Royal Widows and Their Weeds: 1889

Royal Widows and their Weeds

queen victoria mourning bodice 1875-1880 unusually dressy
A mourning bodice worn by Queen Victoria c. 1875-1880 While there is much ornamentation, there is still crape next the buttons. Kerry Taylor Auctions

The Gaulois gives some interesting particulars as to the mourning worn by widows of royal and imperial rank in Europe at the present time. A modification of the English widow’s cap, as worn for so many years by our Queen, would appear to be the form of coiffure at many Courts and the same journal states that an English milliner possesses a monopoly of supplying these to the royal families of Europe. The description given in detail shows that the cap, as worn at foreign Courts, has black lisse weepers. The aged Empress Augusta [widow of Emperor Frederick II of Germany], though she wears in other respects the conventional widow’s mourning, is obliged to wear a really warm cap, owing to the neuralgic headaches from which she suffers. The immense strings fall almost to the carpet when she is seated in her large arm-chair, which is mounted on rollers.

Empress Frederick, Queen Victoria in mourning
Queen Victoria and her daughter, the Dowager Empress Frederick of Germany, in mourning for Emperor Frederick III, who died shortly after assuming the imperial crown.

The unfortunate Empress Charlotte, widow of Maximilian of Mexico, has always been careless of her dress since the great tragedy of her life. In her widowhood and mental alienation she loves to wear the brightest colours, though her attendants have frequently tried to dissuade her from doing so. She often puts red roses in her hair, as she is represented in her portrait by Baudan, in which her remarkable resemblance to her grandfather, Louis Philippe, comes out so strikingly.

Empress Eugenie in mourning
The Empress Eugenie in mourning. W & D Downey, c. 1873

The Empress Eugenie wears the very simplest sort of mourning. Her gowns are of woollen fabric, and fall in plain folds from the waist. Her dressmakers occasionally attempt some variation upon their unstudied simplicity, but the Empress always bids them revert to the untrimmed dresses that she now prefers. The Queen-Regent of Spain has till quite lately worn deep mourning that was almost nun-like in its severity, The dress, very flat and straight, has had a long full train. Upon her head the has always worn a mantilla of a black woollen fabric, without even the relief of a fold of transparent crape. For extra covering, when crossing the gardens or traversing the long corridors of her palace, Queen Maria Christina wears a long black mantle lined with white velvet. She uses two pearl-headed pins that King Alphonso used to admire, for fixing the thick black veil upon her head. For certain occasions of ceremony the Queen-Regent has of late doffed her sombre black and worn a lilac gown but she seems to like to return to the black veil that denotes her widowhood.

Empress Frederick in widow's weeds
Empress Frederick of Germany in widow’s weeds. From Within Royal Palaces, Marquise de Fontenoy [pseud.], 1892

Princess Stephanie’s still girlish head— she is but twenty-five— is the latest to wear the royal widow’s cap, under which her fair hair is almost hidden, and the black and white of Austrian widows’ mourning. Some dresses just sent to the Empress Frederick illustrate the etiquette of the first twelve months’ weeds. Among them is a mourning dress in plain English crape, the skirt of which is gathered all round the waist. The Empire bodice has a deep collar of white batiste and cuffs to match that reach to the elbow, A long trained house dress is in black cashmere the front being entirely covered with crape, pleated diagonally across it. The cuirasse bodice has a plastron of crape, the fastenings of which are concealed beneath two bias folds. Large sleeves of white crepe lisse are worn ever the black ones, the latter shewing through. A tea gown, in a soft fabric called woollen velvet; opens over a front of striped black crape. The long train is lined with white silk. The belt that confines the gown at the waist is made of woollen passementerie studded with unshining wooden beads. The collar and cuffs are of thick white serge embroidered with black. Among the dinner gowns is a Princess dress of English crape, the front of which is draped over black silk. Another is in black woollen velvet with train gathered on the back, and trimmed with an embroidery of small wooden beads. On the flat bodice is a deep white collar, like a nun’s, but made of the very finest batiste, in this respect unlike a nun’s. Among the mantles is a long and ample one, intended to be worn in driving, and made of black woollen crape, lined with Astrakhan fur. The young princesses wear black serge gowns with riding habit bodices, and collar and cuffs of black crape lisse. Their evening dresses are black grenadine, closely pleated over dull black silk, trimmed with English crape, and worn with black silk sashes.

