Today, the Duke and Duchess of Kent celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary. Sixty years of marriage is a major accomplishment. To celebrate, we’re going back to where it began, with a closer look at the royal jewels worn in York Minster for the couple’s wedding ceremony on June 8, 1961.
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent met his future wife, Katharine Lucy Mary Worsley, in 1957. The young duke was stationed with his regiment, the Royal Scots Greys, at Catterick Garrison in Yorkshire. Katharine, the daughter of Sir William Worsley, 4th Bt, lived nearby at Hovingham Hall. The couple met at a fancy dress party, where Edward was in Tudor costume. As early as 1958, there were rumors in the press that the couple would be imminently announcing their engagement.
But there was a problem: Edward’s mother. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent was a woman from the old school of royalty. She was worried that her son, who was then 21, was too young to marry. She also didn’t like that Katharine was a few years older than Edward, but even more than that, she didn’t like that Katharine was a commoner. Born Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, she was the daughter of a Greek prince and a Russian grand duchess. She had married Prince George, Duke of Kent, a younger son of King George V and Queen Mary, in 1934. And she was apparently hoping for a similarly royal daughter-in-law.
It took several years for Marina to finally accept the marriage. The couple lived apart—he with his regiment in Germany, she in Canada—for a year. By March 1961, the couple’s engagement was officially announced to the public. Edward and Katharine were photographed with her parents and his mother and sister, with Katharine’s diamond and sapphire engagement ring sparkling in the sun.
The wedding took place at York Minster in Katharine’s native Yorkshire on June 8, 1961. The medieval cathedral was filled with members of her family, the Windsors, and royals from around the world. The couple were married by the brand-new Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. A week before the wedding, Ramsey had been elevated to the position, having previously served as Archbishop of York.
On her wedding day, Katharine arrived at the cathedral wearing an ultra-chic ’60s wedding gown. The dress was made by John Cavanagh, an Irish fashion designer who counted Princess Marina as one of his clients. Working with three young assistants, Cavanagh made the dress out of more than 200 yards of silk gauze. It featured a standaway collar, a tight waist, and a full skirt, as well as a 15-foot train. Fittings continued right up until the wedding day, and even then, a few stitches at the dress’s hem were left intentionally unfinished. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “Miss Worsley believes in the superstition that it’s lucky to leave some part of her wedding dress not quite finished.”
Katharine’s tulle veil was secured with a tiara that came from the collection of the groom’s late grandmother, Queen Mary. The sleek diamond bandeau coordinated beautifully with the cut of the neckline of the bride’s gown, adding plenty of diamond sparkle without detracting from the overall look. She also wore diamond earrings and a single strand of pearls. Her bouquet was made of white roses—fitting, as the press had begun to call her “the White Rose of York,” a reference to the medieval House of York, and a symbol that remains important in Yorkshire to this day.
Katharine walked down the aisle of the cathedral on the arm of her father, Sir William Worsley. She arrived for the wedding precisely three minutes behind schedule.
Inside the church, an impressive array of royal guests were waiting to see her. The assembly included the groom’s family (Princess Marina, Princess Alexandra, and Prince Michael) as well as a good turnout of members of the larger British royal family. Led by the Queen, the Windsor guests included the Duke of Edinburgh; the Prince of Wales; the Queen Mother; Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones; the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester with Prince William of Gloucester; the Princess Royal; the Earl and Countess of Harewood; Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone; and Lady Patricia Ramsay with Sir Alexander Ramsay.
Numerous foreign royals attended the wedding, too. (Remember that Edward is royal on both sides of his family tree.) These included his aunt and uncle, Prince Paul and Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, as well as Queen Ena of Spain with the Count of Barcelona and Infante Juan Carlos; Crown Prince Constantine of the Hellenes with Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark; Crown Prince Harald of Norway; Princess Margrethe of Denmark; Princess Irene of the Netherlands; the Dowager Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (Prince Philip’s sister, Margarita); and other royal cousins, including Queen Mother Helen of Romania and Prince and Princess Alexander of Yugoslavia.
