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Archive for the ‘Queen Victoria & Prince Albert’ Category

"The Landing of H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra at Gravesend, March 7, 1863," by Henry Nelson O'Neil, 1864.

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.

Queen Victoria, 1873

Queen Victoria of Great Britain, 1873

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.

Queen Alexandra at her Coronation, 1902

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.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1854. They had been married 14 years and are both about 34 years old. This is the first time Victoria had been photographed. Queen Victoria reigned as Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837-1901 and as the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1876 -1901. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history. The time of her reign is known as the Victorian Era, a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom.

Throughout their 21-year marriage, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria delighted in showering each other with gifts of art. A new major exhibition of the Royal Collection (March 19-October 31, 2010) at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is the first ever to focus on the royal couple’s shared enthusiasm for art. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love” showcases over 400 paintings, drawings, photographs, jewelry, and sculpture from the years of their courtship (1836-1839) and marriage (1840) until Albert’s untimely death of typhoid (1861).

Gold, enamel, and tooth brooch belonging to Queen Victoria (1847, probably commissioned by Prince Albert)

Many trinkets exchanged between the royal couple were sentimental in nature, marking special occasions in the royal household, such as this gold and enamel brooch, seen for the first time ever. This unusual and tiny brooch in the form of a thistle has, as its flower, the first milk tooth lost by the firstborn of their nine children, Princess Victoria (1840-1901). An inscription on the reverse states the tooth was pulled by Prince Albert at Ardverikie (Loch Laggan), on September 13, 1847. (To see more of Victoria’s jewelry made with teeth, click here.)

Princess Victoria was the subject of many art commissions; her parents were overjoyed at her birth because she almost wasn’t born. When the Queen was four months pregnant, she had been the target of a failed assassination attempt. Edward Oxford fired two shots at her as she and Prince Albert rode up Constitution Hill in a carriage in June of 1840. Fortunately, neither the queen, prince, or the unborn Princess Royal was harmed.

An attempt is made to assassinate Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford, June 10. 1840, as the Queen rides up Constitution Hill with Prince Albert. Oxford was arrested for high treason, tried, and acquitted by reason of insanity.

Prince Albert was a man of many talents. He designed many of Queen Victoria’s jewels, including this 1842 brooch featuring a miniature of Princess Victoria as a bejewelled angel.

Queen Victoria's enamel, gold, and jewel brooch, 1842, with a miniature of Princess Victoria as an angel, Prince Albert, designer; William Essex, after William Ross, miniaturist

The queen appreciated Albert’s talent in jewelry design. She wrote:

“Albert has such taste & arranges everything for me about my jewels.”

In addition to designing the queen’s personal jewelry, Prince Albert designed many pieces of her state jewelry. He designed most of her tiaras, including the Oriental Circlet, also a part of this year’s special exhibition.

Queen Victoria's State Jewelry: "The Oriental Circlet," 1853. Diamonds, rubies, gold. The inspiration for the design of this tiara, which includes ‘Moghul’ arches framing lotus flowers, came from Prince Albert who had been greatly impressed by the Indian jewels presented to the Queen by the East India Company.

Readers, you might also enjoy: “Queen Victoria in the Blue Room with a Bust.”

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Showman P.T. Barnum (l) with his protegee, "General Tom Thumb" (born as Charles Sherwood Stratton). Daguerrotype by Samuel Root, 1850

The best known of circus pioneer P.T. Barnum‘s performers was Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883), also known as General Tom Thumb. Stratton weighed 9 lbs. 8 oz. at birth, a bouncing baby boy for the time, but stopped growing at six months. When Barnum discovered him at the age of five, Stratton weighed only 15 lbs. and was 25 inches tall. 

“The boy barely came up to the showman’s knees!” (1) 

Barnum wasted no time signing up the boy as a sideshow attraction. His parents happily rented out their child for $7 a week plus room, board, and traveling expenses. Barnum installed the Strattons in a fancy New York City apartment above his museum of human curiosities. Barnum then began transforming Little Charlie into an international celebrity he christened “General Tom Thumb,” recalling the tiny fictional knight of King Arthur’s round table. The knight was so small, he rode a mouse and battled spiders. 

1844 stereograph depicting General Tom Thumb as Napoleon. Although "Tom" was really six at the time, P.T. Barnum promoted him as a 13-year-old.

Barnum taught the little dwarf to dance, sing, and tell jokes while dressed in elaborate costumes as Cupid, Napoleon, and Frederick the Great. At five, Tom learned to drink wine and at seven he took up cigar smoking. Barnum billed Tom Thumb as the “smallest man alive.”  

