What Grace Kelly's Wedding Was Really Like

When Hollywood princess, Grace Kelly, married Prince Rainier III and became a real-life princess, it was one of the most extravagant weddings in history. The pair had first met a year earlier during the Cannes Film Festival. As Hello Monaco reported, the fated meeting almost didn't happen. That morning, Kelly's hotel lost power as she was getting ready. She couldn't dry her hair or iron her clothes. She reportedly threw on a floral dress and decked her air-dried hair with flowers before setting off to meet the prince. He was instantly besotted and soon, the pair were writing each other letters. By the end of the year, Rainier had proposed to Kelly at her parents' home in Philadelphia, presenting her with a Cartier ring. Rainier then gave her another Cartier ring, which she wore in the film "High Society." 

Their engagement was like something out of a fairytale — and the wedding that followed was no different. Let's take a look back at Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly's incredible wedding celebrations in 1956.

The wedding celebrations begin with Grace Kelly's arrival in Monaco

Although the official wedding between Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III took place on April 19, 1956, the celebrations began a few days earlier, when Kelly arrived in Monaco. The Hollywood star took the SS Constitution across the Atlantic along with her whole family, her six bridesmaids, and her poodle, Oliver. It was an eight-day trip. "The whole Constitution trip was something Mom referred to at times,' explained Kelly's son, Prince Albert of Monaco (via Daily Mail). "She'd say it was fun for the wedding party. It really bonded the whole Philadelphia side, her family and friends who came over together on the crossing."

Upon their arrival in Monaco, a huge congregation of 20,000 citizens were waiting to greet them. At the time, there were only 23,000 people living in the principality. The crowds were so immense, riot police from France were even summoned to keep the peace.

The couple were legally married in a private ceremony

Before their extravagant ceremony in Monaco's Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III officially tied the knot in a small private civil ceremony in accordance with the law of Monaco. The small ceremony took place on April 18, 1956, a day before the wedding, in the palace throne room. 

Kelly wore a pale pink floral suit dress designed by Helen Rose covered in French Alençon lace which had been sewn on by hand. The ceremony itself lasted a mere 16 minutes and was repeated for reporters. "Miss Kelly, dressed in a beige lace gown with a tight-fitting hat, was visibly nervous throughout the ceremony", wrote a BBC reporter of the event (via Hello Monaco). The Washington Post reported that Kelly said simply, "I am numb," after the ceremony. The publication also reported that the somber mood on the day was due to the sudden illness of Rainier's chamberlain. Following their official marriage, Kelly and Rainier appeared on the balcony to greet the 500 well-wishers below.

The evening before the public ceremony, they went to the opera

After officially marrying in a private ceremony, the royal couple spent the evening before their grand public wedding ceremony at the Monte Carlo Opera. They sat in the lavish royal box and watched a special gala performance. Gracy Kelly donned a stunning embroidered silk gown by the French designer Lanvin and elbow-length white gloves and carried a bejeweled clutch.

She also wore "gala jewels" including her first tiara for the occasion. The tiara was a gift from Monaco's Société des Bains de Mer and features a jewel that can also be worn alone as a brooch. Her diamond necklace by Cartier was a gift from her new husband. It was the first time citizens of Monaco had seen their new princess wearing the traditional jewels of the Monaco royal family. Prince Rainier III's mother, Princess Charlotte, was also in attendance, also wearing a Cartier tiara.

The extravagant ceremony at Saint Nicholas Cathedral

On April 19, 1956, the public ceremony took place in Monaco's beautiful Saint Nicholas Cathedral. At the time, it was the most-watched event ever, with over 1,600 members of the press waiting outside and 30 million people tuning in to watch the proceedings on TV. The ceremony was led by Bishop Gilles Barthe.

According to RoyalCentral, Kelly's bouquet was particularly noteworthy. Instead of carrying a lavish display of flowers, she carried a simple bouquet of lily of the valley flowers along with a Bible covered in lace and pearls, as she walked down the aisle. According to the Daily Mail, Kelly was composed and calm throughout the ceremony, while Prince Rainier III appeared to be a little more nervous. The incredible event can still be found on YouTube, and you can watch Kelly make her way down the aisle for her fairy-tale wedding for yourself.

Grace Kelly's wedding dress has become a symbol of the fairy-tale wedding

While Grace Kelly's entire wedding was stunning, there was one feature that stood out above everything — it was, of course, the wedding dress. On her big day, Kelly wore a show-stopping gown designed by costume designer Helen Rose, who had also designed her dress for the civil ceremony, as well as costumes for dozens of Hollywood films. The beautiful dress, with its full silk skirt and classic cut, really was fit for a princess, making it the perfect addition to the fairy-tale "wedding of the century." It featured a bodice covered in delicately hand-sewn Brussels lace and pearls along with a long train. Kelly wore a Juliet Cap rather than a tiara to complete the look.

The dress has since become an iconic symbol of bridal style. "The reason Princess Grace's wedding gown still resonates today with so many brides has at least as much to do with who wore it, as the dress itself," Lorenzo Marquez, cofounder of fashion website Tom + Lorenzo told Vanity Fair. "The design is lovely and timeless, but the way the dress sits at an intersection of Hollywood and royalty makes it particularly evocative and very much an aspirational fantasy piece for many brides." He noted that even Kate Middleton took inspiration from Kelly when it came to her royal wedding day decades later. Joe Hong, a designer for Neiman Marcus, created the looks for the bridesmaids and flower girls.

