Today (November 3) in London History – the royal wedding nobody knows

The Forgotten Royal Wedding took place on November 3, 1923. This Today in L0ndon History podcast tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Let’s do a royal wedding with a difference, a royal wedding nobody remembers. That pass the quirky test? 

The press here dubbed it The Swedish Royal Wedding. 

Comparatively speaking, it was a pretty low-key affair. 

The principals were the groom, Prince Gustaf Adolf, the future King of Sweden and the bride, Lady Louise Mountbatten. Full name: 

Louise Alexandra Marie Irene Mountbatten. 

Now let’s do the optician thing, fit a couple of lenses that will get the bride into focus. She was a great grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. And a niece of the Empress of Russia. So, closely connected to the ruling families of Britain and Russia. She was herself a princess of the German House of Battenberg. Her father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, was an admiral in the British Royal Navy. At the behest of George V her father renounced his German title during the First World War and anglicised his family name to “Mountbatten.” And so the bride begins to come into focus, doesn’t she. 

Her brother was Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last Viceroy of India, the maternal uncle of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the mentor of King Charles when he was a youthful Prince of Wales. Honorary grandfather and Honorary grandson they fondly called each other. 

A final pin the tale on the donkey biographical factoid for Mountbatten, he had an extremely high-flying naval career. Which was of course greatly aided and abetted by his royal blood and connections. And just as well, too, because on merit alone he probably would not have scaled the heights he did. Within the Admiralty he was known as “the Master of Disaster.”

But this isn’t about King Charles’ mentor, the Master of Disaster – it’s about his sister. And her wedding. 

The wedding took place on this day, November 3rd, 1923. The Swedish prince and his bride were married in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Built for the private worship of the kings and queens who lived in St James’ Palace, the chapel is small and intimate. So this was no St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey wedding. There were about 200 guests in all. All the same, that included a congregation of two Kings – George V and the King of Sweden – and four queens – and many princes and princesses. A point to which we’ll return. 

If her brother was the Master of Disaster, I’m tempted to call his sister, Mistress Resistless. She was admirable. She was a character. She was renowned for her eccentricity and progressive views.

She was forthright and strong-minded. But not stubborn.

When she was a young woman she said she would never marry a king or a widower. In the event, she accepted the proposal of a man who was a widower and destined to be a king.  

They weren’t spring chickens when they got married. She was 34. He was 40. It was 27 years before they became king and queen. 

When she became queen, she said, “people look at me as if I were something special. Surely I do not look differently today from how I looked yesterday.” When she travelled, she often went through customs under the pseudonym Mrs Olsson. One courtier described her as “a gentleman.”

She loved her adopted country. She said that she had never seen a country with less vulgarity than Sweden.

Back home in London she would often jay-walk. She was once almost hit by a bus. That prompted her to carry a small card with the words, “I am the Queen of Sweden’, so that people would know who she was in the event of her being hit by a vehicle.

Well, I think she’s coming into view. But oddly enough, it’s the royal side that interests me the most.

That business of there being two kings and four queens and numerous princesses at the wedding.

But those days were numbered. That business of the sun never setting on the British empire and old maps making the same point, British imperial possessions coloured in red all over the globe – and now, all changed, changed utterly. 

Well, the same goes for the territorial evolution of monarchy as a European form of government. 

The so-called monarchy maps 300 years ago are almost solidly red. Kings everywhere.

Today, those same maps are almost solidly blue. Republics just about everywhere. We’re down to seven kingdoms in Europe. And four principalities. And one Grand Duchy: Luxembourg. 

Looking at those maps brings two thoughts immediately to mind. 1. It’s a lot harder today for a royal to find another royal to marry. The pool of possibilities has almost completely dried up. And given what we know now about interbreeding and cousins marrying cousins and so on, it’s probably just as well that that pool is giving up the ghost. 

And 2. looking at those maps, you can’t help but wonder will the nearly solid blue of 2022 – the map of our world of nation-states that are republics – what in the world will come of that come 2122? There’s an extraordinary photograph of nine sovereigns gathered at Windsor Castle in 1910 for the funeral of Edward VII. There they are, six of them standing, three seated. Completely, utterly, supremely assured. Little did they know. They would have looked anything but assured had they had the foggiest what was coming at their world. 

Let’s end with a famous opening paragraph. The beginning of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. This is history as literature. It’s so beautifully written. This paragraph changed everything for me. I read this paragraph and I was smitten, enraptured. This was the moment when I discovered history. And in its own way it’s the uninvited guest at the banquet, so to speak, at that wedding on November 3rd, 1923 at the Chapel Royal. It’s there eyeing up that future King and Queen of Sweden. A king and queen for the modern era. 

Here they are, the 168 words…

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jewelled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens—four dowager and three regnant—and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

What is to be seen again is the Chapel Royal. And the rest of the panoply, there at the very heart of Royal London. That would be on our Royal London Walk. Or the Changing of the Guard Tour. Or Past the Palace. You’re spoiled for choice. Just have a wander – or do a search – on this website.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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