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Queen Victoria’s wedding wreath

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Wedding
By George Hayter, Public Domain, Wiki Commons

Queen Victoria’s exquisitely woven wedding dress of Spitalfields silk satin survives. Her wedding veil was placed over her face as her body was dressed and prepared for burial at Windsor. Fascinatingly as I found out during research, the wedding veil and one of the Queen’s famous white caps were both placed on her head after death, a fitting analogy of Queen Victoria’s personal identities, as bride and widow. But what happened to her wedding wreath?

Unlike the wedding lace which she treasured and continued to wear until as late as 1893 – when she wore it over black with her wedding veil for the marriage of Prince George, Duke of York and Princess Mary of Teck – her wedding wreath seems to disappear from the historical record. Queen Victoria took great interest in the weddings of her daughters and daughters-in-law and it is no surprise that orange flowers featured amongst the traditional myrtle that they wore as sprays or trims in their wedding attire. The Queen’s own wreath does not appear to have been worn by the Queen in later years, perhaps because she considered it too sacred after the death of the Prince Consort. Poignantly, the Queen had turned to wreaths of a memorial kind and as such, the references to wreaths continue amongst those of the wreaths of royal brides, until the close of the Queen’s life. The last such reference to a wreath in Queen Victoria’s journal occurs on 17 December 1900, before the Queen left Windsor for ever, for Osborne where she would die on 22 January 1901. On 17 December, the Queen visited the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore as usual and then drove to the mausoleum of her mother, the Duchess of Kent to put wreaths there.

The wreath however, had happier, personal associations. She chose a wreath of simple orange blossoms to wear at her wedding (‘The happiest day of my life!’) which she put on at Buckingham Palace before leaving to drive to St James’s Palace on the morning of 10 February 1840. She wrote in her journal on her wedding morning: ‘Had my hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on’. The wreath can be seen in the large canvas made by Sir George Hayter of the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After the wedding, Queen Victoria returned with Prince Albert to Buckingham Palace and in her own words, ‘went upstairs and undressed and put on a white silk gown trimmed with swansdown, and a bonnet with orange flowers’. The bonnet was worn on the way to the royal honeymoon at Windsor and preserved by the Queen. It survives today in the Royal Collection, still with its attendant orange blossoms.

We do know that Queen Victoria also preserved her orange blossom wreath because she wore it in the 1843 portrait of herself which she commissioned from the artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter. This was intended as a present to Albert on their seventh wedding anniversary, in which she wore her ‘dear wedding veil’ and the earrings and necklace at her wedding day, from Turkish diamonds given to her by the Sultan in 1838. Prince Albert of course, designed a delicate parure of orange flowers for the Queen to wear, memorialising her wedding wreath in jewellery. It must have been particularly poignant for Queen Victoria to note as she did in her journal for 6 July 1893 – the wedding day of Prince George, Duke of York and Princess Mary of Teck – that the bride wore a wreath of orange blossom, myrtle and heather, in the same place – the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace – where she had stood to marry Prince Albert in 1840.

Presumably, the wreath survived. We can suppose this because of a single print in the Royal Collection that was made of Queen Victoria’s wedding veil, said to date from the mid-1850s but is possibly later. The veil has been photographed, draped over a chair. On top of it, her wedding wreath has been placed, its orange blossoms still fresh. The print was acquired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the date ‘1840’ has been engraved to the left corner of the picture. Closer examination of the image shows us that the wreath had been twisted to contain both sprigs of orange blossom and actual orange flowers, as the Queen’s journal entry described.

We know of course, that the wedding wreath was figuratively replaced by those widow’s caps for which the Queen became famous, after the Prince’s death on 14 December 1861. Perhaps then, this is why the wreath is difficult to trace after the close of the 1850s. Judging by the Queen’s attitude towards everything associated with her wedding, we should suppose I think, that it was preserved at least, for the remainder of her lifetime. It is not categorically identifiable underneath the wedding veil painted over the Queen’s face in her death-bed portrait by Hubert van Herkomer (1849-1914), nor have I yet read a reference that it was placed on her head at the last.

Whatever became of it afterwards, it was a loved object.

For the Queen however, it represented surely, the most simple of her crowns.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer and researcher. An expert on past British and European royalty as an academic subject, she speaks on matters royal historical for both TV and radio. She specializes in the family of Queen Victoria and Russian royalty, with a particular interest in royal weddings, speaking on historic royal weddings at Windsor for BBC Radio Berkshire prior to the first British Royal Wedding in 2018. She responds to media enquiries ranging from the BBC to private individuals. She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017. She regularly writes for academic journals and specialist magazines on the subject. She is long-standing contributor to the genealogical royal journal Royalty Digest Quarterly (2012 -) and her original research on the Blue Room at Windsor Castle was published in the European Royal History Journal (2013). She is a former contributor to Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine (2013-2018) and currently writes for the Tudor Society's magazine, Tudor Life (2018 - ). Her Royal Central blog was written as history writer (2015-2019). She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) and has written numerous articles based on original research on her life, with a particular interest in her correspondence. She was selected as an historical advisor for the first-time translation from English to Russian of the classic biography (1928) of the Tsarina by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden (Moscow, 2012). Her research interests also include W. A. Mozart. Her two-part article on Mozart in London was published in the Newsletter of the Friends of Mozart Society (New York, Summer/Fall 2016) and she wrote a mini-series on Mozart for the Czech Republic's only English language newspaper, The Prague Post (2017-19). A passionate supporter of culture heritage, she worked in the heritage sector for ten years and has been an active supporter of numerous societies and organizations including The Georgian Group, Historic Royal Palaces, Berliner Dombau-Verein e.V, Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V, Verein Potsdamer Stadtschloss e. V, and Freunde der Preußischen Schlösser und Gärten e.V. Her poetry has been published in various journal and poetry magazines, including The Oxonian Review, Coldnoon and Allegro Poetry. Her first mini-collection of ten poems is forthcoming in the Edinburgh-based quarterly journal Trafika Europe, Issue TE18 All Poetry. Her debut pamphlet of poems is forthcoming with Marble Poetry in 2020.