direct line of succession to the throne must receive permission to marry from the reigning monarch. So if Elizabeth and Philip had not received her dad's blessing, their love story could have had a much different ending.

5. THEY WERE TOLD TO KEEP IT LOW-KEY.

 The title page of a bible dedicated to Princess Elizabeth to commemorate her marriage to Lietenant Phillip Mountbatten. A gift from the Young Women's Catholic Association of Great Britain
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Given that the country was just emerging from World War II, many political insiders took it upon themselves to warn King George VI that it was important for the morale of England that the young couple keep it simple. According to David Kynaston's Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, the King was told that, "Any banqueting and display at your daughter's wedding will be an insult to the British people at the present time … and we would consider that you would be well advised to order a very quiet wedding in keeping with the times."

6. HER WEDDING DRESS WAS INSPIRED BY A FAMOUS BOTTICELLI PAINTING.

Sir Norman Hartnell had the honor of designing Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown, and he took his inspiration from Primavera, a large panel, 15th-century work by famed Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Specifically, according to the Royal Trust Collection, he believed that it symbolized "rebirth and growth after the war."

Hartnell's design for the dress was not approved until the middle of August, giving him less than three months to complete the dress, which was made of ivory silk and decked out with crystals and 10,000 carefully curated seed pearls.

7. SHE PAID FOR HER DRESS WITH RATION COUPONS.

A sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell
Central Press/Getty Images

In the wake of World War II, severe rationing measures were in effect, which included clothing. And no exceptions were being made—not even for future queens. So Elizabeth, like so many other brides at the time, had to save up her ration cards in order to purchase the fabric required to create her dress. When the public caught wind of this, hundreds of people from around the country sent their own ration cards to the princess in order to pay for the material. (While she appreciated the gesture, it would have been illegal for her to use them, so she had to return them all.)

8. PHILIP DESIGNED THE RING WITH HIS MOTHER'S DIAMONDS.

A jeweler measures a diamond
iStock

Though Philip Antrobus is the official jeweler responsible for the Queen's platinum engagement ring, Prince Philip had a prominent hand in its design. And the ring—a 3-carat round diamond stunner surrounded by 10 smaller pave diamonds—came with a very personal connection: the diamonds came from the tiara that Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, wore on her wedding day (a gift from Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia). There were enough diamonds left over that the ring came with a matching bracelet, which Philip gave to Elizabeth as a wedding gift.

9. ELIZABETH HAD A LAST-MINUTE TIARA MALFUNCTION.

 Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, is displayed at the 'Royal Wedding: 20 Novermber 1957' exhibition at Buckingham Palace on July 27, 2007 in London
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

Speaking of tiaras: the one that Elizabeth wore on her wedding day belonged to her mother and was known as Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara. With its 47 distinctive diamond bars, it's perhaps one of the world's most famous tiaras. It was designed in 1919 by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard & Co. using the diamonds from a fringe necklace Mary had received as a wedding gift from Queen Victoria. (Those royals sure do know how to recycle their fancy jewelry.) It's a versatile piece, too: the fringe can be removed from the frame and worn as a necklace. That proved to be a bit of a blessing on Princess Elizabeth's wedding day when the frame of the tiara snapped as she was putting it on. Fortunately, the court jeweler was standing right there in case of just such an emergency.

10. PHILIP HAD TWO STAG PARTIES.

Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, prior to his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, talking to a group of Naval officers on his return to Royal Navy duties, at the Petty Officers Training Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, July 31st 1947
Douglas Miller, Keystone/Getty Images

While the couple agreed to keep the ceremony itself as low-key as possible, Philip's stag party was another story. The night before the wedding, Philip hosted a bachelor party at London's Dorchester Club … with media in attendance.

"An eager press had been invited, but it was meant to observe the protocol of the day, which respected the privacy of the royals," Claire Stewart wrote in As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts. "The prince's group must have been having some kind of fun, because eventually the flash bulbs of the journalists' cameras were torn off and stamped on the ground, with the groom's party moving on to the closed doors of the Belfry Club."

