20 Facts About Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's Wedding

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

When you hear the term "royal wedding," Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer might be the first couples who spring to mind. But what about Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's big day?

While the couple recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary, their romance was far from a fairytale. Elizabeth's family wasn't thrilled with the pairing, and Philip's German heritage meant that he couldn't invite his sisters to attend. There was drama, and romance, and gifts galore—not to mention one ill-timed broken tiara. Read on for all the royally fascinating details about Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's wedding.

1. THE COUPLE MET AT ANOTHER ROYAL WEDDING.

Weddings are known as a great place to meet potential mates, and Elizabeth and Philip prove that, though it would take more than 10 years for them to get together. Which is for the best, as (then-Princess) Elizabeth was only 8 years old when she first met Philip at the 1934 wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip's cousin) to Prince George, Duke of Kent (Elizabeth's uncle). The two, who are distant cousins, met again in 1939, and began a kind of courtship via written correspondence (the 1930s equivalent of texting).

2. HE POPPED THE QUESTION AT BALMORAL CASTLE.

The exterior of Balmoral Castle
iStock

The couple didn't get to see much of each other during World War II, as Philip was a Royal Navy officer. In 1946, Philip was back in London and a regular visitor to Buckingham Palace. That same year, while spending a month at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, Philip proposed to Elizabeth—who happily, and immediately, accepted.

3. THEY KEPT THEIR ENGAGEMENT A SECRET FOR A WHILE.

Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and her Fiance Philip Mountbatten (also the Duke of Edinburgh) pose in the Buckingham Palace on July 09, 1947 in London, the day their engagement was officially announced.
AFP/Getty Images

While Elizabeth was quick to accept Philip's marriage proposal, that's not the way that royal marriages work. Elizabeth's parents—her father, the King, in particular—should have been consulted. When he learned of his daughter's plans, he agreed to let the marriage go forward—but only if the couple waited until after her 21st birthday to announce their engagement. They agreed. On July 9, 1947, the official public announcement was made. And the couple tied the knot on November 20, 1947, just over four months later.

4. ELIZABETH'S FATHER WAS NOT THRILLED ABOUT HER CHOICE OF MATE.

 From left to right, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth, King George VI, and Princess Margaret Rose wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace August 15, 1945 on VJ Day in London, England
Getty Images

Though they eventually came around, Elizabeth's parents were not overjoyed by her relationship with Philip. "Despite Philip's British background and his fine war record, George VI was deeply worried about how British opinion, particularly its left wing, would take to a Greek Prince as the husband of the heiress presumptive," according to a 1957 article in TIME Magazine. "There was also something about his daughter's brash young man with his loud, boisterous laugh and his blunt, seagoing manners that irritated the gentle King. Besides, the fellow couldn't shoot."

Shooting prowess aside, it was obvious that Elizabeth had no plans of backing down—or out. At the King's request, Lord Louis Mountbatten (Philip's uncle) began quietly sussing out what the public's opinion of the match might be. When a poll in the Sunday Pictorial (now the Sunday Mirror) showed that 64 percent of its readership was rooting for the couple, Elizabeth finally got her way.

It's worth noting that those in the direct line of succession to the throne must receive permission to marry from the reigning monarch. So if Elizabeth and Philip had not received her dad's blessing, their love story could have had a much different ending.

5. THEY WERE TOLD TO KEEP IT LOW-KEY.

 The title page of a bible dedicated to Princess Elizabeth to commemorate her marriage to Lietenant Phillip Mountbatten. A gift from the Young Women's Catholic Association of Great Britain
Reg Speller, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Given that the country was just emerging from World War II, many political insiders took it upon themselves to warn King George VI that it was important for the morale of England that the young couple keep it simple. According to David Kynaston's Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, the King was told that, "Any banqueting and display at your daughter's wedding will be an insult to the British people at the present time … and we would consider that you would be well advised to order a very quiet wedding in keeping with the times."

6. HER WEDDING DRESS WAS INSPIRED BY A FAMOUS BOTTICELLI PAINTING.

Sir Norman Hartnell had the honor of designing Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown, and he took his inspiration from Primavera, a large panel, 15th-century work by famed Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Specifically, according to the Royal Trust Collection, he believed that it symbolized "rebirth and growth after the war."

Hartnell's design for the dress was not approved until the middle of August, giving him less than three months to complete the dress, which was made of ivory silk and decked out with crystals and 10,000 carefully curated seed pearls.

