How to celebrate a Royal Wedding, Stuart style…

I absolutely love a royal wedding and I always think it’s amazing how much of a national celebration it becomes – when Prince William and Kate Middleton got married in 2011, I was on a Geography field trip and my mum was sending me updates the whole journey back. It isn’t just in the modern era that royal weddings are so celebrated – when Princess Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I (and VI of Scotland) and Anna of Denmark, married Frederick, Elector Palatine, on Valentine’s Day 1613, it was a landmark occasion. It was the first royal wedding for nearly sixty years (Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain in 1554) and the first royal wedding of such decadence for over a century (Prince Arthur’s wedding to Katherine of Aragon in 1501).  Princess Elizabeth was a revered beauty with no shortage of suitors, but the marriage contract between her and Frederick was signed on May 16th 1612 and five months later, Frederick arrived in England. However, the wedding was delayed because of the death of Elizabeth’s older brother Henry in November. It is clear that the Stuart wedding presented a huge opportunity for celebrations, masks and pageantry, and here is a guide to how to celebrate a Stuart royal wedding.

The Happy Couple

Elizabeth and Frederick were not a love match. James was aware that both he and his queen were from insignificant European states, yet had succeeded to a powerful inheritance. Because of this, he decided that his children’s marriages could make connections to prestigious dynasties across Europe. By marrying his daughter Elizabeth to Frederick, he established a link with a key Protestant power. He also wanted to counterbalance this with a Catholic match for Henry (which later transferred to Charles’ wedding to Henrietta Maria). Elizabeth and Frederick were both sixteen years old at the time of the wedding, with Elizabeth being a week older than her spouse. English poet John Donne wrote a poem celebrating the marriage with the lengthy title An Epithalamion, or Marriage Song on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine being Married on St Valentine’s Day. He refers to Elizabeth as a

“fair phoenix Bride”

and suggests that the marriage fuelled hope for the nation with

“Be thou a new start, that to us portends

End of much wonder;”

Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress of Palatine, by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1613 (c) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 5529)

When was the wedding?

Before the actual wedding ceremony performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the rites of the Church of England on Valentine’s Day 1613, the couple were betrothed to each other on 27th December 1612 in the banqueting house at Whitehall. Previous to that, Frederick had been invested with the Order of the Garter on the 18th December.

Frederick V, King of Bohemia and Elector Palatine, by Gerrit van Honthorst, oil on canvas, 1635 (c) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 1973)

How much did the wedding cost?

The wedding was an incredibly sumptuous affair. Kevin Curran estimated in an article on James I and the wedding ceremonies that it cost £93,293, which (using the amazing National Archive currency converter) would be approximately just over £9million today. Not only that, but the celebrations didn’t end with the Valentine’s weekend in Britain. The pageantry continued across Europe as the couple progressed to the royal court at Heidelberg.

Who were the wedding planners?

Elizabeth’s brother Henry had a key role in planning the wedding before his unexpected death. A pamphlet written by William Fennor, published in 1616, included a collection of speeches concerning the wedding. The grief experienced following Henry’s death by both the Stuart royal family and the nation is explicitly mentioned, with Fennor lamenting:

“For as his vertue all excel’d

His valour was unparralel’d

Heaven tooke his worth, earth knew his want…

Great Brittaine clad in sable black,

With endless tears lament his lacke”

However, he also comments that the country rejoiced in this

“hopefull match”

and voices the hope that when Elizabeth and Frederick have children, they will be

“A second Henry”.

For a long time, Henry was the monarch England never had, despite the fact that the independent activity he undertook only covered the period of January 1610 to November 1612.

NPG 4515; Henry, Prince of Wales by Robert Peake the Elder
Henry, Prince of Wales, by Robert Peake the Elder, oil on canvas, c.1610 (c) National Portrait Gallery (NPG 4515)

The Royal Wedding Dress

Royal wedding dresses often become iconic, and wearing the best possibly clothes was important with the Stuart royal wedding too. A pamphlet describing the royal marriage extensively details the order and procession of the marriage ceremony in the Chapel at Whitehall, particularly focussing on the opulent and beautiful clothes worn. Frederick entered

“attired in a white Satten sute, richly beset with Pearle and Golde”

The bride then walked in, flanked by her brother Charles and the Earl of Northampton

in her Virgin-robes, clothed in a gowne of white Satten richly embrodered… upon her head a crowne of refined gold, made Imperiall (by the Pearles and Dyamonds thereupon placed”

Feasts, Ships and Fireworks

So where did all the money go into the weekend’s celebrations? Across a five day period, the public witnessed an elaborate firework display, a mock naval battle staged on the Thames, the actual wedding ceremony, celebratory masques and dances, a kind of jousting tournament alongside other banquets and celebrations. The apparitions in the firework display and the sea fight explicitly demonstrated the military prowess of Britain. A pamphlet written by John Taylor declared the royal wedding to be

“Brittaines great Olympick Games Of Mirth”

Thousands of people congregated to watch the firework display, which wasn’t just a sequence of colourful explosions as we would see today, but supposedly presented the quintessentially English symbols of St George slaying the dragon as well as huntsmen, hounds and hares. I’m not quite sure how this was shown, but I think that however it was executed, the audience would have understood the symbolism. The sea battle also mocked up a fight between Turkish galleys and Englishmen in Venetian ships. It goes without saying that the mock battle saw the English win, demonstrating further how resilient the English navy was to Frederick. It all seems a lot more elaborate in public than the British royal weddings witnessed in recent years, where we see the ceremony and the traditional appearance and kiss on the balcony. The Stuarts definitely knew how to throw a huge and elaborate party!


  • Curran’s article on the royal wedding can be found in the journal Renaissance Studies, volume 20, number 1 from 2006, and is entitled ‘James I and Fictional Authority at the Palatine Wedding Ceremonies’ (pages 51-67).
  • All my primary source material is from Early English Books Online.


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