Celebration – British Royal Wedding Cakes

Previous posts on this blog discussed several of the British Royal Weddings, starting with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 to the most recent wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011 while another post discussed the dresses of each of the British Royal brides.  (For more detailed information about the British Royal Weddings and the British Royal Wedding Dress, please click on the links)

In this post, I will start by discussing several of the British Royal Wedding Cakes made throughout the years starting once again with Queen Victoria’s wedding to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.  Then, in closing I will discuss the history of wedding cakes including the meanings the various traditions and customs.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took place in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace on February 10, 1840.  Afterwards, there was a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace were several cakes set out at the wedding breakfast, the main cake was a single layer about three yards in circumference and fourteen inches in height, it was noted to weigh approximately 300 pounds.  The cake was covered in white icing and decorated with several figurines and other floral embellishments.  The cake top was almost a foot in height and featured a Britannia figurine and another figurine representing Queen Victoria on the right with a pair of turtle doves at her feet, while on the left was a figurine representing Prince Albert with a dog at his feet.  A cupid figurine appears to be writing the date of marriage into a book and there a several additional cupids bearing the emblems of the United Kingdom.  A photo of the cake is shown below.

Queen Victoria wedding cake

Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra of Denmark

Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra were married at St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle on March 10, 1863.  A wedding breakfast for five hundred guests was held afterwards to honor the bridal couple. Like his mother before him, several wedding cakes were made for the reception with the main wedding cake shown in the photo below.  The cake was described as follows: “it was a three-tiered cake with white icing, at the base were rose, thistle and shamrock festoons intertwined with with the British and Denmark coat of arms.  On the tiers were reflectors and figures of cupids with harps and near the top of the cake were two sating flags painted with the images of the Prince and Princess.  At the very top were a Prince coronet with three ostrich feathers”, the symbol of the Prince of Wales.  

Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra wedding cakePrince George and Princess May of Teck

Prince George (later King George V) and Princess May (later Queen Mary) were married at the Chapel Royal in St. James Palace on July 6, 1893, followed by a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace.  The main wedding cake measured almost seven feet high and it took over five weeks to make with almost forty separate pieces of plaster used to create the figure molds; it is shown on the photo on the left.  The photo on the right shows the “second cake” which was smaller, measured four and a half feet tall and weighed almost 225 pounds.  The cake is decorated with symbols reflecting Prince George’s naval career.

 Prince George and Princess May wedding cake 1  Prince George and Princess May wedding cake 2

Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon

Prince Albert (later King George VI) and Lady Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) were married at Westminster Abbey on April 26, 1923, a wedding breakfast followed at Buckingham Palace.  There were fourteen wedding cakes and the main cake was ten feet tall and weighed 300 pounds.  The cake had nine tiers, the first tier featured Windsor Castle and St. George Chapel.  On the second tier featured Glamis Castle (the ancestral home of Lady Elizabeth) and on the third tier were Masonic emblems (both Prince George and the Earl of Strathmore, the father of the bride were both masons)  

Prince George and Lady Elizabeth wedding cake 2

Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten 

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten (later the Duke of Edinburgh) were married on November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey.  As with most royal weddings, there were several wedding cakes.  The main cake was a four tier cake was nine feet high and weighed 500 pounds, it is shown in the photo below.  The cake was elaborately decorated with Tudor roses, charming cupid figures, lavish columns and royal insignias.  At the wedding breakfast the wedding cake was cut the Duke of Edinburgh’s military sword.    

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip wedding cake

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer   

Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  For the wedding breakfast held at Buckingham Palace there were an amazing 27 wedding cakes.  The main cake was five tiered and stood five feet high was styled simply with only a few embellishments and took fourteen weeks to create.  The cake was decorated with white royal icing and featured the Windsor coat of arms made in marzipan; also the couple’s initials were used to adorn the cake.  The cake was topped with fresh flowers including roses, lilies of the valley and orchids. 


Prince William and Catherine (Kate) Middleton

Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were married on April 29, 2011 at Westminster Abbey.   In following the royal tradition, a wedding breakfast was held after the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.  Fiona Cairns decorated the traditional fruit cake was covered with white fondant and the customary piping and scrollwork; she also incorporated many historical and symbolic decorations.  There were the traditional gum paste flowers including the rose for England, the thistle for Scotland, daffodils for Wales and shamrocks for Ireland.  As a special touch the Sweet William flowers, symbolizing gallantry, were also used to honor the groom. 

The eight tiered wedding cake made by Fi
A small section of the eight tiered wedd  A small section of the eight tiered wedd

Barry Colenso, a master chocolatier, worked with the McVitte Cake Company to create a special cake as requested by the groom.  The actual recipe came from Buckingham Palace and it was based on a classic Tiffin cake which was Prince William’s favorite as a child.  Extra decorations were added in the form of white chocolate flowers, each was was created by hand and took over 6 hours to make.