7. SHE PAID FOR HER DRESS WITH RATION COUPONS.

A sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell
Central Press/Getty Images

In the wake of World War II, severe rationing measures were in effect, which included clothing. And no exceptions were being made—not even for future queens. So Elizabeth, like so many other brides at the time, had to save up her ration cards in order to purchase the fabric required to create her dress. When the public caught wind of this, hundreds of people from around the country sent their own ration cards to the princess in order to pay for the material. (While she appreciated the gesture, it would have been illegal for her to use them, so she had to return them all.)

8. PHILIP DESIGNED THE RING WITH HIS MOTHER'S DIAMONDS.

A jeweler measures a diamond
iStock

Though Philip Antrobus is the official jeweler responsible for the Queen's platinum engagement ring, Prince Philip had a prominent hand in its design. And the ring—a 3-carat round diamond stunner surrounded by 10 smaller pave diamonds—came with a very personal connection: the diamonds came from the tiara that Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, wore on her wedding day (a gift from Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia). There were enough diamonds left over that the ring came with a matching bracelet, which Philip gave to Elizabeth as a wedding gift.

9. ELIZABETH HAD A LAST-MINUTE TIARA MALFUNCTION.

 Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, is displayed at the 'Royal Wedding: 20 Novermber 1957' exhibition at Buckingham Palace on July 27, 2007 in London
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

Speaking of tiaras: the one that Elizabeth wore on her wedding day belonged to her mother and was known as Queen Mary's Fringe Tiara. With its 47 distinctive diamond bars, it's perhaps one of the world's most famous tiaras. It was designed in 1919 by E. Wolff & Co. for Garrard & Co. using the diamonds from a fringe necklace Mary had received as a wedding gift from Queen Victoria. (Those royals sure do know how to recycle their fancy jewelry.) It's a versatile piece, too: the fringe can be removed from the frame and worn as a necklace. That proved to be a bit of a blessing on Princess Elizabeth's wedding day when the frame of the tiara snapped as she was putting it on. Fortunately, the court jeweler was standing right there in case of just such an emergency.

10. PHILIP HAD TWO STAG PARTIES.

Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, prior to his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, talking to a group of Naval officers on his return to Royal Navy duties, at the Petty Officers Training Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, July 31st 1947
Douglas Miller, Keystone/Getty Images

While the couple agreed to keep the ceremony itself as low-key as possible, Philip's stag party was another story. The night before the wedding, Philip hosted a bachelor party at London's Dorchester Club … with media in attendance.

"An eager press had been invited, but it was meant to observe the protocol of the day, which respected the privacy of the royals," Claire Stewart wrote in As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts. "The prince's group must have been having some kind of fun, because eventually the flash bulbs of the journalists' cameras were torn off and stamped on the ground, with the groom's party moving on to the closed doors of the Belfry Club."

11. THERE WERE LOTS OF TITLE CHANGES JUST BEFORE THE CEREMONY.

Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain and her husband Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, pose during their honeymoon, 25 November 1947 in Broadlands estate, Hampshire
AFP/Getty Images

There are certain rules that are required for marrying into the royal family, many of them set by the Act of Settlement, 1701. As a result, Philip had a bit of work to do before the wedding: in addition to renouncing his Greek and Danish titles, he took on the surname of his (British) mother's family. He was also required to convert from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism. King George made it worth his while though: the day before the wedding, he bestowed the "His Royal Highness" address styling on Philip. On the morning of their wedding, he gave him a whole mouthful of other titles: Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich.

12. THEY WERE MARRIED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY.

London's Westminster Abbey
iStock

Elizabeth and Philip followed in the footsteps of her parents when they married at Westminster Abbey at 10:30 a.m. on November 20, 1947. Nearly a quarter-century before, on April 26, 1923, Elizabeth's parents—King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (then known as the Duke and Duchess of York)—also married at Westminster Abbey. Princess Elizabeth was the tenth member of the royal family to be wed at the Abbey.

