The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011, by Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, and Tracy Borman

Eight stars

The idea of a royal wedding still gets the general public twitterpated. Mass spectacles and media events surround the event, with hours of coverage before the event even takes place, particularly those in the House of Windsor. But these events have not always been such a grand affair, as the authors of this book explore in detail. British Royal Weddings have come a long way over the centuries and continue to evolve with the times. Alison Weir begins the discussion, tackling the largest time period from 1066-1714. In this time, Weir explores some of the early weddings, which were affairs that helped solidify more recent land holdings the British Crown defends as its own. In her unique writing style, Weir looks at many of the unions as being political or strongly related to territorial acquisitions. Throughout, there is a theme of the ‘hesitant bride’, forced into the union by her family to secure peace and normally a chaste virgin, who may have sometimes only met her husband the day before (or morning of) the wedding. Kate Williams tackles weddings from 1714 through to the end of the Great War, an equally interesting time. She builds on Weir’s view of unions as a means of land or political stability, as well as exploring hesitant players. In one example, she tells of George, Prince of Wales, who set eyes upon his future wife (Caroline of Brunswick), but felt she was too plain to marry. He was coaxed into the union and did bring about an heir, though wanted it known that he still preferred his mistress. This was also the era of Princess Victoria, whose wedding cake was massive, weighing in at over 300 lbs. Williams adds that it was Victoria’s choosing a white dress that began the trend that is still in use today. Sarah Gristwood handles nuptials from 1918 through to 1960, which launched a new era of weddings, where the public was not only aware of events, but played a more active role. With fewer unions for political necessity, Gristwood describes these marriages as being more love-related, allowing the public to see the royals as human beings. Still, the public was also able to participate by actively listening to the ceremony on BBC (and eventually viewing it). Gristwood recounts protest to the BBC airing the wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon over the air, as any common person could be listening to it in a public house and still wearing their hat (!!). This was also the time of the future Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, one of the early events in televised royal pomp and circumstance. Tracy Borman writes of the last era of royal wedding (1961-2011), in which scandal and curses overshadowed many of the unions. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret began the era, followed by some of the lesser royals, until the Queen’s own children (Anne, Charles, and Andrew) all wed in the 1970s and 80s. Their marriages drew pomp, but fizzled for reasons the Borman discusses in her narrative. It was not until the latter part of this era, that royal weddings seemed to recover and find a strong foundation of love and commitment, which is where they ended when the book was published, awaiting Prince William’s union to Kate’s Middleton. There is no doubt that weddings of all sorts draw the attention of people, but it would seem those of the royal persuasion seem to pull people in and beg them to make a little something of the affair (no curse intended). Wonderfully crafted by these four female historians! Anyone with an interest in all things royal will surely enjoy this piece, if only to lose themselves for a few hours, or to find something to place atop the coffee table.

This guide through the world of royal weddings came out at the time that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged and awaited their big day. A wonderful collection of stories and images that helped personify the royal nuptials, as well as giving some well-known historians the chance to recount tales of the different unions. Collected in this book that I might call ‘coffee table literature’, it should not be discounted as having superficial writing. It is full of wonderful descriptions of events, just enough for the reader to have a general understanding without bogging them down. Tied to the writing, the book is full of sketches, etchings, paintings, and eventually photographs that add excitement to the stories being told. The authors have been able to accentuate their work with these colourful depictions, including some photos that take the reader back in time. Wonderfully collected, the four parts of the book read easily and the reader gets a general idea of what happened and how things progressed nicely. I can only hope that many will take the time to read this, if only for their own interest, to explore how royal weddings have progressed and some of the little-known facts that emerge. A great read that needs the printed book to give it the full impact, especially with all those photos throughout.

Kudos, Madams Weir, Williams, Gristwood, and Borman. This was the perfect compendium of royal weddings and I applaud you all for your dedication to this massive project.

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