Millinery Trade Review, Volume 14, 1889

1889 mourning costume the delineator
1889 mourning costume, The Delineator

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: King Edward VII had a horror of prolonged mourning, no doubt in part to his mother’s life-long obsession with the trappings of woe. This dislike was framed in a kindlier spirit in an article telling of King George’s wish that general mourning for his father be cut short by a month and that half-mourning be dispensed with entirely.

“King Edward had a deeply rooted objection to prolonged royal mourning because of its untoward effect upon trade, and his son is showing equal consideration to the vast army of shopkeepers and their helpers.” The Illustrated Milliner, Vol. 11 1910

German court mourning was particularly severe. Here is a contemporary view:

The Queen Dowager, widow of King Frederick William IV., fell seriously ill at Dresden, where she had been staying with her sister, the Queen of Saxony, about the time I married. She died early in November, and to my intense dismay I found myself obliged to put aside all my pretty trousseau dresses, and to smother myself in crape, for a person I had never seen. Court mourning was not a joke at Berlin at that time, whatever it may be now. Whenever the notice of it appeared the whole of society covered itself with garments of woe, and every kind of gaiety was instantly put a stop to. Queen Elizabeth, having been a reigning sovereign, the mourning for her was as severe as it could well be, and consisted of long black cashmere dresses, a kind of Mary Stuart cap of black crape, and two veils, one falling over the face, and the other trailing behind to the very ground; the last-mentioned had to be worn indoors, and I remember my mother-in-law insisting on our decking ourselves with it every evening for dinner, in anticipation of a possible visit from the Empress, which event did actually occur two or three times during the period when these trappings of woe were prescribed. In Russia black is never worn on holidays, but in Germany it is different, and even on New Year’s Day we went and offered our good wishes to the Emperor and Empress in our crape dresses and veils, and anything more gloomy I am sure I have never seen, either before or after that, in the whole of my life. My Recollections, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1904

Mourning dress of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, c. 1880-1890

Mrs Daffodil, by the bye, would disagree with the “girlish” assessment of Princess Stephanie, widow of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, who made such an mess of things at Mayerling, She may have been immature when betrothed to the Crown Prince, but she had fallen in love with a Polish Count in 1887, two years before this article was published. When Rudolph resumed his self-absorbed round of pleasure of Vienna, she was quite capable of giving as good as she got and scarcely troubled to hide her infatuation.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Gates Ajar for a Kid: 1894


But the Gates Will Surely Be Ajar for Him in the Other World.

“Uncle John” Thorpe stood among his flowers one morning thinking how much better they were than the money that bought them.

The front door opened slightly and there came through the crevice a very small boy, much tattered as to clothes and having streaks of the town dirt across his face.

He saw “Uncle John” back among the flowers and said:


“What is it?”

“Say, I want a rose,” and he held out a penny.

“For a cent?”

“Dat’s all I can blow.”

“You’d better let me give you a carnation. It looks just as well in a gentleman’s buttonhole,” with a smile.

“No kiddin’, mister. I ain’t wearin’ flowers. It’s for me pardner.”

“Your partner?”

“De kid dat’s always been wid me. He’s out in t’e hospital and I t’ought he’d like to have a rose.”  “Uncle John” picked out the rarest and sweetest rose of all and took the penny.

The boy went away with the great nodding blossom hugged against his torn waist, and Uncle John was left with the reflection that there are some things in the world as beautiful as flowers.

It was a week later when the door again opened and the same tattered boy, his face unnaturally clean, came in and once more found “Uncle John” at home among his flowers.


“Hello, here; the boy that brought the rose. How’s your partner?”

“Dat’s what I came in about. He’s dead.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Say, mister, do you make dem ‘Gates Ajar’ t’ings for to put on coffins?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

“Well, t’ye boys have chipped in for one and here’s t’e stuff,” and he opened his right hand, which was heaping full of pennies and nickels.

“Uncle John” gathered together the coins and counted them. The total was 76 cents.

“We t’ought for dat we could get somethin’ purty nice fer t’e kid.”

“Yes, indeed; come this afternoon.”

“The boy went away undeceived.

“Uncle John, as he wired together the green strands and the rich clusters of bloom again reflected, and his reflection was that the gates must be ajar for such “kids.”

The Akron [OH] Beacon Journal 19 July 1894: p. 2

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875


How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

– Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Cremating Bodies After the Galveston Flood: 1900

carrying dead to cremation after galveston flood
Galveston disaster, carrying dead body to fire to be burned, 1900.


Had by Man Who Cremated Bodies After the Galveston Flood.