13. SHE CARRIED MYRTLE IN HER BOUQUET, WHICH IS A ROYAL TRADITION.

 A recreation of the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding bouquet is photographed before it goes on display at Buckingham Palace during the annual summer opening on July 20, 2011 in London, England.
Lewis Whyld, WPA Pool/ Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth's white orchid bouquet also included a sprig of myrtle from the garden at Osborne House, a former royal residence on the Isle of Wight. It was a tradition that began with Queen Victoria and has carried on through the ages: Lady Diana Spencer's bouquet included a sprig of the Osborne House myrtle, as did Kate Middleton's (pictured). Another royal tradition that Elizabeth followed: the day after her wedding, her bouquet was sent back to Westminster Abbey, where it was laid atop the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

14. THERE WERE 2000 GUESTS IN ATTENDANCE.

Queen Elizabeth II (in coach) and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are cheered by the crowd after their wedding ceremony, on November 20, 1947, on their road to Buckingham Palace
AFP/Getty Images

While they tried to keep the lavishness to a minimum (there were few flowers or other shows of extravagance), the guest list was, in a word, enormous. There were 2000 guests invited to the ceremony, with plenty of royals from around the world in attendance including the King and Queen of Denmark, the King of Iraq, the Shah of Iran, and Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

15. THE DUKE OF WINDSOR (A.K.A. KING EDWARD VIII) WAS NOT ON THE GUEST LIST.

Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor
Central Press/Getty Images

There's a lot of politics that go into who makes the cut for the guest list of any wedding, but Philip and Elizabeth had even more challenges to muddle through. Because the couple married so soon after World War II, it was deemed unacceptable for any of Philip's German relatives to be a part of the big day, which meant that he couldn't invite his three surviving sisters who had all married German princes. Also conveniently left off the guest list? George's brother, The Duke of Windsor, a.k.a. The Royal Formerly Known as King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, thus changing the line of succession and making Elizabeth the heir presumptive.

16. 200 MILLION PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD LISTENED TO THE CEREMONY.

Four men and women gather closely together while listening to their home radio console, 1930s
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While waking up early to watch the latest royal wedding may be the norm today (well, for as rarely as they occur), technology wasn't quite there at the time. Still, there was enough interest in the nuptials that more than 200 million people around the world listened to the couple exchange their vows via BBC Radio. Video footage of the event made its way into cinemas around the country shortly thereafter.

17. THEIR WEDDING CAKE WAS 9 FEET TALL.

A slice of a wedding fruitcake
iStock

In keeping with royal tradition, Elizabeth and Philip's wedding cake was a fruitcake that earned the nickname "The 10,000-Mile Wedding Cake" because its ingredients were sourced from around the world, including sugar from Australia's Girl Guides. That designation could have just as easily referred to the confection's height: the four-tiered cake was 9 feet tall and weighed in at 500 pounds. It was decorated with the arms of both families and featured the monograms of both the bride and groom. In 2015, a 68-year-old slice of that very wedding cake sold for £500 (about $750 at the time).

18. THEY RECEIVED A LOT OF GIFTS AND WELL-WISHES.

 Wedding presents from Canada including silver candlesticks and a chest of drawers for Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on view at St James' Palace
Central Press/Getty Images

Based on the number of gifts and well-wishes the couple received, it seemed as if the whole world was excited about Elizabeth and Philip's union. The couple received 10,000 telegrams and more than 2500 gifts from all around the world—including a piece of cotton lace from Mahatma Gandhi that he spun himself and had embroidered with the words "Jai Hind" ("Victory for India"). A box of home-grown apples, 500 tins of pineapple, two dozen handbags, 12 bottles of sloe gin, and 131 pairs of nylon stockings were also among the wedding loot.

19. THE GIFTS WENT ON DISPLAY—TWICE.

A visitor to the 'Royal Wedding: 20 Novermber 1957' exhibition looks at a selection of gifts given to the royal couple at Buckingham Palace on July 27, 2007 in London. Queen Elizabeth II will be the first reigning sovereign to celebrate a 60th wedding ann
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

Rather than keep the generosity of their well-wishers to themselves, Elizabeth and Philip showed off the bulk of the many wonderful wedding gifts they received to benefit charity. Between 1947 and 1948, more than 200,000 people came to St. James's Palace to view the royal wedding gifts. Some of these same gifts were showcased again in 2007, to commemorate the couple's Diamond Wedding anniversary, as part of the "A Royal Wedding" exhibition.

20. ELIZABETH'S DRESS WAS PUT ON DISPLAY, TOO. THEN WENT ON TOUR.

Princess Elizabeth of England and Philip The Duke of Edinburgh pose on their wedding day, 20 November 1947 in Buckingham Palace
AFP/Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth's iconic dress was also put on display for the public at St. James's Palace for curious fashionistas. So that it wasn't just Londoners who had a chance to get an up-close look at the frock, it then went on a royal tour across the UK with stops in Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Glasgow.

