Queen Victoria’s love of orange blossom properly began with her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840; however, this marked only the start of what would be an enduring association within the Royal Family, and not just for weddings. Orange blossom is, of course, traditionally linked with marriages, being a symbol of chastity in the language of flowers. Its links with the Queen would however, prove long-lasting.
Queen Victoria had herself worn a simple wreath of real orange flowers on her wedding day. This was in turn copied by some of her daughters and daughters-in-law on their marriages, when the orange blossoms were incorporated around the hems of their bridal gowns, together with the sprigs of myrtle, which had their own special meaning within the Queen’s family. Queen Victoria’s ‘going away’ bonnet, which she wore for the journey from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle for her honeymoon, contained orange sprigs and is still preserved. Queen Victoria’s wedding dress had itself been trimmed on the bodice with “orange-flower-blossoms”, as was reported in The Times.
Her second daughter, Princess Alice, also wore a little bonnet trimmed with orange blossoms for her ‘going away’ outfit at Osborne, following her marriage to Prince Ludwig of Hesse in 1862. Princess Beatrice, the Queen’s youngest daughter, wore orange blossom as a trimming on her bridal gown, on her wedding to Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885. This was completed by white heather, presumably from the Scottish Highlands, and of course, the by now obligatory myrtle. Waxen, orange flowers featured in the bridal wreath worn by Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, a cutting of which was preserved by Queen Victoria in an envelope, which she autographed. Nor was this limited to Queen Victoria’s family of course – the bridal dress of Queen Marie Christine of Spain, also featured artificial orange blossoms, a sprig of which have been preserved in a gold box from her wedding day in 1879.
Orange blossom, like the myrtle, grew at Osborne House, the Royal Family’s private retreat on the Isle of Wight. The flowers, which Queen Victoria loved, were at their most fragrant in summer when the Royal Family preferred to stay there; the inner terrace where the Queen liked to breakfast, contained a pergola, heavy with orange blossoms and roses. Osborne’s rooms themselves included fresh bunches of the garden flowers, such as chrysanthemums, myrtle, veronica, daphnes and Malmaison roses (HRH The Duchess of York & Benita Stoney: Victoria & Albert, A Family Life at Osborne House, Pg 67, 1991). Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll – Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter and an exceptionally gifted artist – painted orange blossoms in watercolour for one of her albums; the subject appears to have appealed to Princess Louise, who painted them several times over.
The orange blossom flower, was, however, also the subject of a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, on their sixth Wedding Anniversary, in 1846. It would come to form one of the most personal items of jewellery in the Queen’s collection and was one of profound, sentimental significance. This was not simply because of its romantic theme, but because it formed a small group of personal pieces of jewellery that the Queen ordered to be placed in the room in which Prince Albert had died at Windsor Castle in 1861 after her own death, so that they should remain where she wished them to be – and not given away.
This was the suite or ‘parure’ of orange blossom jewellery, designed by Prince Albert for the Queen. It was added to from 1839-46 and came to include not only earrings but two brooches and a headdress, or wreath, no doubt to mirror the simple orange blossom bridal wreath which the Queen had worn on their wedding day and which she wears in the portrait painted later, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, as a gift from her to Prince Albert on their seventh wedding anniversary, in 1847. The Queen’s bridal wreath – typical as time would prove in the Queen’s family – was photographed, on top of her wedding veil. The ‘headdress’ has four ‘blossoms’, which are supposed to symbolize four of the Queen’s nine children – the Princess Royal, Prince Albert Edward, Princess Alice and Prince Alfred. The orange blossom jewellery is exquisite, with white flowers created from porcelain, oranges of green enamel and gilded leaves. The brooches were given first, and the full ‘parure’ followed later; the earliest of these brooches is preserved today in its original green box, with a gilded plaque on its lid reading: “Sent to me by dear Albert from Wiesbaden, Novr. 1839”. This first brooch – one of the earliest presents given by Prince Albert to the Queen – came with a letter which read: ‘May you think with love of your faithful Albert when you take it into your hand’. Importantly, their wedding was celebrated the following year, for which the Queen wore real orange flowers; those worn by her daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra of Denmark were made of wax, by contrast.
Queen Victoria loved the jewellery suite and usually wore some of it on subsequent wedding anniversaries; after the death of Prince Albert, the parure took on particularly special meaning in terms of its sentimental significance. Perhaps as a personal memory of her wedding day, the Queen wore orange blossom as a fragrance in her widowhood; we might view this as a contrast with the black widow’s weeds, but these things were in fact part of the same story, constituting a living link between the love and the grief she had felt for Albert, the royal wife and the royal widow. Princess Louis of Battenberg, the Queen’s granddaughter remembered: ‘She was extraordinarily neat and tidy in her toilette and used a faint perfume of orange blossom. She once gave me a bottle of this scent, which was made at Grasse [where the Queen spent holidays in later years], but I in vain after her death tried to get it there and elsewhere…’ (Quoted in David Duff, Hessian Tapestry, pp 270-71).
Orange trees have long been a feature within royal gardens, not least at Versailles, where their fragrance was adored by Louis XIV. Queen Anne’s orange trees had been intended to winter in the Orangery at Kensington Palace – Queen Victoria’s birthplace – but instead, the Orangery became a more popular choice for balls and court entertainments, during her reign. The Orangery at Hampton Court Palace is still used today, to house the beloved orange trees of William III, England’s joint monarch from the House of Orange.
Orange blossom continued to feature in royal wedding flowers; Queen Victoria annotated an envelope in her own handwriting, which inside preserved an artificial sprig from the waxen orange blossom of Princess Alexandra of Denmark’s bridal wreath in 1863; it still survives in the Royal Collection, as does a sprig of orange blossom from the wedding gown of the Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg – the future Queen Ena of Spain and consort of King Alfonso XIII – its appearance is almost ‘scientific’ at first glance, because it is contained within an glass jar, from 1906; orange blossoms had formed part of the decoration of Princess Victoria Eugenie’s Spanish, silken wedding dress, overlaid with Brussels lace. This relic has even greater poignancy, because the assassination attempt by the anarchist Mateu Morral Roca was carried out as the wedding procession was returning to the Royal Palace in Madrid; the new Queen’s bridal dress was famously spattered with blood.