“Poe and Balzac have contributed to fiction stories that thrill the soul with horror,” said the traveler, “but I have one that rivals the morbid Imaginings of the wonderful writers. It is an actual story, if I am to believe a prominent citizen of Galveston, Texas. He told me the story in all seriousness and, what is more, he is still perturbed on account of it. I will relate it just as he did. The entire country will remember the Galveston flood. More than 10,000 lives were lost. The beautiful beach was strewn with bodies. The survivors of the flood assisted in gathering the dead. Hundreds of bodies were cremated. The beach blazed with funeral pyres. Among the survivors was an old man, vigorous and youthful for his years, who saved five lives by his expert swimming. He is today one of the prominent men of Galveston. He lost thousands of dollars by the flood, being a large property owner on the gulf front. My old friend was walking along the beach assisting in the work of picking up the dead after the storm. He came upon the body of a man lying on the sand. The face was upturned. In a glance he took in the condition of the corpse. The clothing was torn into shreds. The body was gashed, bruised and maimed as all of them were, owing to the timbers and debris that was hurled through the waves. He saw in this one instance a face youthful and handsome, handsome, with eyes closed. It was not distorted or discolored. It was not swollen. Instead the expression was most lifelike. The face was in perfect repose. Stranger still was the condition of the hands. They had a natural life color. For an instant the old fellow experienced a little shock, thinking probably life yet remained in the human frame, though he cannot at this time understand why such an idea flitted through his mind. The body had been washed ashore by the sea and, doubtless, had been lifeless for hours. But he was to be startled more than this. As he stooped over the body, looking into the handsome face carefully to see if he could recognize the man, the eyes opened. They were lustrous and life-like. At the same time the lips parted, showing two rows of white teeth. The old fellow started back in horror. He looked again and the corpse seemed to be laughing at him. Still he thought be must be dreaming. He beat himself in the sides, clapped his hands together, thought of nightmares and illusions and looked again. Still the handsome face smiled on him. He tried to remember where he had seen the laughing countenance before. He could not. He looked toward one of the funeral pyres several hundred yards away and shuddered, but he stooped, picked up the body and carried it on his shoulders to the improvised crematory. As he tossed it from his shoulders into the flames the last thing he saw was the face, with eyes open wide and lustrous and smiling.”

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 14 July 1904: p. 6


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Tomb-Stone Agent: 1904

salesman sample white bronze tombstone
Salesman’s sample white bronze tombstone.

The Tomb-Stone Agent.

A monumental salesman

With his monumental gall,

On an unsuspecting farmer

Unexpectedly did call.


“Good morning, Mr. Williams;

The sad report is rife

That you’ve lost your loved companion,

Your dear, devoted wife.


“As I view your great, broad acres,

And behold your mansion grand,

You’ll grant, no doubt, that much is due

To her ever-helping hand.


“And I presume, as custom dictates,

As a last mark of respect,

To one so loved and worthy

Fitting tribute you’ll erect.”


“Wa’l, craps is awful porely,

An’ cattle’s mighty low,

An’ taxes gittin’ higher,

An’ everything is slow.


“Nothin’ ‘ud please me better,

But es things now appear,

I can’t perform that duty

Much afore another year.”


“Now the truth is, Mr. Williams,

Or it seems to me at most,

You value far too lightly

The treasure you have lost.”


Then up rose the honest farmer,

The much vexed and worried host,

And he kicked that tombstone agent

Where he sitteth down the most.


“I’ll show ye, drat yer picture,

How to throw yer slurs around;

You measly brass-checked agent.

Now git out an’ off my ground.”


But the agent, still undaunted,

Like Poe’s visitor of yore,

Never once thought of decamping,

But still lingered in the door.


“It’s been hinted, Mr. Williams,

Well the fact is, I am told,

That you are short on sentiment

And not very long on gold.


“Although you make a showing

That would indicate success,

There’s talk among your neighbors

That your wealth is growing less.


“I know I hev some enemies.

Who told you? That d—n Jones?

I’ll show ’em that I ain’t broke,

Let’s see some of your stones.”


“With pleasure. I’ve some nice ones,

And the price within your reach.

Here’s one for fifty dollars,

And, by Jove, it is a peach.


“Fer fifty dollars? Nothin—

I want the best you’ve got:

I don’t want no cheap jim-cracks

Disgracin’ of my lot.”


“Five hundred! That just suits me;

I guess I’ll let ’em know

That I’m no measly bankrupt,

As Jones is tryin’ to show.”


J. P. ASHBY, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Monumental News, Volume 16, 1904: p. 556



Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.