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.