In 1844, Barnum took his young protege on a much-publicised European tour debut. Tom Thumb was a huge sensation, appearing before the crowned heads of Europe and visiting Queen Victoria not once, but twice. Audiences were enchanted with the man-boy whose charm combined innocence with pomposity. Over time, Tom made so many visits to royalty that Barnum had a special carriage built for him. 

“Only 11″ high, it was painted blue and lined with silk. Drawn by ponies only 28″ tall, and driven by children dressed in livery, it caused a sensation wherever it went.” 

Years went by and the money from Tom Thumb’s tours made him a rich man. “The Man in Miniature” moved to a specially-designed mansion for him and his parents in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

Lavinia Warren (1841-1919), photo c. 1855-1865

It was said that, by the age of 19, Tom had been kissed by a million and a half girls.Soon, though, the United States was plunged into the Civil War and Tom wanted more than just kisses from strangers. He began looking for a wife. He found her in the diminutive form of another little person, the charming and very beautiful Lavinia Warren

On February 10, 1863, the two were married at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. The wedding was front page news. Billed as “the fairy wedding,” it was the social event of the season. People clamored for invitations, yet only two thousand people were invited. 

"The Fairy Wedding" of General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and Lavinia Warren. This is a reenactment of the ceremony staged by photographer Mathew Brady after the Feb. 10, 1863 event.On the left in each picture is the best man, George Washington Morrison Nutt, known as Commodore Nutt, who had courted Lavinia unsuccessfully; Tom Thumb; Lavinia, and Minnie Bump AKA Minnie Warren, Lavinia's younger and even more petite sister


As Tom and Lavinia made their way up the center aisle to the altar, only guests seated along the aisle could see them. Once they arrived at the chancel, women stood on tiptoes and a few climbed on chairs to witness the ceremony. Afterwards, P.T. Barnum staged a reception for the newlyweds at the Metropolitan Hotel. Barnum charged $75 a ticket. Although there was a demand for 15,000 tickets, only 5,000 were sold. 

At the reception, the Strattons stood on a piano to receive their guests. Later on their honeymoon, they traveled to Washington, D.C., to the White House, where President Lincoln gave them a fancy party. In the course of the evening, the president told General Tom Thumb that he had put him completely in the shade, as he [the General] was now the center of all attention. 

(1) Fleming, Candace. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009.

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Charles Dickens at writing desk

By the time Charles Dickens turned ten, his family had lived in six different houses, each poorer than the one before. Although Charles’ father John Dickens was employed as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, he lived well beyond his means. Plus, the family kept growing; there were eight children in all, which meant many mouths to feed.

Then, in 1822, John Dickens was transferred to London and the family followed. Things went rapidly downhill. John Dickens was soon in debt up to his eyeballs. He informed Charles that he no longer could afford to send him to school. This broke Charles’ heart. The headmaster at his school had already recognized Charles’ special intelligence and imagination and Charles wanted to be a man of letters.

To pay the butcher and the baker, Charles was sent with armloads of books to sell at the pawnshop. Charles was humiliated and heartbroken. Gone were the wonderful hours in his little attic room in Chatham, reading tales of heroes like Robinson Crusoe and Peregrine Pickle. Now he was forced to part with his beloved stories, his only escape from the drudgery of his life. The books were soon followed by all the household goods, sold in an attempt to pay off the family’s debts, and keep John Dickens out of debtors’ prison.

In this 1840 engraving, 'Love Conquered Fear,' fictional character Michael Armstrong, a boy adopted by the mill owner, is shown embracing his brother Edward who is one of the ragged factory boys working amongst the spinning mules. By Michael's foot, a child can be seen crawling out from under a mule, employed to keep the floor under the mules dust and fiber free to minimise risk of fire. These poor boys often suffered horrific injuries when crushed by the moving machinery. From Frances Trollope's ''The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong'' London 1840.

Then, in “an evil hour for me,” Charles was offered work at Warren’s Blacking Factory at six shillings a week, or about $1.40.  Charles’ parents jumped at the offer. Charles remembers:

It is wonderful [shocking] to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age….My mother and father were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.”

No one – no neighbors, friends, or family members reached out to save Charles from this terrible fate. So, on Feb. 9, 1824, at the tender age of twelve, he entered the business world to earn wages for the family. From eight in the morning until eight at night, six days a week, Charles worked alongside rough boys in a dark room covering pots of boot polish and gluing on labels.  The work conditions were appalling:

“The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old gray rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place,rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river.”

