Northampton Museums own a pair of flat shoes, believed to be those worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day, 10 February 1840. Of white satin, they certainly would have complimented the Queen’s own simple wedding dress of finely woven Spitalfields silk satin in her own words: ‘I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton, imitation of old…’ Northampton Museum & Art Gallery lists them as ‘Wedding Shoes worn by Queen Victoria (1840)’ on the current selection of its digitised images under ‘Women’s Shoes’, giving a concise overview of the considerable collections, until the Museum itself reopens in 2020. If these shoes were indeed worn by Queen Victoria on what she herself described as the ‘happiest’ day of her life, what more can we learn about them?
Tied around the ankles with long ribbons, these may then have been laced around her feet on that rainy wedding morning at Buckingham Palace, after the Queen had had her ‘hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on’. The shoes therefore may hide discreetly within her excitedly hurried word ‘Dressed’ (cit., Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, 122).
I have studied the large painting made of the wedding by Sir George Hayter, The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, today hanging in the East Gallery at Buckingham Palace, as well as the oil sketch that Hayter made in preparation for the painting. Sometimes it was the case in ceremonial artworks that the tip of the toe of the sitter’s shoe was painted, just visibly jutting out from beneath the costume or gown; Hayter for example, chose to depict Queen Victoria in coronation robes in 1838, with one of her shoes pointing out from beneath the lace of the colobium sindonis, the ancient linen garment she wore at her coronation, but which seems to have vanished around the time of the Queen’s death. The only photograph according to current knowledge of this remarkable and antique gown was reproduced in The Archaeological Journal in 1894. (Staniland, 114).
In the large painting of the Marriage, Hayter does indeed include one toe of the Queen’s wedding shoes, jutting out from beneath her wedding dress. It is almost certainly the Queen’s right foot. This is the only real artistic record of the Queen’s wedding shoes, so the view is tantalising. All we can really say is that Hayter painted the shoes correctly, if they are indeed these shoes of white satin. Hayter finished the picture in March 1842, as his own inscription on the back of the artwork records: ‘painted by George Hayter painter in ordinary to Her Majesty finished March 1842’. The Queen personally sat for Hayter, ‘Bridal dress, veil, wreath & all’. Fortunately, there appears to have been no similar mishap as happened when he painted her in her coronation robes, when she tripped at the first sitting, on the lace of the colobium sindonis. (Ibid, 115).
The shoes are in fact, almost identical to a pair of shoes, including in a group of shoes and fine silk stockings, still held at the Museum of London. These shoes and stockings were thought to have been worn by the Queen at her coronation and greatly resemble those depicted in Hayter’s portrait of her in her coronation robes in 1838. According to the author and costume curator, Kay Staniland, those shoes depicted did not come from a royal source originally and therefore cannot be verified. (Staniland, 114).
What would appear to support the attribution of the ‘wedding shoes’, is that they were made by Richard Gundry, the Queen’s shoemaker and bootmaker, listed as formerly being at 1 Soho Square, London. Gundry made shoes for Victoria even prior to her accession, from 1824 onwards and in fact stayed her main supplier for footwear until as late as 1898 (Ibid, 86), after which the supplier was Joseph Box & Co. (Ibid, 179). An example of a Gundry label may be seen in the aforementioned shoes at the Museum of London, whose right shoe heel paper reads, surmounted by the royal coat of arms: ‘GAUNDRY & SON/Boot & Shoemakers/TO THE QUEEN/the Queen Dowager/Their Royal Highnesses the/Duchess of Kent/&/Princess Sophia/1 Soho Square, London/Printers.Cole.Lamb’s Conduit St’.
A charming pair of dancing slippers at the Museum of London are identified by the Museum as ‘one of a pair of Queen Victoria’s dancing slippers in ivory silk satin’, also by Gundry, whose label this time reads: ‘GUNDRY & SON/Boot & shoe Makers/TO THE QUEEN/The Prince of Wales/THE ROYAL FAMILY/H.R.H THE DUCHESS OF KENT/and the/PRINCESS CHARLOTTE OF THE BELGIANS/1 Soho square London’.
This is as far as I have managed to research on the ‘wedding shoes’, until Northampton Museum & Art Gallery reopen their collections in 2020.
If they are Queen Victoria’s wedding shoes, they certainly deserve special attention.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.