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.


What's Blonde Lace?

The following is an expanded version of a blog post that appeared at Two Nerdy History Girls.

1833 Bridal Ensemble that appeared in several ladies' magazines. This is what Olympia wore.

There was a time when blonde lace was ubiquitous, as we learn if we look at ladies’ attire for court events. Certain magazines listed not only the attendees but also what they wore. For example, if you type “blonde” into the search box for this 1831 Royal Lady’s Magazine, you will notice that nearly every single lady wore blonde or blonde lace to the Queen’s Drawing Rooms.

This is why blonde lace features in so many of my 1830s-set books. However, the term “blonde” can be a little puzzling when we’re confronted with a description referring to “black blonde,” as happens in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Blonde lace is a silk bobbin lace. A search on YouTube will show it being made, and give you an idea why the handmade version was so very expensive and highly prized. The “blonde” part refers to the silk’s natural color, which was ecru. Once a way was found to make the silk stronger, it could be lightened, for a white blonde, and dyed, for black blonde.

Still, terminology can be confusing. “Next to Chantilly the blondes are the most important among the silk laces.” Yet elsewhere we’re told that Chantilly is a blonde lace. My impression is, the blonde made in Chantilly was considered superior. Any textile experts reading this are invited to provide further enlightenment.

These fine details, however, don’t seem to be crucial to the magazines, and definitely aren’t crucial for my books. For the purposes of A Duke in Shining Armor in particular, what you’d probably rather see are examples.

The bridal ensemble (at top) I gave my heroine Olympia includes “a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves” and “a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.”

The “French” dress she donned at the inn was based on several images, but this pink carriage dress from the Magazine of the Beau Monde, though listed for August 1833 (my story is set in June of that year), about covers what I had in mind. She wears “a black blond pelerine with square falling collar, the points descending low down the skirt and fastened in front with light green ribbon noeuds.”

However, I do think portraits capture the look of the lace much better than the stiff, stylized fashion prints. The gallery below shows some examples of each.

Images: Queen Adelaide (consort of King William IV) by Sir William Beechey, courtesy National Portrait Gallery NPG 1533; Court Dress for May 1831; Countess Julie von Woyna by Friedrich von Amerling 1832; Court Dress for April 1832; Giovannia Pacini (eldest daughter of the Italian composer Giovanni Pacini) 1831.

The two examples of court dress give you an idea of just how much blonde lace was involved. The feathers and the lace lappets were a particular feature of court dress. You can see a sample of Belgian Bobbin Lace in this lappet.  And here is a sample of French Pillow-made Silk Blonde. And this is an image of a lady in what seems to be black lace.

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.

What's a Pomatum?

January 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

In A Duke in Shining Armor (and in other of my books),  the term pomatum appears. If the context leads you to believe that this has something to do with styling hair,  you’ll be right.

A pomatum,  based on a grease of some kind (usually lard), was used to style hair and to keep it smoothly in place, like today’s gels, mousses, hair waxes, and sprays.

March 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Some recipes call for bear grease, but it appears that other forms of grease or fat usually masqueraded as bear grease (luckily for the bears). The initial reaction of the modern mind to putting lard and/or suet in the hair is ick. But re-enactors don’t seem to find it icky, and some have become converts to the 18th and 19th century ways of caring for the hair.

May 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Parisian Pomatum was one formula I came across again and again, in all kinds of books and magazines. Very often, I saw the exact same recipe in several different publications, a reminder that copyright was not protected, and publications stole freely from one another. I'm listing several recipes here, to show both variations and the extent of "borrowing."

A New Supplement to the Pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Paris: Forming a Complete Dispensatory and Conspectus; Including the New French Medicines and Poisons (1833).  Recipe here.

The Art of Preserving the Hair (1825).  Recipe here.

The Art of Beauty (1825). Recipe here.
The Duties of a Lady's Maid (1825).  Recipe here.

Finally, in the London Magazine (1826) you’ll find this lovely rant about the advice offered in The Duties of a Lady's Maid.

If you'd like details about how milady’s maid arranged the complicated styles of the 1820s and 1830s, you may peruse my Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on the subject.

Susan, the other Nerdy History Girl, offered this post on one of the fashionable hair accessories.

Portions of this post appeared previously at Two Nerdy History Girls, but the images did not. The images are hair styles from 1830s ladies' magazines online. Gallery first row, left to right: all from May 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde; second row left to right: June 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde, June 1833 World of Fashion (courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Casey Fashion Plates collection), August 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde

 

 

Happy Valentine's Day

To men of early 20th C, fashionable women must have seemed much too thin.  But a glance through photos of the time shows that it was a matter of perspective.  (To the left is Lina Calvieri, an opera star and great beauty, in 1914.)

Their narrow skirts made them seem like much smaller targets than they'd been some years before.  A century earlier, women of the Regency seemed half-naked in their light muslins, compared to their mothers or grandmothers in the previous century's double-wide skirts.  For more on the topic of changing fashions, I recommend you click on the "historic dress" label at Two Nerdy History Girls, the blog I share with Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott.

Whatever your fashion choices, I hope yours is a very sweet Valentine's Day.

Both illustrations are courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.