11. THERE WERE LOTS OF TITLE CHANGES JUST BEFORE THE CEREMONY.

Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain and her husband Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, pose during their honeymoon, 25 November 1947 in Broadlands estate, Hampshire
AFP/Getty Images

There are certain rules that are required for marrying into the royal family, many of them set by the Act of Settlement, 1701. As a result, Philip had a bit of work to do before the wedding: in addition to renouncing his Greek and Danish titles, he took on the surname of his (British) mother's family. He was also required to convert from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism. King George made it worth his while though: the day before the wedding, he bestowed the "His Royal Highness" address styling on Philip. On the morning of their wedding, he gave him a whole mouthful of other titles: Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich.

12. THEY WERE MARRIED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY.

London's Westminster Abbey
iStock

Elizabeth and Philip followed in the footsteps of her parents when they married at Westminster Abbey at 10:30 a.m. on November 20, 1947. Nearly a quarter-century before, on April 26, 1923, Elizabeth's parents—King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (then known as the Duke and Duchess of York)—also married at Westminster Abbey. Princess Elizabeth was the tenth member of the royal family to be wed at the Abbey.

13. SHE CARRIED MYRTLE IN HER BOUQUET, WHICH IS A ROYAL TRADITION.

 A recreation of the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding bouquet is photographed before it goes on display at Buckingham Palace during the annual summer opening on July 20, 2011 in London, England.
Lewis Whyld, WPA Pool/ Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth's white orchid bouquet also included a sprig of myrtle from the garden at Osborne House, a former royal residence on the Isle of Wight. It was a tradition that began with Queen Victoria and has carried on through the ages: Lady Diana Spencer's bouquet included a sprig of the Osborne House myrtle, as did Kate Middleton's (pictured). Another royal tradition that Elizabeth followed: the day after her wedding, her bouquet was sent back to Westminster Abbey, where it was laid atop the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

14. THERE WERE 2000 GUESTS IN ATTENDANCE.

Queen Elizabeth II (in coach) and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are cheered by the crowd after their wedding ceremony, on November 20, 1947, on their road to Buckingham Palace
AFP/Getty Images

While they tried to keep the lavishness to a minimum (there were few flowers or other shows of extravagance), the guest list was, in a word, enormous. There were 2000 guests invited to the ceremony, with plenty of royals from around the world in attendance including the King and Queen of Denmark, the King of Iraq, the Shah of Iran, and Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

15. THE DUKE OF WINDSOR (A.K.A. KING EDWARD VIII) WAS NOT ON THE GUEST LIST.

Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor
Central Press/Getty Images

There's a lot of politics that go into who makes the cut for the guest list of any wedding, but Philip and Elizabeth had even more challenges to muddle through. Because the couple married so soon after World War II, it was deemed unacceptable for any of Philip's German relatives to be a part of the big day, which meant that he couldn't invite his three surviving sisters who had all married German princes. Also conveniently left off the guest list? George's brother, The Duke of Windsor, a.k.a. The Royal Formerly Known as King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, thus changing the line of succession and making Elizabeth the heir presumptive.

16. 200 MILLION PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD LISTENED TO THE CEREMONY.

Four men and women gather closely together while listening to their home radio console, 1930s
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While waking up early to watch the latest royal wedding may be the norm today (well, for as rarely as they occur), technology wasn't quite there at the time. Still, there was enough interest in the nuptials that more than 200 million people around the world listened to the couple exchange their vows via BBC Radio. Video footage of the event made its way into cinemas around the country shortly thereafter.

17. THEIR WEDDING CAKE WAS 9 FEET TALL.

A slice of a wedding fruitcake
iStock

In keeping with royal tradition, Elizabeth and Philip's wedding cake was a fruitcake that earned the nickname "The 10,000-Mile Wedding Cake" because its ingredients were sourced from around the world, including sugar from Australia's Girl Guides. That designation could have just as easily referred to the confection's height: the four-tiered cake was 9 feet tall and weighed in at 500 pounds. It was decorated with the arms of both families and featured the monograms of both the bride and groom. In 2015, a 68-year-old slice of that very wedding cake sold for £500 (about $750 at the time).

