Royal Weddings through The Years: Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip, 1947

25 May 2018

History

The royal wedding last weekend prompted me to delve into one of our latest releases Service Newspapers of World War Two to explore the headlines that were sent from home to battlefield to report on the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh (i.e. Queenie and Prince Philip).

This issue of the Union Jack’s Greece Edition contained a special Royal Wedding Supplement that was circulated amongst servicemen on the day of the wedding (20th November 1947).

Union Jack (Greece edition) no. 889 [890], 20 Nov 1947, © British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
To see this document in the collection click the image in the blog.
Union Jack (Greece edition) no. 889 [890], 20 Nov 1947, © British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
To see this document in the collection click the image in the blog.

Amidst the confinements of war, 28 members of foreign Royal Houses were still able to grace the occasion with their presence alongside ‘more film stars than have ever invaded Britain at one time’ who arrived on the Queen Mary. Some modesty was exercised, however, with a reported ‘austerity breakfast at the Palace’. Still, I can’t help but suspect that Spam and carrot lollies were not on the menu.

It seems the austerity versus lavishness debate was something of a hot topic at the time. A B.T.A. edition of Union Jack in July of 1947 featured an article reporting that 86.3% of Daily Express readers voted that the royal wedding should be a lavish affair, whilst only 13.7% voted for an austerity wedding.

Union Jack (B.T.A. edition), no. 1138 [1164], 16 Jul 1947, © British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Yet, the narrative of economizing continued with a later Union Jack headline reading ‘Austerity at Royal Wedding’. The article describes how the wedding was ‘run on austerity lines’ by changing the number of bridesmaids ‘from at least half a dozen to about six’ and reducing the size and weight of the cake unveiled at Princess Elizabeth’s parents’ wedding which was an opulent nine feet high, weighing in at 800 pounds. Just the 8 feet for young Lizzie then.

Union Jack (Trieste edition), no. 1167 [1187], 19 Aug 1947, © British Library; POPEYE © King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Having said this, the happy couple did have an unroyally small number of guests with just 800 attending the ceremony and less than 100 attending the wedding breakfast. 1,900 invites were sent out for Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding and a whopping 3,500 made up the congregation at Lady Diana and Prince Charles’s wedding. Megan and Harry exercised a little more restraint with only 600 invitees.

One thing that was certainly not cut back on was public celebration. The 1947 ceremony was the first royal wedding service in history to be broadcast to the masses, both at home and overseas. 200 million radio listeners across the globe tuned in to the radio broadcast. I wonder whether the broadcasting world of the time ever envisaged that Meghan and Harry’s big day would elicit the 3.4 million Tweets that were sent during the ceremony alone!

Service Newspapers of World War Two features thirteen editions of Union Jack, covering news from multiple fronts between 1943 and 1948, alongside various other rare and well-known wartime publications. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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About the Author

Lucy Davis

Lucy Davis

Having joined Adam Matthew’s Editorial team as a Development Assistant in February 2016, I have already had the chance to work across a wide variety of exciting projects including Literary Print Culture, Shakespeare's Globe and The First World War. My academic background lies in literature and language. I am particularly interested in literary and linguistic contexts within postcolonial writing such as African American and Indian Dalit poetry.

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