Princess Charlotte's 1816 wedding dress on display at Buckingham Palace

Silver-embroidered silk dress featured in exhibition alongside more than 200 works from Royal Collection

Exhibition curator Anna Reynolds adjusts the earliest surviving British royal wedding dress, worn by Princess Charlotte, at Buckingham Palace. PA
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Britain's oldest surviving royal wedding gown, dating back to 1816, is set to go on display at Buckingham Palace.

The remarkable gown belonged to Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of King George IV, and is the only surviving royal wedding dress from the Georgian period.

The modern-day Princess Charlotte of Wales, the seven-year-old daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales, shares her name with her ancestor.

The dress is a silver-embroidered silk bridal gown, and will be displayed in the Queen's Gallery at the palace in London, as part of the Style & Society: Dressing The Georgians exhibition.

Princess Charlotte's wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later the first King of Belgium, was considered one of the most important royal marriage celebrations of the era.

She embraced the tradition of European royal brides wearing silver, despite white wedding dresses already being popular by the end of the 18th century.

The headstrong princess was George IV’s only legitimate child, but she tragically died aged only 21, from complications, soon after giving birth to a stillborn son the year after her wedding.

The Royal Collection Trust reports that the dress appears to have been significantly altered from its original form, in keeping with the Georgian practice of repurposing and recycling clothing. Nevertheless, it still maintains its stunning beauty and intricate detailing.

The gown has a silk satin high-waisted bodice with short puffed sleeves and dipping neckline, underskirt, overskirt, train and apron, and metallic embroidery.

Princess Charlotte's life was marked by tragedy, and her untimely death deeply affected her family and the nation as a whole.

Born in 1796, she was the only child of King George IV, at the time a prince, and Caroline of Brunswick. As the sole legitimate grandchild of George III, she became heir presumptive to the British throne at birth, and her arrival was welcomed by the king, who wrote shortly after stating that he “always wished it should be of that sex”.

However, this did not signify the king's desire for her to become queen in future, as he disclosed his hopes that the princess's birth would serve as “a bond of additional union” and reconciliation between her parents, presumably leading to the birth of a male heir.

Princess Charlotte formed an attachment to Capt Charles Hesse of the 18th Light Dragoons, but the relationship came to an end when Capt Hesse departed for the continent, taking her letters with him.

She later became engaged to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, but broke it off after facing pressure from her father.

The princess eventually married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, before suffering the stillbirth and dying five hours later.

The exhibition features more than 200 works from the Royal Collection, including a bracelet with nine lockets ― six containing locks of hair and one with a miniature of the left eye of Princess Charlotte. The exhibition also explores the hair, cosmetics, and grooming tools used by Georgian men and women to achieve their elaborate styles.

On show for the first time is a silver-gilt travelling toilet service, acquired by the future George IV as a gift for his private secretary at a cost of £300, the equivalent of more than £20,000 today.

The toilet service gives an insight into a Georgian gentleman’s grooming routine. It contains more than 100 objects, including razors, combs, ear spoons, and tongue scrapers — as well as tools for cleaning guns and making hot chocolate.

Anna Reynolds, curator of Style & Society, said: “Dress is so much more than just what we see on the surface, and it’s fascinating what we can learn about a period when looking at it through a fashion history lens.

“Visitors might be surprised to learn how much the Georgian period has in common with the fashion landscape we know today, from influencers and fashion magazines to ideas about the value of clothes and how they can be recycled and repurposed.”

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see the only surviving royal wedding dress from the Georgian period and to gain insight into the life and times of Princess Charlotte, a remarkable woman who would have become queen had she survived. Her legacy lives on through the surviving artefacts of her time, including her beautiful gown.

Updated: April 22, 2023, 9:17 AM