Royal Guests and Relatives gathered from around Europe gathered for the Wedding of Prince Andrew of Greece, son of King George I and Queen Olga of Greece, and Princess Alice of Battenberg, daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse, who got married in three separate ceremonies in Darmstadt on this day in 1903, 120 years ago. The couple later became the parents of the Duke of Edinburgh.
As Royal Guests arrived in Darmstadt, Prince Andrew of Greece married Princess Alice of Battenberg in a Civil Ceremony with close Royal Relatives at the old Residenzschloss in Darmstadt:
On the morning of 6 October the civil marriage took place, with only near relations attending. Next day there were then two religious ceremonies. King Edward had wanted a fourth ceremony at the British Legation, because the bride was a British subject, but at this the young couple demurred.
For days there were spectacular parties. ‘[Darmstadt] being a charming and old-fashioned town, the royal visitors could enjoy themselves without being cramped by the strict ceremony that is in force on like occasions in the great capitals of Europe,’ recalled Nona’s brother, Mark Kerr, invited as Louis’s oldest naval friend. ‘They all appeared to be on holiday, and the atmosphere was full of fun and merriment.’ Ernie gave a dinner for all the royal relations and their suites at the Alte Schloss, and then, on the eve of the wedding, Louis and Victoria gave a reception and buffet for 260 people in the ballroom of the Alte Palais. Victoria was horrified to realise that the fish was less than fresh. ‘Alice looked charming and radiant,’ recalled her Aunt Marie, ‘and not less handsome and radiant was her father, my dear brother Louis, who wore the uniform of the Hessian artillery.’
The following morning, Royal Guests and Relatives processed from the Residenzschloss, where the extended Greek Royal Family were staying, to attend the Lutheran Ceremony for Prince Andrew and Princess Alice (wearing a Pearl Star Tiara) in the Stadtkirche Darmstadt, which was described:
The procession into the chapel began with thirty members of the royal families of Europe, advancing in pairs. The more minor members went first, the order gradually rising in importance to Ernie escorting his sister Alix, and the Tsar escorting Queen Alexandra, who was gloriously dressed in a tight- fitting gown of mauve sequins, and adorned with amethysts. Then came the groom, with his parents, the King and Queen of Greece, on either side, and finally Alice walking between Louis and Victoria.
The eighteen-year-old bride wore a white wedding dress made of Chinese silk, an expensive diamond necklace adorned her neck and on her head she wore a myrtle wreath. The groom was resplendent in his cavalry uniform. As the couple entered the palace chapel, the choir sang Handel’s “Messiah.
The bridal procession was greeted with a wedding song composed by William de Haan with words from the book of Ruth, sung by the choir of the Court Theatre. The royal guests then formed a semi-circle around the bridal pair for the ceremony itself. In the organ loft sat a clutch of children, the ill- fated younger offspring of the Tsar and Tsarina.
Afterwards, Princess Alice arrived in the old state carriage of Prince Alexander of Hesse for the Greek Orthodox Service in the Russian Chapel on the Mathildenhöhe, which had been built by her uncle, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, a few years previously. Her aunt, Princess Maria of Erbach-Sheinberg, recounted:
“We were greeted by Russians and Greeks radiant with gold and led to the rich and beautiful chapel, where we were greeted by three priests in gilded vestments. The bridal couple, who naturally arrived last, stood on a silk rose carpet – which symbolised the path of life.
The Russian service was more exotic and more intimate, with the rites said by a high priest and an archimandrite. Four princes held the heavy wedding crowns of Catherine the Great over the heads of the young couple, ‘who held candles in their hands. The circling of the altar three times, during which the crowns were held over their heads, was a little difficult. After the concluding Te Deum, Andrew led his wife to the parents on both sides.
As Princess Alice was deaf, she had rehearsed and memorised her answers, in Greek, to the Greek Orthodox Priests, who unfortunately reversed the order of the questions, leading to the entire congregation bursting out in laughter:
“Have you already been married?
“Have you renounced having any other man in your life?”
