In all the tizzy about the royal wedding in Great Britain, few people know that Ohio had its own royal wedding in Columbus in the Victorian era. The lovely young May Amelia Parsons married Prince Ernst Manderup Alexander zu Lynar of Prussia at Trinity Episcopal Church on May 16, 1871.
May Parsons was already from an impressive family, even if they weren’t titled. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was Gustavus Swan, an Ohio Supreme Court judge. Her paternal grandfather was Samuel Parsons, a highly respected physician who had been in charge of the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum. Her own father, George McClellan Parsons, was a state legislator and was said to be the first millionaire in town.
While the common people were enamored of the royal nuptials, the newspaper men were downright mean-spirited about it. Before the wedding, they sneered at the expense of it. The wealthy Parsons and zu Lynars admittedly did go for the best quality when choosing their wedding clothing. A shirt purchased for the bridegroom cost the equivalent of $2,750 in today’s money. One of the bride’s younger sisters also talked the groom into buying a Worth gown, the haute couture of the period, for her to wear at the wedding. The newspapers mocked the exorbitance, saying that given the state of politics in Europe, the prince was just as likely to “end up scraping plebeian mugs at fifteen cents a head in a New York barbershop” within five years.
One particularly biting account of the wedding was given by Mr. Jenkins, a “special correspondent” from Cincinnati Enquirer. He was apparently the Victorian counterpart of Perez Hilton, with his snarky accounts of social affairs being published in several states. He made snide comments on everything from the color of the groom’s mustache to the fact that he was of Italian ancestry.
The reporter was quite vocal about his belief that the bride’s mother was trying to buy her family a royal title through the union. Indeed, the situation did seem to be like something out of Edith Wharton’s novel, The Buccaneers. May and Prince Lynar met in France at the court of French Emperor Louis Napolean and Empress Eugenie. With May enjoying such an elite social life, there is little wonder why the press cast a fish eye on the Parsons’ claim that she had been sent to Europe “for her health.” Two of her sisters later married titled Englishmen, as well.
Jenkin’s main complaint was about the dowry. Prince zu Lynar had insisted on a dowry of $50,000, which is roughly equivalent to $1,000,000 today. May’s father did balk at paying that. Her mother, however, was happy to pay the price out of her own private coffers. Considering that the Prince likewise offered a dower of $60,000, which May would inherit upon his death, May stood to come out ahead in the long run. Her intended was 20 years her elder, so the chances of him dying before her were good.
When the big day came, hundreds of common folk were already milling around Trinity Episcopal Church hours before the wedding was supposed to start. Swarms of school girls, fashionable ladies, and other onlookers were excitedly waiting for a glimpse of the Prince and the princess-to-be. By the time the invited guests started to arrive, they could barely get their carriages through the crowds. The church was opened up to admit the goggle-eyed public once the invited guests had taken their seats.
The wedding itself was somewhat disappointing to the crowd, who were expecting a grand show. If anything, crowds aside, it may have been more low-key than the average wedding. One newspaper account commended it as being “utterly devoid of all the flash and clatter that have come to be part of the so-called grand American weddings.” The church was undecorated, and the bridal party’s clothing was elegant but tasteful. The groom wore an evening suit with only an iron cross around his neck and a modest insignia on his label to signify his rank. The ceremony had the usual music and rites with little fanfare. After the ceremony, the wedding party quietly retired to the Parsons’ mansion for a private reception with just family and some visiting dignitaries from Prussia. Even the honeymoon was relatively pedestrian. The newlyweds made a short trip to Niagara Falls before heading back to to the groom’s homeland.
The royal wedding may not have been something out of a fairy tale, but the marriage itself had a happy ending. According to their descendants, the zu Lynar’s had a very warm, friendly marriage until the Prince’s death in 1886.
Some helpful citation:
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. May 17, 1871.
Cincinnati Daily Enquirer. May 13, 1871.
______. May 17, 1871.
______. May 18, 1871.
Cincinnati Daily Gazette. May 17, 1871.
Leavenworth Bulletin. May 21, 1871.
Reference Library Assistant