When Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived on English soil in 1863 to marry the Prince of Wales, the heir of Queen Victoria, she was the very picture of modesty. No jewelry was visible and she wore a handmade bonnet. Alexandra may have been Danish royalty, but she wasn’t rich. Matter of fact, her family had lived on handouts to get by. She was shy, kind, and very beautiful. Everyone loved her immediately.
When Alexandra joined the British royal family, over two years had passed since Queen Victoria‘s husband, Prince Albert, had died. Yet Victoria was still plunged into deep mourning. Victoria had wished she had died with her beloved Albert. Upon his death, she had renounced all pleasures and vowed to wear dreary black crape dresses the rest of her life as a token of mourning. She spent many of her waking hours kneeling in Albert’s carefully-preserved bedroom, crying and pleading with God to help her. (See “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”)
Alexandra discovered that Victoria had amassed an enormous jewelry collection. But, after Albert’s death, the Queen had became convinced that excessive display of jewels awakened anti-monarchial feelings in the English people. Princess Alexandra tried to convince her to wear her pretty, glittering things but to no avail. Famously, Victoria refused to wear a crown to the Thanksgiving service honoring her 1887 Golden Jubilee. The Queen of Great Britain arrived at the state ceremony wearing a bonnet.
Whereas Victoria had renounced all pleasures, Princess Alexandra had just begun to live. She had grown up poor and now she was rich and the future Queen of England! She was not about to be sucked into Victorian mourning dress. Although her husband, “Bertie,” was a serial adulterer, Alexandra accepted his infidelity and got on with her life, moving with him from party to party with the artsy crowd. Dressing herself in fine jewels and frivolous clothes became her passion – and she indulged herself completely.
Initially, Princess (later Queen) Alexandra adopted dog collar chokers, called a ‘collier de chien’ to cover a small scar on her neck. For state and formal occasions, though, she plastered herself from head to waist in necklaces, tiaras, ribbons, sashes, and brooches of pearls, diamonds, and other jewels. Her long strings of pearls became her signature look. Alexandra became quite popular and women copied her style and bearing. American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., remarked that:
Queen Alexandra “possessed the world’s most perfect shoulders and bosom for the display of jewels.”
Readers: “Queen Victoria’s Tiny Crown” follows this post.