Following the various Wedding ceremonies, there was a Wedding Banquet at the Alte Schloss in Darmstadt, before the bride and groom set off on a procession, pelted by the guests throwing rice and stain shoes, which led to Princess Alice hitting her uncle, the Tsar, on the head with a shoe:
After the ceremonies, there was a large family dinner, with no suites in attendance. The departure was the opportunity for merry high jinks amongst the royal guests, Prince Henry of Prussia setting the tone with a mighty cry of ‘Hoch!’ Prince George of Greece seized Andrea’s hat and planted it on the head of his Aunt Vera, knocking her spectacles off her nose. Duchess Vera thought Mark Kerr was responsible and hit him on the head with the hat. Queen Alexandra told Nona that her brother was the culprit and she rushed forward to sort the matter out, convinced he had drunk too much.
Shoes were tied to the back of the carriage. When they set off, rice and slippers were thrown at them. Ernie and the Tsar were to the fore, rushing after them into the crowd, hotly pursued by excited policemen and plain- clothes Russian detectives, clutching umbrellas. Mark Kerr told the tale:
The Emperor went straight for the backs of the people, who were anxiously awaiting the passing of the Royal carriage. Putting his head down, he rammed them and gradually pushed his way through the six files of human beings, shedding the children from his coat-tails on the way, and reached the street at the moment when the carriage was going by with Princess Alice bowing her acknowledgments to the cheering crowd. At this moment she received the full bag of rice, which the Emperor had carried, in her face, followed by the satin shoe. Casting dignity aside she caught the shoe, and leaning over the back of the carriage hit the Emperor on the head with it, at the same time telling him exactly what she thought of him, which so over-came him that he stood still in the middle of the road shrieking with laughter.
After this the bride and groom transferred into their new Wolseley car, a gift from the Tsar in a soberer moment before he began to enjoy the wedding, and departed for the Heiligenberg.
Royal Guests and Relatives assembled from around Europe, hosted by the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (uncle of the bride), and included King George I and Queen Olga of Greece (mother of the groom, wearing Greek Emerald Parure), Queen Alexandra (aunt of the groom, in her Wedding Tiara) and Princess Victoria, Crown Prince Constantine (brother of the groom) and Crown Princess Sophia of Greece (in the Queen Sophie’s Diamond Tiara), Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (aunt of the bride) with their daughters, Grand Duke Serge and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (aunt of the bride), Prince Henry of Prussia and Princess Irene of Hesse (aunt of the bride), Princess Beatrice (aunt of the bride), and Princess Victoria Eugenie, Prince Nicholas and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna (wearing Vladimir Fringe Tiara), Prince George and Prince Christopher of Greece, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (niece of the groom) and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (nephew of the groom), and Duchess Vera Konstantinovna of Württemberg (aunt of the groom, in a Diamond Tiara)
Uncle Ernie handed over the Alte Schloss to the entire Greek royal family, including Queen Olga’s sister, Vera, Duchess of Württemberg. At the Neue Palais, where Ernie lived, there stayed the Tsar and Tsarina and their children, Ella and Serge with Marie and Dimitri (their adopted children), Queen Alexandra and her daughter, Princess Victoria. The Alte Schloss also housed the Henrys of Prussia, Princess Beatrice and her daughter Ena, the Duke of Teck and Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein.
My mother’s sister, the Duchess Vera of Wurttemberg, was at the wedding [of Andrew of Greece and Alice of Battenberg] and, as usual, my brothers and I teased her unmercifully. Her appearance was irresistibly funny in our eyes, for she was small and dumpy, with a fat, round, spectacled face and, in the days when the shingle was unknown, she wore her hair cut short. Her hats and even her tiaras were always secured to her head by bands of elastic.
At the family dinner after the wedding my brother George sat next to her and, at a pause in the proceedings, snatched off her tiara and put it on his own head. Everybody laughed, Aunt Vera included, though she vowed vengeance on the culprit.
Her turn came, as she thought, a little later, when the bride and bridegroom started on the honeymoon. We were all gathered at the door throwing rice after them when someone knocked off poor Aunt Vera’s glasses, which were smashed to atoms on the stone steps. She turned around quickly and, guessing, although she was unable to see clearly without her spectacles, that George was to blame again, dealt a mighty box on the ear of the person standing immediately behind her.
Unfortunately, it was not George, for he had taken care to slip out of range, but the British Admiral, Mark Kerr, who was the recipient of it!
In addition to the car, the Tsar and Tsarina gave Princess Alice a spectacular Aquamarine and Diamond Parure, which was used in 1947 to create the Queen’s Engagement Ring and the Queen’s Wedding Gift Bracelet.