Mourning for a Departed Queen: 1901

ROYAL MOURNING.

In their deep, sincere sense of personal lose, and In their desire to pay every outward mark of reverence for the memory of their beloved Queen, the whole nation (the “Daily Graphic ” of January 26 writes) had anticipated the Earl Marshal’s intimation that all persons were expected to put themselves into deep mourning. No Sovereign, we may be certain, was ever more sincerely mourned than Queen Victoria, though there have been Royal deaths which have occasioned more violent outward demonstrations of grief. We have become a more self-restrained people than of yore. Formerly the news of a Queen’s death and a Royal funeral were marked with loud weeping, groans, and even shrieks. When Quean Elizabeth was carried to her tomb the city of Westminster was thronged with crowds, not only in the streets and windows, but on the leads and gutters. The waxen effigy of the Queen was, according to old custom, laid on her coffin, and at the sight of it there was a burst of lamentation loud and continuous. So late as the death of the luckless Queen Caroline of Brunswick the women of her household upon hearing that she was really dead uttered piercing shrieks in the corridor adjoining the death chamber. The quietude of the last sad scene of our great Queen’s life, and the mournful silence with which her people received the dreaded intelligence of their loss, contrast very favourably with the demonstrative exhibitions of former days, and symbolise a deeper sense of affliction and affection.

The period of public mourning has not at present been prescribed, and there is no fear that it will be deemed too long, as were sundry general mournings ordered by other Sovereigns. In 1768, for instance, the city of London sent a formal remonstrance to George III, on the lengthy Court mourning, which materially affected trade, and to this the King replied that he was pleased to order that in future the mourning should be shorter.

The mourning ordered for ladies and gentlemen of the Court has not very materially altered during the past 200 years, but it should be remembered that violet, and not black, was Royal mourning down to the reign of James II. Napoleon III. was the last European ruler to adopt this fashion. The commands issued for general mourning at the death of the Georges requested the people to put themselves “into the deepest mourning, Norwich cloaks excepted.” On the death of William IV. a change was made from ” deepest ” to “decent mourning,” and this was the expression used for the mourning tor the late Prince Consort; now the older form has been reverted to.

With the exception that the antiquated “bombasin” [bombazine] has been superseded by the term “woollen material,” ladies at Court have now received practically the same orders for their first Court mourning as heretofore. The details have not been so minutely given in the latest order, but the black gowns trimmed with crape, relieved only by plain muslin or lawn, the chamois—or, as we now term it, suede–shoes and gloves, and the crape fans are still de rigueur. The “crape hoods” of yore have their modern equivalent in the crape toque or bonnets. The long crape veils, reaching to the foot, used to be part of the orthodox mourning for the Ladies In Waiting, and were worn by them at the Duchess of Kent’s funeral. “Black paper fans” are mentioned in the Court mourning ordered for the Duke of Brunswick in 1816, and another quaint reading comes in the order for the change of Court mourning for Princess Charlotte, when ladies “in undress ” were permitted to wear “grey or white lustring, tabbies, or damask.”

The history of Court mourning in various countries is very interesting and curious. Perhaps the most senseless of all customs was that which doomed French Royal widows to remain immured in a room draped with black and splashed over with white dots, symbolising tears. To attempt even to look out of a window during the 40 or 50 day of this enforced mourning was regarded as a grave breach of decorum, and one can only hope that the poor widows were provided with some form of entertainment to relieve the monotony of the dreary period. A distinctly precious contribution to Court mourning was the pure white attire donned by Henry VIII. for Anne Boleyn after he had beheaded her.

The heaviest Court mourning is suspended for a coronation or Royal marriage or christening, although her late Majesty never left off her mourning at either Royal christenings or weddings.  This was, however, an exception to the rules prevailing in most countries, and all will recollect with what startling rapidity the weeds worn for the late Czar of Russia were thrown aside for magnificent raiment when his successor was married to Princess Alix soon after the prolonged burial of his father. At the ceremony the recently widowed Empress of Russia sacrificed her own inclinations in accordance with the custom of her adopted country, and in spite of her bereavement wore the gorgeous Court robe and superb jewels distinctive of the Russian Imperial Court–a splendour which she has ever since discarded for mourning.

Turning to our own country, it is surprising to learn that for one of the least appreciated of Queens–Catherine of Braganza–an entire year of Court mourning was observed, as has been ordered for our late Queen. Very stormy indeed were the scenes caused by a difference of opinion on the proper mourning to be worn for Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth took upon herself to provide black cloth for cloaks for Sir Arthur Melville and M. Bourgoine, and also for the dresses of the ladies. These gowns were accepted, but when the masterful young Queen further occupied herself with sending a milliner to make “orthodox mourning headdresses” for the ladies instead of those they had provided, the said ladies flatly refused to don any but their own, and carried their point, following their mistress to her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral attired in their own style. A pretty item in the mourning worn by the ladies of her Court for Queen Anne was a heart shaped locket, containing a “lock of the late Queen’s fine silky hair.”

Happily simpler tastes now prevail, and as far as the general public are concerned their mourning will be only such as is dictated by their deep and sincere love for the departed Queen.

The Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney, New South Wales, Australia] 10 April 1901: p. 10

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 hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

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