In one of the best moments in Downton Abbey, it was finally Lady Edith’s turn to stand at the top of the Oak Staircase here in the Castle as, full of excitement and nervousness, she walked down the stairs, her father and Carson looking proudly on. She was finally getting married. Of course, it was not the first Downton wedding. Lady Mary had married twice, Anna and Bates just the once and Carson and Mrs Hughes had finally realised what we knew all along – they would be a perfect match.
In reality I, and most of my predecessors, were not married at Highclere. Almina, the 5th Countess, and Catherine, the 6th Countess, were both married in St Margaret’s Westminster, a beautiful church next door to Westminster Abbey. Geordie and I were married at the Savoy Chapel, a gem of a chapel tucked away behind the river which is still part of the Duchy of Lancaster and, as such, is a royal peculiar, (a word from the Latin peculium ‘property’) meaning under the jurisdiction of the reigning monarch rather than a bishop. It is an old building, simple and restrained in design but with an extraordinary and ornate ceiling with quatrefoils.
In 1945, just before the end of World War Two, Geordie’s aunt Penelope did marry from Highclere. It was not a large wedding but a very happy one, a time of rationing, of making do, of pooling resources and of using flowers from the gardens. Today, Highclere is approved to hold civil marriages and civil partnerships and Lady Edith could now get married in the Saloon, although what is more charming than a horse and carriage to the church. “Horse and Carriage” is cockney rhyming slang for marriage and you walk down the “Apples and pears” (stairs) whilst most couples arrive and depart in a “jam jar” (car) rather than a Charing Cross (horse).
Geordie and I return to the Savoy Chapel each year around Valentines’ day to be together and to remember our wedding. It is a wonderful service and, partly because it has become so special to us, we have in turn created an annual Valentines event at the Castle. We have even had a few engagements. It is always a moving moment. One such who stands out particularly in my memory was a serving soldier who had spent some time away on active duty and was so determined to make everything perfect. It was very moving for us all. … Of course another, rather famous, ex-soldier is getting married this coming weekend and everyone wishes him and his American bride much happiness together.
Churchill wrote : My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” I always thoroughly enjoy reading Churchill!