One of the most enduring images of the Victorian age is Queen Victoria as the ‘Widow of Windsor’. Helen Rappaport, conference delegate and the author of Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy (Hutchinson, 2011) tells us more about the commercial consequences of this fashion for mourning.
It always amuses me that in her widowhood Queen Victoria, a woman whose personal sartorial style was much derided in her youth, became the most unlikely of fashion trendsetters. When Prince Albert was alive she had always plumped for a rather conventional, outmoded style of dress. But during her forty years of mourning for Albert, she became a master of the most flamboyant protocols – turning the wearing of widows’ weeds into her own art form.
The year 1861 had begun with the court in deepest mourning for the King of Prussia. When he died, Victoria immediately donned her crape and sent out directives: nothing but black silk, bombazine and crape; black gloves, black collars, black flowers, feathers, lappets and fans and festoons of jet mourning jewellery were the order of the day at court. When her mother died three months later, Victoria’s hysterical grieving was a foretaste of things to come. The more extravagant her mourning, the more she felt it demonstrated her devotion, and as queen there were no limits placed on her right to indulge it. Further catastrophe followed when Prince Albert died on 14 December.