18. THEY RECEIVED A LOT OF GIFTS AND WELL-WISHES.

 Wedding presents from Canada including silver candlesticks and a chest of drawers for Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on view at St James' Palace
Central Press/Getty Images

Based on the number of gifts and well-wishes the couple received, it seemed as if the whole world was excited about Elizabeth and Philip's union. The couple received 10,000 telegrams and more than 2500 gifts from all around the world—including a piece of cotton lace from Mahatma Gandhi that he spun himself and had embroidered with the words "Jai Hind" ("Victory for India"). A box of home-grown apples, 500 tins of pineapple, two dozen handbags, 12 bottles of sloe gin, and 131 pairs of nylon stockings were also among the wedding loot.

19. THE GIFTS WENT ON DISPLAY—TWICE.

A visitor to the 'Royal Wedding: 20 Novermber 1957' exhibition looks at a selection of gifts given to the royal couple at Buckingham Palace on July 27, 2007 in London. Queen Elizabeth II will be the first reigning sovereign to celebrate a 60th wedding ann
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

Rather than keep the generosity of their well-wishers to themselves, Elizabeth and Philip showed off the bulk of the many wonderful wedding gifts they received to benefit charity. Between 1947 and 1948, more than 200,000 people came to St. James's Palace to view the royal wedding gifts. Some of these same gifts were showcased again in 2007, to commemorate the couple's Diamond Wedding anniversary, as part of the "A Royal Wedding" exhibition.

20. ELIZABETH'S DRESS WAS PUT ON DISPLAY, TOO. THEN WENT ON TOUR.

Princess Elizabeth of England and Philip The Duke of Edinburgh pose on their wedding day, 20 November 1947 in Buckingham Palace
AFP/Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth's iconic dress was also put on display for the public at St. James's Palace for curious fashionistas. So that it wasn't just Londoners who had a chance to get an up-close look at the frock, it then went on a royal tour across the UK with stops in Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Glasgow.

The Lavender Scare: When the U.S. Government Persecuted Employees for Being Gay

President Dwight Eisenhower circa 1959
President Dwight Eisenhower circa 1959
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many people have heard of the Red Scare, an episode of persecution of suspected communists in the 1940s and 1950s, but they’re less familiar with a scare of a different hue. Over the same period, and into the 1990s, officials investigated and fired government employees for being gay or lesbian—a phenomenon that has become known as the “Lavender Scare.”

Thousands of people were pushed out of government jobs, whether they worked at the State Department or other agencies, as federal contractors, or in the military, because of their perceived sexuality—and, in some cases, because of guilt by association. Most remain anonymous, part of a chapter in LGBTQ history that is frequently ignored.

"The Pervert File"

The Lavender Scare was the product of a perfect storm of circumstances. During the Great Depression and World War II, many gays and lesbians left their rural communities in search of opportunities elsewhere, including in Washington, D.C. Government jobs provided excellent pay and benefits, and in a city, people could build community. But trouble lay ahead.

The first rumblings began in 1947, when the U.S. Park Police instituted a “Sex Perversion Elimination Program” explicitly targeting gay men in Washington, D.C. public parks for harassment. Patrols focused on Lafayette and Franklin Parks, where any men deemed suspicious could be picked up regardless of their intentions. Men were arrested and intimidated, pushed to pay fines to resolve their arrests and go home—but not before their information, including fingerprints and photographs, was collected for inclusion in a “pervert file.” By February 1950, 700 men had been apprehended, 200 of whom were arrested. According to historian David K. Johnson in his book The Lavender Scare, the typical detainee was a 25-year-old government clerk.