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Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

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Little Weesy Coppin, the Ghost That Foretold the Franklin Expedition’s Fate

An 1847 illustration of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus during an earlier Arctic expedition, by James Wilson Carmichael.
An 1847 illustration of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus during an earlier Arctic expedition, by James Wilson Carmichael.
Royal Museums Greenwich, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On May 19, 1845, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus set sail from England and headed for the Arctic. Commanding the expedition was Sir John Franklin, a distinguished naval officer with a few Arctic voyages under his belt. Britain’s Admiralty was hopeful that, within a year, he would arrive in the Bering Strait having successfully charted the Northwest Passage.

But as 1846 slipped away with no sign of either ship—and no word from the explorers—it became clear that something had gone wrong. Franklin’s wife, Lady Jane Franklin, lobbied the Admiralty to investigate, and so began a steady stream of expeditions to locate the missing vessels. By spring 1850, they were none the wiser as to what had happened to the ships or the sailors. The country was captivated by the mystery, and Lady Jane was growing increasingly desperate for any lead.

It was around this time that a shipbuilder named William Coppin sent her a strange letter. The ghost of his daughter, he said, knew where to find the Franklin expedition.

Weesy Puts on a Show

Coppin lived in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with his wife, his wife’s sister, and the couple’s five young children. In May 1849, their 3-year-old daughter, Louisa (Weesy for short) had died of gastric fever, but that hardly stopped her from being present. Soon after her death, her siblings reported seeing a “ball of bluish light” that they all agreed was Weesy; they even started setting a place for her at meals.

One night, Weesy’s older sister told her aunt that the words “Mr. Mackay is dead” were glowing on the wall of the bedroom. Though her aunt couldn’t see them herself, she nevertheless asked after Mr. Mackay—a banker friend of the family—the next day, and discovered that he had indeed passed away the previous night. Weeks later, the aunt suggested that the children put Weesy’s apparent clairvoyance to good use by questioning her about the fate of Sir John Franklin.

Weesy responded with flair, filling the room with an Arctic scene that showed two ships amid snowy mountains and narrow channels. When asked if Franklin himself was still alive, Weesy revealed “a round-faced Man [ascending] the Mast and [waving] his hat,” and she answered a query about his exact location with a series of abbreviations that included “P.RI” and “BS.”

An illustration of the two ships from Francis Watt's Pictorial Chronicles of the Mighty Deep.Kokstein, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The spectral illuminations were only visible to Weesy’s sister Anne, who copied them onto paper and showed her father upon his return from a trip. Coppin wasn’t wholly disbelieving, but he didn’t act on the information immediately. Then, in May 1850, after hearing that Lady Jane was preparing to send a ship to search for her husband, he wrote her a letter detailing Weesy’s appearance.

“[The abbreviations] constantly lead me to believe that [Sir John Franklin] is in Prince Regent Inlet off Barrow’s Strait, likely in the Victory in Felix Harbour or not far from it at this moment,” he said, and encouraged Lady Jane to direct her commander to that area. Shortly after, he met with her in person to reiterate his advice.

Charting a Course

Here’s where accounts of the story begin to diverge. In 1889, a reverend named J. Henry Skewes published a book—at Coppin’s behest—that credited Weesy’s vision with causing Lady Jane to point her expedition south, toward Prince Regent Inlet, instead of north, like she had been planning. While it’s true that the government had focused most of its search north toward Wellington Channel, it’s not true that Lady Jane herself had only considered a northern mission. In June 1850, she mentioned in a letter that Coppin visited her after “reading in the newspaper a paragraph of the ship’s being about to sail for Regent Inlet,” implying that she had already intended to explore that region.

Wellington Channel to the north, and Prince Regent Inlet to the south.TerraMetrics/Google

Skewes’s book also alleged that Weesy’s original directions had been much clearer than a few cryptic initials. According to him, she illuminated the words “Erebus and Terror. Sir John Franklin, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Point Victory, Victoria Channel.” At that point, no place named “Victoria Channel” existed on the map, which Skewes used as evidence of Weesy’s omniscience. Since the Coppins were collaborating with Skewes, it’s possible that they simply recalled the events differently than they had decades earlier. They had also repeated the same séance several times, so the stream of intelligible words may have come later. In Coppin’s initial letter to Lady Jane, however, he said nothing about a “Victoria Channel.”