A brief history of wedding cakes

Some historians trace the tradition of a wedding cake back to ancient Rome.  The custom started with the simple act of breaking bread in half over the head of the bride to bring good luck to the married couple, this symbolized the “breaking of the bride’s virginal state and the subsequent dominance of the groom over her!

In Medieval England at the wedding celebration cakes were stacked high and the bride and groom would try to kiss over the tower of pastries, if the couple could manage to kiss it was determined that they would have a happy and prosperous life together.  Special Note: In some European countries today a croquemouche dessert is made from several stacked profiteroles (cream puff pastries), often decorated with spun sugar, which is frequently served at weddings, baptisms or first communions.

In the 17th century the custom was to have two cakes, one known as the bride’s cake and the other the groom’s cake.  The bride’s cake traditionally was a pound cake with white icing to symbolize virginity and purity.  The groom’s cake was usually a smaller, dark and rich fruit cake which symbolized fertility.  By, the 19th century the custom of two cakes died out and a larger multi-tiered elaborately decorated cake took center stage at the wedding celebration, in the southern states of the United States the groom’s cake is still a tradition.

By the 19th century, the wedding cake for a royal or an aristocratic celebration was a lighter cake made with refined white sugar.  Sugar was very expensive to be used in general baking and by making the wedding cake in this way a family could show their wealth and social status.  In Victorian times, wedding cakes were generally single-layered.  Then a three tiered cake debuted at the Great Exhibition of Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, the first tier was made of cake while the other two tiers were made entirely of sugar.  This multi-tiered cake became popular for wedding cakes, dowels were used to separate the layers and the decorations became even more elaborate.

One of the most popular traditions at a wedding celebration is the cutting of the cake.  Originally the cake would be cut and the bride would distribute the slices to the guests.  As wedding receptions grew in size through the years, the bride and groom would cut the cake, sharing the first slice between each other symbolizing their union and the ability to provide for each other in their future life together.

Two other charming traditions are associated with wedding cake.  The first is the cake pull custom which dates back to the Victorian era.  Silver charms attached to silk ribbons were placed inside the cake.  During the wedding reception the bridesmaids would pull the ribbons/charms from the cake, each charm would have a different meaning.  Today, the cake pull is still a popular tradition in the southern states.

The second (dare I say sweet!) tradition involves a slice of the wedding cake.  Superstitiously in the past many bridesmaids cut a small piece of wedding cake, pass it through a bride’s wedding ring for luck and then it would be wrapped and placed under their pillow in the hopes that they would “dream about their future husband”.  Later this custom evolved into slices of wedding cake specially packaged individually for guests to take home after the wedding to eat later or maybe perhaps to be tucked under their pillows!  Shown in the photo below is a slice from the wedding cake of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Prince William and Kate boxed wedding cake

Celebration – Wedding Traditions

There are so many wonderful traditions regarding weddings and in this post I will explain the stories behind several more wedding traditions and their origins.  Some of these traditions may seem a little strange in our modern world because they are based on old customs and superstitions.

The Engagement and Wedding Rings

  • The engagement and wedding rings are traditionally worn on the third finger of the left hand.  The Romans believed that the vein of this finger runs directly to the heart.  The wedding ring symbolizes true and everlasting love in the shape of a never ending circle.
  • Traditionally the wedding ring is worn first so that it is closest to the heart.  During the wedding ceremony, the bride will wear the engagement ring on her right hand and after the ring exchange she will move the ring to her left hand and place it next to the wedding ring.
  • Today, modern couples are still choosing the traditional white diamonds in a variety of different cuts and sizes, but the current trend is selecting other options of colorful precious gemstones such as yellow diamonds, pink diamonds, sapphire and emeralds.

The White Wedding Dress

  • Prior to the late 1800s, brides generally wore their “best” dress on their wedding day.    The tradition of the white wedding dress is linked to England’s Queen Victoria who wore one when she married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840 and since that time the custom of the white wedding dress became very popular.  By the 1890s, due to the Industrial Revolution, a new wedding dress for the bride to wear on her special dress became a very affordable option.
  • Modern brides are still choosing white wedding dresses but the fashions have become less conservative and more daring with a style such as a strapless bodice.  Brides are also adding more color to their bridal fashion with ribbon sashes that coordinate with the wedding colors or accessories such as a blue petticoat to add a fun element of something blue or and sometimes the bride will change to a shorter dress in bolder colors for the wedding reception.