The parks program appeared against the backdrop of “sexual psychopath” laws. Passed across the country starting in the 1930s, these laws criminalized LGBTQ people and promoted forcible treatment [PDF] for their sexual expression, which was viewed as a mental disorder. Nebraska Republican Arthur Miller, who authored D.C.’s now-repealed “sexual psychopath” law in 1948, became one of the most vitriolic individuals in attacking gay federal employees: “There are places in Washington where they gather for the purpose of sex orgies, where they worship at the cesspool and flesh pots of iniquity,” Miller said in a blisteringly homophobic floor speech in early 1950.

Miller wasn't the only one speaking out about the perceived menace. In his now-infamous speeches on the Senate floor in February 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy explicitly linked communism and homosexuality, arguing that LGBTQ people were particularly susceptible to communist recruitment because of their "peculiar mental twists."

McCarthy's speeches—and a revelation by deputy undersecretary of state John Peurifoy that the State Department had recently fired 91 employees for being gay—led to a public outcry. Within a month of McCarthy taking to the Senate floor, a Congressional investigation led by senators Kenneth Wherry and J. Lister Hill laid the groundwork for hearings on the issue. Those ultimately resulted in a bipartisan December 1950 report: “Employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in government,” led by Democratic senator Clyde R. Hoey.

The report, which drew upon extensive interviews with federal agencies and the military, concluded that gay people should not be employed by the government because they were "generally unsuitable" and because they constituted a security risk. The unsuitability was said to stem from the fact that "overt acts of sex perversion" were a crime under federal and local laws, as well as the assertion that "persons who engage in such activity are looked upon as outcasts by society generally." Furthermore, the report said, gay people "lack the emotional stability of normal persons" and "indulgence in acts of sex perversion weakens the moral fiber of an individual to a degree that he is not suitable for a position of responsibility." This lack of moral fiber was said to make gay people, who might be blackmailed for their activities, particularly "susceptible to the blandishments of the foreign espionage agent."

In a callback to the park stings of the 1940s, the report successfully recommended changes to D.C. criminal procedure that forced men suspected of “perversion” into court when they were caught by law enforcement, effectively outing them. The report also pushed government entities to develop clear policies and procedures for terminating gay and lesbian employees—a recommendation that would have tremendous consequences.

"As Dangerous as the Communists"

Kenneth Wherry
Kenneth Wherry
Harris & Ewing, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The government seized on the idea that being gay was a security risk. As Senator Wherry put it, "Only the most naive could believe that the Communists' fifth column in the United States would neglect to propagate and use homosexuals to gain their treacherous ends." In a 1950 newsletter, Republican National Chair Guy George Gabrielson cited “sexual perverts” as a government peril that was "perhaps as dangerous as the actual communists" [PDF].

Inspired in part by the Hoey Report, President Dwight Eisenhower signed executive order 10450 in 1953, listing “sexual perversion” as grounds for identifying someone as a security risk. The document made it possible to aggressively pursue people like Airman Second Class Helen Grace James. James has described being followed and watched during her days in the Air Force, even during activities as innocent as eating a sandwich with a friend or going to the bathroom. The feeling of constant scrutiny affected her mental health and her sleep. "We were scared all the time," she told the Criminal podcast.

Once James was arrested in 1955, the Army threatened to go to her parents and friends with news of her sexuality, saying James was "a threat to the nation and a bad person," she explained to Criminal. "I finally said, just write down whatever you want to write down and I'll sign it."

After being discharged, James fled the East Coast. "[I] had no money, no support at all. I couldn't tell my family, I couldn't tell my friends," she said. "I had hoped to make a career of the Air Force, I loved it." Being kicked out of the Air Force, she felt, was a stain on her military family. She fought for years to change her undesirable discharge to an honorable one; she was finally successful in 2018.

