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Bedding Ceremonies – Royal wedding nights to forget

Barbara Stepko

They may have said their vows in front of 29 million people, but the wedding night of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was a considerably more discreet affair. Lucky them.

We’ve all seen some rather bizarre weddings and wedding nights in shows like Game of Thrones. But what about high profile weddings from history?

Not all royal post-nuptial proceedings have been as private, nor as, well, dignified as Harry and Megan’s. Check out these mergers, which were memorable—for all the wrong reasons.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leave Windsor Castle

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leave Windsor Castle

Centuries ago, in Prince Harry’s home turf of England, wedding nights were a family affair. Bedding ceremonies, as they were known, involved the bride and groom being put in their marital bed by family members and friends.

A satirical cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank of Princess Charlotte and Prince Frederick being led to bed by a party including her parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte.

A satirical cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank of Princess Charlotte and Prince Frederick being led to bed by a party including her parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The ceremony kicked off with a priest blessing the royal bed. Afterwards, the couple drank from goblets of wine and prepared themselves for the big moment. The groomsmen and the bridesmaids, positioned along the sides of the bed, tossed the couple’s stockings at them (according to superstition, anyone lucky enough to score a “direct hit” would soon marry).

King Charles I after original by van Dyck.

King Charles I after original by van Dyck.

When the fun and games were over, the curtains around the bed were drawn around and the couple were left to their own devices. After the 1509 wedding of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, “Catherine was led from the wedding feast by ladies in waiting, then courtiers de-robed Henry in the bedchamber,” according to historian Lucy Worsley. “Until the very last minute, the room would have been full of people cheering them on.”

Some newlyweds simply said “no way” to the bedding ceremony. King Charles I of England (1625–1649) actually barred the door of his bedroom. Take a closer look with this video:

 

Still, the custom would continue for another century. In fact, decades down the road, the consummation of the future King William III, also known as William of Orange, and his bride Mary II of England, was witnessed by his uncle Charles II, who not only shouted words of encouragement but offered advice to the couple.

Louis XIII, Anne, and their son Louis XIV, flanked by Cardinal Richelieu and the Duchesse de Chevreuse.

Louis XIII, Anne, and their son Louis XIV, flanked by Cardinal Richelieu and the Duchesse de Chevreuse.

Talk about young love. Anne of Austria was just 11 years old when she was betrothed to King Louis XIII of France, also 11, in 1612. (In fact, the two royals had both been born in September 1601, within days of each other.) They were officially married three years later, at age 14. It was customary for a young bride and groom to live apart until they reached a more appropriate age.

But the royal families insisted the couple consummate the marriage as soon as possible, so there could be no chance of annulment. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, quite a bit. Unlike his testosterone-loaded he-man father, Henri IV, the groom wasn’t quite as comfortable with the opposite sex—and that’s putting it mildly. Legend has it, Louis had to be carried to the wedding bed. The deed was done with two nurses in attendance.

After the wedding in 1654 between Charles X Gustav of Sweden and Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp.

After the wedding in 1654 between Charles X Gustav of Sweden and Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp.

The following morning, Louis’s mother, the Queen-Regent, perused the sheets, searching for traces of virginal blood. The nurses assured her that the act had been performed—twice. Perhaps. Once his honeymoon night was over, the 14-year-old king never returned, a sticky concern in terms of diplomacy.

Fortunately, a quick-witted cousin offered a solution. Since she was soon to be hitched, she and her fiancé invited the young and coitally-clueless king to watch them in action on their wedding night. And that he did, applauding as they performed for him. Twice.

Reymont and Melusina blessed by the bishop in their bed on their wedlock, 15th-century woodcut.

Reymont and Melusina blessed by the bishop in their bed on their wedlock, 15th-century woodcut.

It wasn’t just European rulers whose post-wedding nuptials became famous. After the abdication of the Chinese monarchy in 1912, Puyi was an emperor in name only. Even so, the figurehead’s wedding was held in the imperial Forbidden City and was an elaborate affair. (Puyi chose his wife, Gobulo Wanrong, as well as his official concubine, at age 16, from photographs.) The ceremony took place on December 1, 1922, a date chosen by the imperial astronomers.

Aisin Gioro Puyi.

Aisin Gioro Puyi.

But even the royal star-gazers couldn’t have foreseen the problems ahead. After a meal of dumplings (served to signify a marriage with children) and noodles (representing longevity), Puyi, Wanrong, and his concubine (who the emperor married the same night) were escorted to the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, where all Chinese emperors consummated their unions.

However, the groom, overwhelmed by the night’s festivities, as well as the chamber’s red surroundings (representing love and sex in Chinese culture), had an anxiety attack and fled the Dragon Bed—leaving his young wife understandably confused.

This incident, combined with the couple’s failure to produce an heir, led some to believe the union was never consummated—either because Puyi was sexually immature, impotent, or, perhaps, gay.


Barbara Stepko is a New Jersey-based freelance editor and writer who has contributed to AARP magazine and the Wall Street Journal.