The Bridal Veil

  • The bridal veil was once traditionally a symbol or purity.  In Roman times, the bride was said to be vulnerable to enchantment and her face was hidden from evil spirits.
  • In many religions, the bridal veil is a considered a sign of humility and respect during a religious ceremony.
  • Queen Victoria is known as the first bride to not cover her face with a blusher.  Today, some brides still choose to wear the romantic tradition of a blusher veil while other brides are still selecting a longer train but one that is detachable for the wedding reception.
  • In the Victorian era, the length and quality of a bridal veil were effective by the bride and her family social status.  Royal brides and members of the aristocracy had the longest veils and trains made of the most expensive fabrics.
  • Modern brides are adding sparkling tiaras or floral wreaths to their bridal veils.  Some brides are choosing other options such as hats in a variety of shapes and sizes while other brides are omitting wearing any type of head covering.

The Bridal Bouquet

  • Floral bouquets have traditional been an accessory for a bride to carry on her wedding day.  Originally flowers were used in the wedding ceremony as a symbol of fertility and were made of a variety of herbs.  In the Victorian Era, orange blossoms were a popular floral choice and many brides wore the flowers attached to their wedding dress or woven into their hair.
  • An old Victorian custom of the language of flowers when creating small nosegays with hidden messages can be interpreted into a modern bridal bouquet.  Search online for the meaning of flowers that could represent the bridal couple’s wishes for a happy marriage.
  • As a loving and thoughtful gesture, brides will recreate the same bridal bouquet that their mothers carried on their wedding day.  Another ideas is instead of a mother’s corsage have the florist to make a special bouquet for the mother of both the bride and groom which can be presented to them before the wedding ceremony.
  • The tradition of tossing the bridal bouquet began in England when the custom of the wedding guests was to rip pieces of the bride’s dress or flowers from her hair or bouquet in order to share some of her good luck.  To save herself from this ordeal, brides started to throw their bridal bouquets into the crowd and then would quickly run away with their groom.
  • Today, the custom has developed into gathering all the single women at the wedding reception, then the bride tosses her bridal bouquet and the tradition is that whoever catches it will be the next one to marry.  Modern brides that wish to keep their bridal bouquet will have their florist make a special smaller bouquet from tossing.
  • Another great option is to throw a special “wish” bouquet.  This unique bouquet is created from several small clusters of flowers that are tied together with ribbon that have a note attached with different romantic fortunes such as: love, happiness, luck, fortune, travel, etc.

Tossing the Bridal Garter

  • The wedding custom of tossing the bridal garter started out in a very unusual way due to a medieval tradition of weddings in England and France when guests would approach the bride and rip pieces of her wedding dress which were considered a piece of good luck.  These events would be so upsetting for the bride that eventually the idea of tossing the bridal garter was done to satisfy the wedding guests.
  • The custom of tossing the garter is usually done by the groom who, sometimes with much fanfare, will remove the garter from the leg of the bride.  The single men will gather and the groom will toss the garter into the crowd and the one who catches the garter is the next one to marry.  In some parts of the Midwest, garters were suctioned off to the highest bidder.
  • Today, traditionally the bride will select a blue garter decorated with blue ribbon and white lace for their “something blue”.  Sometimes, if the bride wishes to save her garter, will wear a second garter and that is the one used at the wedding reception.

Other Wedding Traditions

  1. Giving away the bride – The custom of the father giving his daughter away dates back to the time when arranged marriages were common.  Daughters were considered the property of their father and were given way for a price.  Today, traditionally the father will give his daughter away as a symbol of his blessing of the marriage.
  2. Bridesmaids – In past centuries, the purpose of the bridesmaids was that the bride’s friends would dress like the bride in order to confuse the evil spirits away from her.  Today, bridesmaids are chosen by the bride from her close friends to support her during the stressful time leading up to the wedding day.
  3. The Best Man – In Medieval England, there was an ancient custom of a man selecting his strongest men to capture a woman from her family.  Then, his best man would accompany the groom to the wedding ceremony and stand on the left side of the bride to keep their sword arm free to protect the bride.
  4. Cutting the Wedding Cake – One of the highlights of the wedding reception is usually when the bridal couple cuts the wedding cake.  The custom originates in England during Anglo-Saxon times, when guests would bring small cakes to the wedding.  Later, a French baker decided to create a tiered cake and stacked small cakes on top of each other and covered them with frosting.
  5. Throwing Rice – The custom of throwing rice on the bridal couple symbolizes the guests showering their love and good wishes for a happy marriage.  In France, people used to throw wheat and Italians would toss candy or sugared nuts.

Every bride getting married knows the tradition of the Old English rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.”  Please check out this month’s Celebration post “Something old, new…” for ideas and suggestions regarding this wonderful tradition.