November 20 marks the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip – and to mark the occasion we’re looking at the 1947 wedding bouquet of the then Princess Elizabeth.
Martin Longman, a London florist, submitted five designs to Buckingham Palace. The bouquet chosen was all white, was described as “a modern type”, made up of three kinds of British-grown orchids – Cattleya, Odontoglossum and Cypripedium – and was a gift to the bride from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.
Among the orchids was a sprig of myrtle from a bush at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s house on the Isle of Wight. The bush had been grown from a piece of myrtle given to Queen Victoria by her husband’s grandmother. A sprig was used in the wedding bouquet of Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, thus beginning a tradition that is still followed.
In 2007 Martin Longman’s son David recalled that his father regarded the wedding bouquet as the pinnacle of his career, despite also making the Coronation bouquet and wedding bouquets for Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent.
Martin made the bouquet overnight in his shop in Ludgate Hill and delivered it personally to Elizabeth’s apartment at Buckingham Palace on the morning of November 20, 1947. (Bouquets for the eight bridesmaids were made by Moyses Stevens florists using white orchids, lily of the valley, gardenias, white bouvardia, white roses and white nerine. They also wore wreaths in their hair made by Jac Ltd of London using miniature white sheaves, lilies and London Pride, modelled in white satin and silver lame.)
In stories about the wedding there has always been an acknowledged hiccup when Princess Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet was misplaced before the Westminster Abbey ceremony – a footman had put it in a cold cupboard and forgotten it before, fortunately, remembering!
Besides that, a frantic dash had to be made for the bride’s pearls which had been left elsewhere and her tiara snapped and needed urgent repairs just before the ceremony so it was an eventful day … and it wasn’t over yet.
Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten are photographed leaving the church with the bouquet and in official bride-and-groom photos at Buckingham Palace. However, the bride doesn’t hold a bouquet in the wedding group shots – as apparently it had been lost again, this time for good. And there’s a possibility the portrait photos showing her with the bouquet were taken a week later!
In a 2007 story David said that a week after the wedding his father was asked to make an identical bouquet so the bride and groom could be rephotographed as they passed through London after the first part of their honeymoon. No way of knowing if this is what happened, but it’s a curious story – and apparently since the 1947 wedding Buckingham Palace has always ordered two identical bridal bouquets, which adds some credence.
For a display at Buckingham Palace to mark the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary, and just as Longman’s was closing its doors for the last time, the mannequin wearing the wedding dress held a silk bouquet made by Martin Longman’s granddaughter Lottie.
According to Terry Simmons who runs the Flowers for Royal Weddings blog , the 1947 bouquet was made by wiring and taping each individual blossom, and sometimes each leaf, separately so the flowers could be manipulated into the desired placement. ‘This is a very daunting task considering how many individual blooms may be contained in a royal bouquet … [and] it does present some challenges. For instance, since each flower is cut from its stem before wiring/taping, water supply is cut off to the flower, starting the inevitable “death of the flower” process. Therefore, these bouquets have to be made as “last minute” as possible to ensure they will last through the wedding day schedule.’
To read more about the wedding dress, which was heavily embroidered, go here.
Who supplied the orchids for this late autumn/early winter wedding? I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer, but have come across some likely candidates.
McBean’s, established in 1879 and claiming the title of Britain’s oldest orchid nursery, says on its website that it ‘has served the British Royal family with orchids for their homes and weddings for many years’.
Another intriguing reference was to American businessman Clinton McDade. Included in the opening paragraph of a 2012 magazine article about the donation of McDade’s orchid collection, some 5,000 plants, to the College of the Ozarks is: ‘McDade was a successful businessman … [who] became an orchid grower, and his collection grew into two orchid houses, one in England. A selection of his orchids in England were used for the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II.’
Mr McDade brought the white-flowered Cattleya Bow Bells to the attention of the American Orchid Society in 1945 – he had purchased a number of unflowered seedlings from Black & Flory nursery in Slough, England and when they began to flower the AOS went mad, scattering awards like confetti. (Black & Flory was formed when the famed Veitch nursery sold its orchid section, and operated until the 1960s.)
Why does C. Bow Bells get a mention? Because it is an autumn/winter-flowering plant and it just might have been the white Cattleya used in the royal wedding bouquet.