Prince Rainier wore a military uniform

Grace Kelly may have been the perfect royal bride, but the groom, Prince Rainier III, also looked the part at their elaborate wedding. Instead of wearing a tuxedo, he opted to wear a full military uniform. However, rather than wearing a traditional, standard uniform, Rainier actually designed his own outfit. According to Hello Monaco, his design was inspired by uniforms worn by Napoleon Bonaparte. Rainier was fascinated by Napoleon and even opened a museum wing dedicated to him.

The outfit featured a black jacket covered in numerous medals and a sash with gold detailing. He wore pale blue trousers with a golden stripe on the outer leg. He also wore a traditional military helmet, which he removed in the church, and carried a military sword and gloves. Even though this may not have technically been a real military uniform, Rainier certainly looked the part of the fairy-tale prince at his wedding.

The couple exchanged vows and Grace Kelly said 'I do' in French

During the ceremony itself, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III exchanged vows at the altar. It was a quiet, reflective ceremony that held to religious traditions. After Kelly came down the aisle with her father, she took her place at the altar. After Rainier joined her, the bishop first gave a speech in French. The pair then took each other's hands and exchanged rings before kneeling and praying together.

When it came time to say, "I do," Kelly responded in French — although her exact words are unknown. While the U.P. reported that she replied, "Je veux," the Post wrote that she said merely, "Oui." The Times even reported that she said, "Oui, Monseigneur." Another outlet wrote that her response was "barely audible" (via Time). After exchanging their vows in French, the pair made their way back down the aisle arm in arm to greet the crowds outside where they released a white dove into the sky.

There was a star-studded guest list

As you might imagine, there were plenty of well-known faces in attendance to watch Grace Kelly join Monaco's royal family. Not only were some famous political figures present, there were also many members of the Hollywood elite.

As the Daily Mail reported, there were around 700 people invited. Among them was Aristotle Onassis, who would later marry Jackie Kennedy after the assassination of JFK, Conrad Hilton, of the Hilton hotels, David Niven, the British actor known for "The Pink Panther" and "Around the World in 80 Days," Cary Grant, who had starred opposite Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," Gloria Swanson, who had recently starred in "Sunset Boulevard," and Ava Gardener, who became close friends with Kelly after they starred in the 1953 film "Mogambo" together. Other elite wedding guests included Aga Khan III, Gloria Guinness, Daisy Fellowes, Lady Diana Cooper, and Etti Plesch.

After the ceremony, the couple drove through Monaco

Upon leaving the cathedral after their official religious ceremony, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III stepped not into a traditional carriage, but into a brand-new Rolls Royce. According to Hello Monaco, the car was a wedding gift from the citizens of Monaco. The pair sat in the back of the open-top car and drove through Monaco waving to the crowds that had gathered. They were surrounded by an escort of a group of guards on motorcycles.

And that wasn't the only Rolls Royce Kelly sat in that day, as she was driven to the ceremony in one as well. As the Holland Sentinel reported, that particular Rolls Royce has a pretty fascinating history. It was owned by John Hjelme-Lundberg, the consul general to the Swedish king, who had been driven in the car in the past. Hjelme-Lundberg was friends with Rainier and he agreed to drive his bride to the wedding. 

Their six-tier wedding cake contained real doves

The extravagance didn't stop there. After the wedding ceremony, the couple and their guests celebrated at a grand reception. Guests were served a decadent meal that included champagne, caviar, smoked salmon, salami, and lobster. But the centerpiece was the wedding cake. The gorgeous six-tier cake stood taller than any of the guests in the room and reportedly weighed 90 kilos — approximately 198 pounds. It featured intricate sculpture work depicting the palace of Monaco, scenes from the principality's history, and cherubs, and was topped with a music box. As the Daily Mail reported, the cake alone cost £10,000.

Things got even more extravagant when Rainier and Kelly cut the cake. As the story goes, when Rainier sliced the cake open — not with a knife, but with a sword — two live turtle doves emerged from within. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic romantic gesture than that!

Grace Kelly received some incredible wedding gifts

As you might have already guessed, the wedding of the century yielded some pretty impressive gifts for the happy couple. The dress that Kelly wore to the first civil ceremony was a gift from Metro Goldwyn Mayer, the film studio she had previously worked with. Her brother, Jack, gave her a Weimaraner dog, along with an Olympic bronze medal he had won for rowing. She received another dog, a poodle named Oliver, from the actor Cary Grant.

The people of Monaco gave the couple a Rolls Royce, a white dove, a huge pile of letters and notes, and a giant bouquet of flowers. The most extravagant gift was perhaps the present from Aristotle Onassis, who gifted the couple a huge yacht. As for Rainier, he gave his bride a stunning set of diamond and pearl jewelry. Suffice to say, this wasn't your typical wedding registry!

The pair set off for their honeymoon in their brand new yacht

The wedding celebrations came to an end when Grace Kelly and her new husband, Prince Rainier III, set off for their honeymoon. The couple spent their seven-week getaway around Corsica and Sardinia aboard the Deo Juvante II, the yacht that Aristotle Onassis had given them for their wedding. According to the Daily Mail, the yacht stopped off the coast of Monaco for the first night and Kelly almost instantly fell asleep after stepping aboard — we're hardly surprised!

The yacht is now called the M/Y Grace and is owned by Quasar Expeditions, a boutique holiday company. The yacht has recently been renovated and now features a coffee lounge, a bar, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a hot tub, and plenty of outdoor seating. The yacht can now be rented for a cruise of the Galápagos. As The Sun reported, Grace Kelly's suite costs a cool £17,000 to rent.