Even though Lady Jane had probably already set her sights on the south, Coppin’s conviction did seem to encourage her, and she instructed him to share Weesy’s vision with a select few influential figures around town. In early June, she saw off Captain Charles Codrington Forsyth in the schooner Prince Albert, hoping he’d return with news of her husband from beyond the inlet.

Unfortunately, the inlet was frozen, and Forsyth couldn’t get through.

Breaking News and Breaking Ice

The expedition wasn’t entirely fruitless—it was Forsyth who broke the news in England that another expedition had located three graves on Beechey Island, thus confirming that the Terror and Erebus had at least spent part of the winter in Wellington Channel [PDF]. There was still a chance that Franklin and his men had journeyed on toward Prince Regent Inlet after stopping on the island.

Lady Jane began preparing another mission, this time with Captain William Kennedy in command, and Coppin stuck around to help with shipbuilding and fundraising. Kennedy even spent a few days with the Coppins in Londonderry and supposedly corroborated Weesy’s account (though he didn’t see her messages for himself). Kennedy managed to make it through Prince Regent Inlet, but pivoted westward and came back empty-handed.

A portrait of William Kennedy painted by Stephen Pearce in 1853.National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Independent of Lady Jane's endeavors, a Hudson’s Bay Company surveyor named John Rae was making significantly more progress in the area. After passing through the inlet in 1851, he came to a narrow body of water that he christened “Victoria Strait” before encountering ice and turning back. During a surveying mission in 1854, Rae spoke with local Inuit, who reported having come across a few dozen white men on King William Island—not far from Victoria Strait. He even bought several English-made items from the Inuit, including a plate that bore Sir John Franklin’s name.

Now, Lady Jane directed her attention to King William Island, financing an expedition led by Francis Leopold McClintock in the late 1850s. In 1859, his lieutenant finally discovered an incontrovertible clue to the Franklin expedition’s fate: a boat, skeletons, and a note that explained Franklin had died in June 1847 and his crew had abandoned the ships—marooned in ice—in April 1848.

Little Weesy’s Contested Legacy

The note found during McClintock's 1859 expedition.Petecarney, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Coppin wasted no time asking Lady Jane to validate that Weesy’s leads (as Anne had transcribed them) had, in fact, been correct. Lady Jane obliged.

“I have no hesitation in telling you that the child’s chart … represented the ships as being in a channel which we believed at the time to be inaccessible, but which it has since been found they actually navigated,” she wrote. “Moreover, the names ‘Victory’ and ‘Victoria’ written by the little girl upon her chart correspond with that of the point (Point Victory) on King William’s Land, where the important record of the Erebus and Terror was found, and with that of the strait or channel (Victoria Strait) where the ships were finally lost.”

That said, she did decline returning the original chart to him. As Shane McCorristine writes in his book The Spectral Arctic: A History of Dreams and Ghosts in Polar Exploration, that could have been because she feared becoming a laughingstock if he published it. With Franklin’s demise no longer a mystery, entertaining the supernatural no longer had value.

A sketch of Lady Jane Franklin drawn by Amélie Romilly in 1816.The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Emmet Collection of Manuscripts Etc. Relating to American History, New York Public Library // Public Domain

Coppin’s story stayed under the radar until Skewes released his book, Sir John Franklin: The True Secret of the Discovery of His Fate, nearly 15 years after Lady Franklin’s death in 1875. The author so fervently believed that Weesy had expertly directed explorers to the Franklin expedition that his account seems exaggerated at best and downright ludicrous at worst, despite plenty of firsthand details from the Coppins. After its debut, John Rae and Francis McClintock both denied that the long-dead toddler had influenced their exploratory routes in any way.

Furthermore, as historian Russell Potter explains on his blog Visions of the North, Weesy’s phantasmal allegations weren’t totally accurate. Though the idea that Franklin may have gone south instead of north did ultimately lead to some discoveries, there’s no evidence that either the Terror or the Erebus actually went through Prince Regent Inlet. And when Weesy revealed the vision of a healthy Franklin waving his hat from the top of the mast, he had already been dead for more than two years.

In short, the ghost of Little Weesy didn’t single-handedly solve the mystery of the missing Franklin expedition. (In fact, the ships themselves weren’t even located until 2014 and 2016 off the southwestern coast of King William Island, far from Prince Regent Inlet and south of the island's Victory Point.) But you’d be hard-pressed to prove that her ghost didn’t exist at all—and considering that the story helped her father secure about a decade’s worth of work and plenty of high-society connections, she made an impact from beyond the grave.