Queen Victoria's Stormy Wedding Day as Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes from weather.

Henry Thomas Alken, "Some Do and Some Don't: It is All a Notion:" Getting Home (between 1820 and 1821), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

On 10 February 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The rotten weather on the previous day stuck in my mind. I pictured a soaking wet, deeply angry (and hurt) nobleman, banging on the door of a house. And so began “The Jilting of Lord Rothwick,” one of two short stories in my Royally Ever After collection. Among other things, the contemporary descriptions taught me that royal wedding frenzy, and the media’s eagerness to report all minutiae relating thereto, is by no means a modern development.

From The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 35, 1840 (the magazine’s detailed account of the wedding begins here on page 113):

“The weather during the preceding night was more boisterous than any we have experienced during the winter. It ‘blew great guns’ from ten o’clock until sunrise when—

The dawn was overcast, the morning lower’d,

And heavily in clouds brought on the day,

The great, th’important day,

on which were to be celebrated the nuptials of our maiden Sovereign and Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg.

It continued to rain almost without intermission until noon, when the weather partially cleared up and continued fine, but threatening during the remainder of the day.”all

Yes, multitudes turned out for the big day.

“All ranks of the people in the metropolis, and for many miles around, began to rise before the appearance of the dawn, some to prepare to take their stations in the progress of the approaching great ceremony ... Notwithstanding the discouraging weather, the streets were crowded at an early hour with thousands, coming from every point of the compass, and making the best of their way, with emulous and unceremonious haste, to St. James's Park, as one common centre. ... About ten o'clock St. James's Park was completely filled with a vast, miscellaneous, curious multitude, not a tithe of whom, unfortunately, could see even the carriage of the Queen when it did at length pass.”

As the above fashion plates make clear, Queen Victoria was not, as many believe, the first bride to wear a white wedding dress. But she was apparently the first royal to wear white, like other brides, instead of silver, and she left off the ceremonial robes befitting a monarch. Still, she did start a fashion for BIG royal weddings. Previously, these had been relatively private affairs. But then, hers was a big deal—the first wedding of a reigning queen since Queen Mary in 1554.

The wedding cake was a big deal, too. This page offers closeups of the details, including the curious Roman attire described below.

“If taste of design only equal what appears to be intended for the actual dimensions, it will beat any bride-cake ever seen.”

5. THE ROYAL WEDDING CAKE. —A select few have been gratified with a sight of the royal wedding cake at the apartments of the confectionary in St. James's palace, but it is described as consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner. This royal cake weighs nearly 300 lb. weight. It is three yards in circumference, and about fourteen inches in depth or thickness. It is covered with sugar of the purest white; on the top is seen the figure of Britannia in the act of blessing the illustrious bride and bridegroom, who are dressed somewhat incongruously in the costume of ancient Rome. These figures are not quite a foot in height; at the feet of his serene highness is the effigy of a dog, said to denote fidelity; and at the feet of the queen is a pair of turtle doves, denoting the felicities of the marriage state. A cupid is writing in a volume expanded on his knees the date of the day of the marriage, and various other cupids are sporting and enjoying themselves as such interesting little individuals generally do. These little figures are well modelled. On the top of the cake are numerous bouquets of white flowers tied with true lovers' knots of white satin riband, intended for presents to the guests at the nuptial breakfast. This elegant emblem of the felicities of marriage will be placed on the breakfast table of the queen at Buckingham palace at the breakfast which is to succeed the ceremonies in the chapel royal.”—Annual Register 1840 (its description of the wedding begins on the following page).

Illustrations: Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, in her wedding dress and veil from 1840, painted in 1847 as an anniversary gift for her husband, Prince Albert. Original painting owned by the Royal Collection. Source of photograph unknown.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, painted by George Hayter 1840-1842. Royal Collection RCIN 407165, via Wikipedia.

Wedding invitation, from tiaras and trianon. And in case you were wondering: The photographs posted on the tiaras and trianon page were not taken at the wedding, but at a re-creation some years later.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Dressing and Undressing My Characters

A funny thing has happened in terms of my historical setting.

From the last Carsington book (Last Night’s Scandal) on, I’ve been setting my stories in the 1830s, when clothes looked very, very different from those we associate with the Regency era and Pride and Prejudice. Below are a few fashion plates displaying the vertical style of the Regency.

Many people find 1830s styles ridiculous, even hideous, but I love them because they are so flamboyant and inventive and over-the-top. I especially love this era’s fashion because it’s so complicated to put on and take off, which makes for interesting intimate scenes between hero and heroine.

Mainly we see historical dress in fashion plates, where it does look cartoonish, as fashion plates tend to do. Then as now, the images are stylized. For instance, the pelerines and canazous look like stiff white capes jutting out over the dresses’ enormous sleeves. The images below are from the Los Angeles Public Library Casey Fashion Plates collection.

We can get a better sense of the clothing in portraits, like this one. But in portraits, people are posed. The fabric may drape beautifully, but everything is frozen.

Images in museums show the clothing on mannequins, often headless. Sometimes there’s no mannequin, only the dress. Rarely do we see an entire ensemble.

So imagine my excitement recently to discover, thanks to author Susan Holloway Scott, that a group of historical dressmakers and re-enactors have turned their dressmaking skills to recreating 1830s fashions. I can tell you it’s already made a difference in how I’ve handled the most recent occasion of the hero getting his hands on the heroine.

In case you were curious about 1830s corsets, here’s a video.