(One interesting historical sidenote: this wedding was reportedly the moment when Juan Carlos and Sophia began their romance in earnest. They married less than a year later in Athens.)
With that kind of royal attendance, you can imagine that there were some major royal jewels on display. You’d be right! The Queen wore a magnificent four-stranded pearl necklace with the Williamson Pink Diamond Brooch. The brooch was made by Cartier, and the exceptionally rare pink diamond in its center was one of Elizabeth’s wedding presents. Her hat was decorated with a white rose, another nod to the White Rose of York. (Elizabeth was, of course, also a York princess when she was born.)
The Queen Mother wore a three-stranded pearl necklace with another magnificent jewel: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Fringe Brooch. The brooch, made using diamonds gifted by the Sultan of Turkey, was originally the centerpiece of Victoria’s chaine de corsage. Beside her, Queen Ena of Spain (one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters) wears pearls with her gray pearl cluster brooch. The brooch, which is part of the joyas de pasar collection, is now worn by Queen Letizia.
Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra of Kent both piled on the pearls as well. Both also wore diamond and pearl brooches. Marina’s features a pearl cluster with a single pendant drop, while Alexandra’s more elaborate diamond and pearl brooch features five pearl pendants. Marina’s brooch, I believe, is now worn by Princess Michael of Kent. Alexandra still wears her brooch today; we saw her wear it for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace two years ago.
Princess Margaret, who had just announced that she was expecting her first child, wore her rectangular aquamarine brooch, which features a slender border of diamonds at its edge.
We also got glimpses of some of the other royals at the service in the newsreel footage from the day. Here’s the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the parents of the present duke.
And here’s Lord Mountbatten. He attended the wedding with both of his daughters, Patricia and Pamela, and their husbands.
Prince Michael of Kent was beside his brother, the groom, as his supporter.
Princess Anne was a very expert chief bridesmaid, handling the bride’s bouquet with absolute professionalism.
And Prince Charles was very serious in the front row, wearing his school tie from Cheam with his navy suit.
The groom’s father, the late Prince George, Duke of Kent, had been dead for almost two decades by the time of this royal wedding. But his presence was still felt in the inclusion of some of his friends on the guest list. One of these was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who attended with his wife, Mary Lee. The late Prince George had been a celebrated visitor at the home of Fairbanks’s parents, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, in Hollywood in the late 1920s. Later, during Douglas Jr.’s honeymoon with Joan Crawford in Britain in the 1930s, he was hosted the Duke. The younger Fairbanks, a keen Anglophile, had moved to Britain in the 1950s. Prince George is referenced as “P.G.” in Fairbanks’s memoir, published in the 1980s.
Also on the guest list from the fashionable Kent coterie was the playwright Noel Coward. He was reportedly invited personally by Princess Marina. In the ’30s, Coward was a very good friend (and, depending on who you ask, much more than that) of the late Prince George. Coward was also a guest at the Kent wedding of 1934; he gave George and Marina a 20-volume set of his own plays as a wedding present.
At the close of the wedding ceremony, the new Duchess of Kent curtseyed deeply to the Queen before processing out of the cathedral.
The couple, who had waited patiently for this day, shared a small smile as they left the church. Theirs had been the first royal wedding at York Minster in more than 600 years, since the wedding of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault in 1328.
Following a wedding breakfast at Hovingham Hall, her family home, the couple set off for a Scottish honeymoon.
Sixty years later, the Duke and the Duchess are still married, though their marriage has had to weather some serious storms and a long separation. They have three children (the Earl of St. Andrews, Lady Helen Taylor, and Lord Nicholas Windsor) and ten grandchildren. Recently, the Duchess was the subject of a new documentary that aired on British television. You can see it (at least, you can at the time of this article’s publication) here.