 Victorian children are shown working in a cotton mill. At the beginning of British Queen Victoria’s reign (1837), many children worked in factories for cheap wages. Some workers were as young as five. Few citizens questioned the practice of employing children at the time as there were no laws to protect them. The novels of British author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) with their depiction of poverty did much to bring about positive social change and improve the living conditions of the poor.
 
 
Then, two weeks later, John Dickens was arrested and thrown into Marshalsea Prison, where he had to stay until his debts were paid. Charles’ mother and his seven siblings were allowed to live there with him, everyone living in one room, except, alas, Charles. The blacking factory was too far from the prison for Charles to get back before the gates were shut at night. Charles was sent to live in a cheap boarding house. After work he wandered the dark streets of the big city, utterly alone, totally miserable, shabbily dressed, anticipating a dinner of bread and cheese in an empty room.
 
Those days were so crushingly painful for Charles that, years later, when he was a grown man with a family of his own, he could not walk those same streets without being reduced to tears. As a writer, Dickens filled his books with people and places from those bitter days, offering a social commentary that improved the lives of the poor. The novel Oliver Twist (1839), for example, shocked readers with its depiction of poverty and crime in Jacob’s Island, resulting in an actual clearing of the slum.

For more on Victorian child labor, click here.

Readers: For more on Charles Dickens, scroll down the right sidebar: Categories/People/Charles Dickens. Enjoy!

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British Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861

British Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1861

Queen Victoria was devastated by the death of her husband Prince Albert in December, 1861.* She mourned him for the rest of her life, forty full years, wearing only black and virtually becoming a hermit.

The following passage describes the extreme measures the Queen took to preserve her royal consort’s memory. This scene takes place in Windsor Castle on the day after Albert has died of  (possibly) typhoid fever. Albert’s body lies in state for visitation:

On the first morning of her widowhood, she went into the Blue Room to gaze upon her beloved husband’s features. Warned by her doctors not to kiss them, she kissed his clothes instead. She had every part of the room photographed so that it could be preserved exactly as it had been at that moment of the night, ten minutes to eleven on 14 December 1861, when her own life had been shattered….

Bust of Prince Albert, Minton & Co. from the original sculpture portraits by Carlo Marochetti (1805 - 67), England, Original sculpture 1851, made 1862.

Bust of Prince Albert, Minton & Co. from the original sculpture portraits by Carlo Marochetti (1805 - 67), England, Original sculpture 1851, made 1862.

She gave orders for Albert’s dressing gown and fresh clothes to be laid each evening on his bed and for a jug of steaming hot water to be placed on his washstand. Between the two beds in the room a marble bust of him was placed; above it she had his portrait hung, wreathed with evergreens; and almost every day fresh flowers were strewn beneath it on the pillows. The glass from which he had taken his last dose of medicine was kept on the table beside it where it remained for more than forty years. On his writing table his blotting book lay open with his pen upon it as though it were waiting for him to pick up. Guests at Windsor were required to write their names in his visitors’ book as well as in the Queen’s, ‘as before’….She had herself photographed gazing up at his bust; and she went to bed each night clasping one of his nightshirts and with a cast of his hand close enough for her to touch it with her fingers. (1)

*See a related post on this blog, “Mary Lincoln Goes Goth,” and read how Queen Victoria got her notorious nickname, “Mrs. Brown.”

(1) Hibbert, Christopher. Queen Victoria: A Personal History. (New York: Basic Books, 2000)

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Mary Todd Lincoln in mourning clothes, 1863. Even during the period in 1862 and 1863 when Mrs. Lincoln was in mourning for her son Willie and wore only black, she managed to go further into debt for new clothes. By 1864, she told Elizabeth Keckley: "The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants. I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity... If he is elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs, but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent."3 Only on January 1, 1865 did she completely shed her mourning attire.

Mary Todd Lincoln in mourning clothes, 1863. Even during the period in 1862 and 1863 when Mrs. Lincoln was in mourning for her son Willie and wore only black, she managed to go further into debt for new clothes. By 1864, she told Elizabeth Keckley: "The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants. I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity... If he is elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs, but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent." Only on January 1, 1865 did she completely shed her mourning attire.

