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The Honiton Christening Robe’s Place in Royal History

At some point this summer, it’s likely we’ll get another close up look of the best known replica christening gown around. For when Prince Louis of Cambridge is baptized, probably before the Royal Family’s summer break, he will wear the intricate copy of the famous Victorian outfit that featured in so many royal christenings. That original is too fragile to be used anymore but the pretty gown has its own place in royal history.

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert welcomed their first child in November 1840 they set about designing a perfect family christening for her which would take place on their first wedding anniversary. Baby Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, Princess Royal was baptized on February 10th 1841 in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley, at the Lily Font, specially commissioned for the occasion. And the baby was wrapped in another special commission, the Honiton Lace Christening gown.

Queen Victoria described it in her diary as ‘’a white Honiton point robe  and mantle over white satin’’ and she had added some very personal touches. For the gown was designed along the lines of her own wedding dress from a year earlier and, like that creation, it was made to support industries in need of help.

Both Spitalfields in London, where the silk for the gown was spun, and Honiton in Devon where the lace overlay was handmade, needed the publicity for their cloth production. In the preceding years Honiton, in particular, had seen a real downturn in demand for its lace as machine manufactured material replaced the intricate designs of scrollwork that had been created in the area for several centuries.

Queen Victoria hoped that by using the fabrics in such high profile outfits, she would give the local industries, many of which were major sources of income for women, a much needed boost. She also wore lace from her own wedding gown on the dresses she wore to her children’s baptisms to give the area more exposure.

The resulting christening gown was a very pretty, traditional outfit. It has a gentle scoop neck and small cap sleeves, covered in lace, and a long skirt covered in more flounces of the same fabric. It was designed and made by Janet Sutherland, who was the daughter of a coal miner from Falkirk. Victoria was so impressed with her work that she gave her the title of Embroiderer to the Queen.

Edward VII was the first monarch to be christened in the gown (painting by George Hayter, Public Domain, Wiki Commons)

The gown was seen again the following year when Victoria and Albert christened their first son, the future Edward VII. The baby, born on November 9th 1841, was baptised Albert Edward in the outfit at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor on January 25th 1842. He was the first of five monarchs to wear the gown – George V, Edward VIII, George VI and the Queen were all dressed in the outfit for their own baptisms, too. In total 62, royals wore the robe including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex.

However, the fabric began to show signs of fragility and in 2004, the Queen decided the heirloom wasn’t up to further, regular use. The last baby to be christened in the original gown was Lady Louise Windsor in 2004.

By the time her little brother, James, arrived, the replica gown was ready for baptisms. The exact copy was created by the Queen’s dressmaker, Angela Kelly, and her team and was first seen at the christening of Viscount Severn on April 19th 2008 at Windsor Castle.

Since then it has made several high profile appearances, worn by both Prince George and Princess Charlotte for their christenings. And when Prince Louis is baptized in the coming months, he will follow this new part of an old tradition, just as his siblings did before him.

Picture credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons

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