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The Crown: Wedding Gowns and Tiaras

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Elizabeth's wedding in "The Crown"
Elizabeth's wedding in "The Crown" | Image credit: Netflix

Critically acclaimed but hounded by accusations of historical inaccuracies, Netflix’s The Crown premiered in 2016. Season 1 begins in 1947. Princess Elizabeth’s fiancé, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, renounced his titles to marry her. Elizabeth’s father and reigning monarch, King George VI, made Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and was granted the style His Royal Highness.

Elizabeth Marries Philip in “The Crown”

On November 20, 1947, in a ceremony that was broadcast on BBC radio to 200 million people across the globe, Elizabeth and Philip were married at Westminster Abbey in London. The wedding was the highlight of Episode 1 of Season 1 of The Crown.

Naturally, everything—including the wedding gown and jewelry—were mere reproductions. Costume designer Michele Clapton (who has won Emmys in 2012, 2014 and 2016 for Game of Thrones) could not have viewed the real wedding dress from 1947 as it has since deteriorated to an “appalling condition” so, instead, she “studied hours of archival footage to faithfully reproduce details.”

Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara held Elizabeth’s veil in place

Elizabeth Marries Philip (wedding scene) in "The Crown"
Image credit: Netflix

There’s a famous anecdote that goes with the tiara that Princess Elizabeth wore on her wedding. It was mentioned in The Crown in a conversation between the princess and the Queen although not in a way that makes a big deal of it. The frame of the tiara snapped when it was being arranged on the head of the princess and it had to be rushed with a police escort to royal jeweller Garrard who managed to weld it together.

How could a piece of royal jewelry be in bad shape? The tiara is old. Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mother Mary, had the tiara made in 1919 from a necklace that was given to her as a gift by Queen Victoria in 1893.

If you search Google for images from the real-life wedding, the tiara shows an awkward gap in front (click to see). Meanwhile, the reproduction for The Crown was perfect.

The wedding dress by Norman Hartnell

Three years after the second world war, England was still reeling and rationing was still in place. Clothes rationing would not end until 1949. For the Royal Wedding in 1947, Elizabeth was allowed an extra 200 coupons for her dress.

Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara held Princess Elizabeth's veil in place
Image credit: Netflix

Designed by Norman Hartnell, Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 wedding dress featured a 13-foot a star-patterned bridal train, said to have been inspired by a Botticelli painting, that symbolized rebirth after the war. Interestingly, the choice of material for the dress drew controversy.

The Queen Mother had specifically asked that Hartnell should use an unusually rich, lustrous stiff satin which was made at Lullington Castle. The satin was ideal for the train, but Hartnell thought that the dress required a more supple material of a similar tone. He ordered the similar fabric from the Scottish firm of Winterthur near Dunfermline. Difficulties arose when rivals put about the rumour that the Scottish satin was made from ‘enemy silk worms’, either from Italy or possibly Japan. A telephone call to Dunfermline settled the scandal. Mr. Hartnell was assured the silkworms were from Nationalist China and were not ‘enemy silkworms’.

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The ultra conservative wedding dress was impeccably reproduced by Michele Clapton for The Crown.

Princess Margaret’s Wedding Dress: “A Study in Simplicity”

She wasn’t demure and she certainly wasn’t traditional. Princess Margaret was quite the rebel and probably ahead of her time. When she married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, her wedding dress defied tradition. Sophisticated and timeless, the gown with its tailored lines has been described as “a study in simplicity“.

Princess Margaret's Wedding Dress: "A Study in Simplicity"
Image credit: Netflix

No intricate beadwork, no lace, no obvious glitter, no ruffles and no frills. It seems to say, “Hey, I’m no blushing bride; I’m a woman who’s confident in my skin.” Tatler has described Margaret as “more fun than Harry, more beautiful than Kate, more glamorous than Diana.”

In The Crown, as it was in real life, Margaret’s decision to marry photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones seems to have been triggered by a letter from Group Captain Peter Townsend that he intended to marry another woman. Townsend was Margaret’s first and probably greatest love but they couldn’t marry because he was a divorced man and the Church of England didn’t allow marriages between royals and divorcees if the former spouse was still living. It was for the same reason that Margaret’s uncle gave up the throne to marry the woman he loved.

So, Margaret decided to marry Armstrong-Jones and the dress she wore to the wedding really was quite stunning. And just how does the reproduction of Princess Margaret’s wedding dress in The Crown compare with the original? Very well, I think.

A Norman Hartnell design

Princess Margaret’s wedding dress was designed by Norman Hartnell who also did Elizabeth’s wedding gown thirteen years earlier as well as Elizabeth’s coronation gown seven years earlier. Margaret’s wedding dress is now part of the Royal Collection.

The Poltimore tiara

The Poltimore tiara was made for and named after Florence, Lady Poltimore, wife of the second Baron Poltimore in the 1870’s. Christie’s (yes, the auction house) has a detailed description.

The Poltimore tiara
Image credit: Netflix

Designed as a graduated line of cushion-shaped and old-cut diamond clusters alternating with diamond-set scroll motifs, each surmounted by old-cut diamond terminals, to the collet-set diamond line, mounted in silver and gold, circa 1870, 19.2 cm. maximum diameter, convertible to a necklace and eleven brooches, with screwdriver and brooch fittings

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Yes, the tiara can be dismantled into a necklace and brooches and yes, the tiara was auctioned—more than once. Princess Margaret first acquired the Poltimore tiara via auction and, after her death, her family lost it via auction as well. The details…

In 1959, a year before Margaret’s wedding to Armstrong-Jones, Lady Poltimore’s grandson put up the tiara for auction. Some claim that it was Princess Margaret herself who bought it although there is also speculation that it was bought by either the Queen Mother or Queen Elizabeth and given to Margaret as a wedding gift. The price at which the tiara was bought at auction is not disputed. A mere £5,500.

After the death of Princess Margaret in 2002, the inheritance tax was in the vicinity of £3 million. Her children sold some of their mother’s jewelry. Its value was estimated between $275,000 and $370,000 but it was finally sold for $1.7 million to a private buyer. Where it is now and who currently owns it are unknown.