After her son Willie’s death at age eleven on February 20, 1862,  Mary Todd Lincoln went into deep mourning. She traded in her sparkling jewels, frilly white and colorful gowns, and flowered bonnets made fashionable by her icon the French Empress Eugénie (click to read earlier post) for widow’s weeds of dull black crepe. Her stylish White House parties were put to the side. Gaiety gave way to sadness. Mary had lost her favorite son, the perfect one, the one she considered most like her husband.

After Willie died, Mary’s youngest son, eight-year-old Tad, still tossed with the same typhoid fever that killed his brother. He lay critically ill nearby, but Mary, incapacitated by grief, would not and did not rush to his side to nurse him. Meanwhile, Willie’s embalmed body was laid out in the Green Room of the White House and his coffin was open. Mary mustered enough energy to place a sprig of laurel on Willie’s chest before retreating to her bedroom and shutting the door. She took to her bed, weeping and sobbing  in such uncontrolled spasms that she became quite ill.

She did not come out of her bedroom to attend Willie’s funeral and never again entered the Green Room or the second floor guest room where Willie died. She rid the house of all of Willie’s toys and clothes and forbade his and Tad’s best friends, the Taft boys, from ever returning to the White House to play.

During Mary’s tormented period, Abraham, also heartbroken at his son’s death, sent for help. Two of Mary’s  friends, a nurse, and Mary’s sister Elizabeth heeded the calling. One of the friends was the esteemed Washington seamstress Elizabeth Keckley. In memoirs she wrote with a ghostwriter six years later, she recalled a day when President Lincoln led his distraught wife (whom he called “Mother”) to the window, pointed to the lunatic asylum at a distance from the White House, and said,

 “Mother, do you see that large white building on the hill yonder? Try and control your grief or it will drive you mad and we may have to send you there.”

The recently widowed Queen Victoria wearing mourning clothes at Balmoral, Scotland, 1863. She is riding "Fyvie" and is accompanied by her faithful servant John Brown. Her husband, Prince Albert died in December of 1861 of typhoid fever or perhaps cancer of the stomach. For forty more years, the rest of Victoria's life, she wore black widow's weeds. Suspicion was aroused by Victoria's partiality to John Brown as a servant; most of the members of the Royal Household referred to him as "the Queen's stallion" and defamatory pamphlets referred to her a "Mrs. Brown." A 1997 film with Judy Dench titled "Mrs. Brown" was about the possible love affair.

The recently widowed Queen Victoria wearing mourning clothes at Balmoral, Scotland, 1863. She is riding "Fyvie" and is accompanied by her faithful servant John Brown. Her husband, Prince Albert, died in December of 1861 of typhoid fever or perhaps cancer of the stomach. For forty more years, the rest of Victoria's life, she wore black widow's weeds. Suspicion was aroused by Victoria's partiality to John Brown as a servant; most of the members of the Royal Household referred to him as "the Queen's stallion" and defamatory pamphlets referred to her as "Mrs. Brown." A 1997 film with Judy Dench titled "Mrs. Brown" was about their rumored love affair.

It was three weeks before Mary could even be persuaded to get up out of  bed and put on her mourning clothes. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) now became the First Lady’s fashion model. Victoria’s husband Prince Albert had died unexpectedly just three months earlier and Victoria had plunged herself and her entire staff into the deep black dress of mourning. Following Victoria’s lead and further compounding her debt to clothing merchants (click to read an earlier post), Mary Lincoln ordered an entire new wardrobe of dull black crepe dresses, bonnets, and weeping veils.

For more than a year, six months longer than was called for in the mourning manuals of the day, Mary wore first-degree mourning. Her black crepe straw bonnet was so heavily veiled that she could not turn her head, which gave her an odd appearance as she was always facing forward. She became a very public mourner. She wanted to draw attention to her grief as if she was the only one who had lost a child at a time when Civil War soldiers were dying in record numbers from Mississippi to Maryland on the nation’s bloody battlefields.  During her mourning, she cancelled the Saturday afternoon Marine Band Concerts held on the White House lawn, explaining that, “When we are in sorrow, quiet is necessary.”  She bought black jet jewelry to accent her sooty “widow’s weeds” and used writing paper with the thickest margins of black.

Finally, in 1863, Mary ordered another new wardrobe, running up yet more bills, and moved into the stage known as half-mourning, exchanging her lusterless black for fabric in lavender, gray, and somber purples with a little touch of white at the wrist. (1)

 

Click here to access my related post, “The Madness of Mary Lincoln.” Also, for more posts on the Lincolns, view the drop down menu, “Categories,” in the left column, find at the top, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and click.

(1) Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987)

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