This blog post deals with making and adorning an 1830s dress.

A group of talented dressmakers invade the Dickens Fair in 1830s fashions.

Let’s not forget headwear.

And this 1833 dress is from about time of my Difficult Dukes series.


Looking Toward the New Year

This was a tricky year, professionally, as my last couple of blog posts have indicated. Since my life revolves around my writing (to the detriment of my housekeeping, among other things) and since I had an extremely recalcitrant book on my hands (exactly like its hero and heroine, surprise, surprise) there was a lot of growling and stomping around and swearing, 19th, 20th, and 21st century style (what can I say, I’m a multi-century curser). Also tears. What else do you do but weep, when you can’t actually strangle your characters?

On the other hand, I have you, patient you, and the many kind messages of support and encouragement you’ve sent in response to my posts.

Yes, the book, as previously reported, at last seems to be finding its way.

While the next scene percolates, let me tell you a little about the lurcher in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Some years ago, a friend kindly invited us to join her in Tuscany at a gorgeous place called Col di Lavacchio. It was there, on that first of what turned out to be several visits, I met Finty. She was the first lurcher as well as one of the finer dogs I have ever personally encountered. When I was writing A Duke in Shining Armor, she just popped into my head, and the scene came to life. I changed her sex and named her Cato, because I am the author and can do things like that.

in the photo she is with the beautiful Gilli, whom I also met on that trip. A passionate animal lover, Gilli won’t mind my mentioning both her and the dog’s wonderfulness in the same sentence.

The winter solstice is past, and little by little, the days will grow longer. I leave you with a summer night in Tuscany and a full moon, and wishes that your 2019 will bring you memorable times in books and for real, and the good health to enjoy them.

And let us hope the New Year will bring the world some badly needed peace, love, and understanding, too.

My Musket Training at Colonial Williamsburg

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger's unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Yet lately three seemed to be a lot of pistols and such in my stories. I watched many videos and read books. What I learned from the books was how difficult it was, once upon a time, to load a gun and then shoot straight. Actually, the loading part, with practice, could be done quickly and efficiently. Shooting straight was another matter. The pinpoint accuracy in my stories is a case of the author taking liberties.

Given my interest, imagine my excitement last November, at an appearance with author Caroline Linden, when she told me that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott —aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience with these weapons not long thereafter. “The next time I’m in CW,” I told myself, “I’m doing this.”

So much of history is available to me only through books. When the opportunity comes to experience it firsthand, I’m taking it. If I’m in a place where historically accurate carriages are being driven up and down the street, by knowledgeable drivers, I’m going to get on the carriage, and pester the driver with questions. If there’s shooting with historically accurate weapons and ammunition on offer, I’m shooting.

So, to the guns. The video here is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong, which makes them unwieldy for someone like me. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it in my shaking arms, sight along the barrel, and figure out where to aim it. Turns out, the ball isn’t going where you think it’s going. Luckily, I got some good advice as I was aiming.

Another thing you don’t see in the video is how hard it is to draw back the cock. It doesn’t just flip back. You need to pull, and it fights you. I had to use two hands. (I do need to work on my upper body strength.)

Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds, I was told. Well, getting shot at by a line of guys firing muskets is good motivation to load quickly.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. This is why armies created lines or squares of men, all firing at the same time. Standing or kneeling shoulder to shoulder, you were bound to strike the enemy, even if it wasn’t the enemy you were aiming at. But yes, in spite of these difficulties, and much to my amazement, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
Readers who receive this blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post or the video title.

 

Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg

This is the "Red Carriage." (Yes, I know. It's a CW thing.) This is an open carriage, with facing seats. It's something like the landau that Ripley and Olympia travel in (in A Duke in Shining Armor) when she takes him back to Camberley Place after he tries to run away to London. But the landau has folding hoods, while this is completely open.

Whenever I'm in Virginia, I try to spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, our schedule allowed me to have two full days of exploring the site. It's not nearly enough time. For instance, I could have stayed in the Print Shop's Press Room for hours, the presentation was so fascinating. And that's just one shop!

Even though I write books set in England in the before-Victoria part of the 1800s, CW is incredibly helpful. Things changed more slowly a few centuries ago, and British influence is there, whether one is talking about the colonial period or afterward. Until the American Revolution, much of what appeared in the shops was imported from England. The latest fashion ideas traveled across the ocean from Paris and London. Of course, Americans gave things their own distinctive approach, but for a researcher like me, there's always historical gold in CW. All the interpreters have something to teach me.

Among other things, I took a carriage ride and pestered the driver with questions, because, while horse-drawn vehicles changed over time, basic principles remain: the way the harness works, the correct way to hold the reins and whip, etc. And of course, horses are horses. I had studied all this in books—a lot of books—but there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. For someone like me, with no personal experience of horses and driving a carriage, simply watching the coaches at work was educational, and will, I hope, make my stories feel more authentic. I watched and watched. And took pictures.

And then, when I was still hanging around, late in the day, came the Fifes & Drums.  Remember that my thing is Great Britain and its aristocrats some fifty-plus years after the War of Independence began. But the first sound of the fifes and drums had me at attention. People crowded along the sides of Duke of Gloucester Street to watch and listen. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who found the experience deeply moving. You can watch some video clips here.

Next time I will try to have the presence of mind to shoot my own video. Meanwhile, here are my photos. I have to say, it was a terrific, unexpected experience.