James suffered in silence for years, but Frank Kameny took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1957, he was fired from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service for being gay. In his Supreme Court petition three years later, he called the government's policies on homosexuality “nothing more than a reflection of ancient primitive, archaic, obsolete taboos … an anachronistic relic of the Stone Age carried over into the Space Age—and a harmful relic!” His case may have been the first explicitly involving LGBTQ rights to make its way before the court, which denied his appeal. Kameny went on to become a prominent member of the gay rights movement, and was a founder of the Mattachine Society, an activist organization that collects and preserves important archival material related to LGBTQ history.

All in all, an estimated 10,000 people lost their jobs in the Lavender Scare. President Clinton effectively overturned parts of Executive Order 10450 in 1995, but the government didn't apologize for the discrimination until the administration of Barack Obama.

Fellow Travelers

Frank Kameny attending Pride on June 12, 2010
LGBTQ activist and Lavender Scare target Frank Kameny attending a Pride event in 2010

Although not a well-known period in history, The Lavender Scare has had a cultural afterlife. It was the subject of a 2017 documentary, and a key element of a 2007 novel, Fellow Travelers, which followed a youthful civil servant, a forbidden affair, and the terror of living a double life in 1950s Washington. The book was adapted into an opera first staged in 2016, complete with a set inspired by the overbearing style of 1950s brutalist architecture.

“The piece wants to memorialize those people whose lives were lost, or jobs were lost,” Peter Rothstein, who directed the Minnesota Opera production, tells Mental Floss. Many members of the LGBTQ community aren’t aware of the Lavender Scare, or don’t know about its full extent, something Rothstein discovered when he started to research in preparation for the production. “I thought I was kind of up on my queer history. I was like 'whoa!' The scope of it.”

While stereotypes about gay men and musical theater abound, Rothstein notes that musicals play an important role in America’s cultural history and climate. Many recent works, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamiltonhave explored historical and cultural identity—and with Fellow Travelers, Rothstein says, the medium was particularly apt. “There’s a huge subtext of men not able to articulate for themselves, because they haven’t really been given language to describe their emotional, sexual specificity," he explained.

This neglected piece of queer history reflects a time when shame kept many people silent. Thankfully, historians such as Johnson are collecting stories before survivors of this generation fade away. As they uncover more tales of careers—and lives—ruined, perhaps the Lavender Scare will begin to take on more of a role in mainstream history books.

Periodic Table Discovered at Scotland's St Andrews University Could Be World's Oldest

Alan Aitken
Alan Aitken

The oldest surviving periodic table of elements in the world may have been found at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, according to the Scottish newspaper The Courier.

University researchers and international experts recently determined that the chart, which was rediscovered in a chemistry department storage area in 2014, dates back to 1885—just 16 years after Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev invented the method of sorting the elements into related groups and arranging them by increasing atomic weight.

Mendeleev’s original periodic table had 60 elements, while the modern version we use today contains 118 elements. The chart found at St Andrews is similar to Mendeleev’s second version of the table, created in 1871. It’s thought to be the only surviving table of its kind in Europe.

The periodic table soaks in a washing treatment
Richard Hawkes

The St Andrews table is written in German, and was presumably produced for German universities to use as a teaching aid, according to St Andrews chemistry professor David O’Hagan. The item itself was dated 1885, but St Andrews researcher M. Pilar Gil found a receipt showing that the university purchased the table from a German catalog in 1888. A St Andrews chemistry professor at the time likely ordered it because he wanted to have the latest teaching materials in the scientific field, even if they weren't written in English.

When university staffers first found the table in 2014, it was in “bad condition,” O’Hagan tells The Courier in the video below. The material was fragile and bits of it flaked off when it was handled. Conservators in the university's special collections department have since worked to preserve the document for posterity.

The 19th century table looks quite a bit different from its modern counterparts. Although Mendeleev laid the groundwork for the periodic table we know today, English physicist Henry Moseley improved it in 1913 by rearranging the elements by the number of protons they had rather than their atomic weight. Then, in the 1920s, Horace Deming created the boxy layout we now associate with periodic tables.

Learn more about the St Andrews discovery in the video below.

[h/t The Courier]

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