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Finding Queen Victoria’s perfume

Queen Victoria’s use of perfume is a subject of interest because of what it reveals about both her personal toilette and tastes. An equivalent in scent perhaps, of that distinctive signature we know so well on paper, adding an ‘I’ for ‘Imperatrix’ after she was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. This perfume would have been part of the Queen’s daily dressing process. At Osborne, the only publicly accessible of Queen Victoria’s dressing rooms may be admired, both for its paintings and supremely elegant Minton porcelain dressing table set, a Christmas present to the Queen from Prince Albert in 1853, but more importantly, for the uniquely intimate insight that it enables the visitor. Two perfumes associated with the Queen would seem to have very particular meaning behind them.

Queen Victoria’s own particular scent was that of the orange blossom flower, a flower for the Queen of intense sentimental value, as it was linked with her engagement and wedding. The orange blossom was what she wore, twisted into a simple wreath on her head as well as in sprays at her bodice, as the sole floral decoration of her bridal attire on the morning of her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, on 10 February 1840. The Times wrote: ‘Her Majesty wore no diamonds on her head, nothing but a simple wreath of orange blossom’.

Orange blossom, however, had a history in the story of the royal couple’s love, even prior to the wedding. Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a gold and porcelain brooch, as one of his first presents to her. This was later added to in the form of another orange blossom brooch and earrings in 1845.

A headdress was given to the Queen for their sixth wedding anniversary in 1846, consisting of the orange blossom set in gold leaves, white porcelain flowers and four oranges of green enamel on a black velvet band, somewhat charmingly to represent the four eldest royal children. Touchingly, it probably also commemorated the Queen’s bridal wreath, which was photographed and contained within one of the albums of Queen Victoria’s private negatives. The jewellery ensemble made up what became known as the orange blossom parure, consisting of the pieces given to the Queen by Prince Albert between 1839 and 1846. Subsequently, Queen Victoria wore the parure on most Wedding Anniversaries. The extent to which she treasured the orange blossom parure may be evidenced by the fact that it numbered amongst that group of personal jewels she ordered to be placed in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle in which Prince Albert had died, after her death.

She evidently prized the orange blossom, not only as a symbol of her and Prince Albert’s love expressed in art but also as a symbol of marriage within her own family. When Princess Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales at Windsor in 1863, Queen Victoria preserved a sprig of the wax orange blossom from Princess Alexandra’s bridal wreath, worn to keep her veil in place. It survives in the Royal Collection, with Queen Victoria’s own inscription upon the envelope: ‘From Alix’s Pss of Wales’ bridal wreath, March 10th/63’.

Queen Victoria’s orange blossom perfume was remembered by Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, one of her favourite granddaughters, in her private reminiscences: ‘She… used a faint perfume of orange blossom. She once gave me a bottle of this scent, which was made at Grasse, but I in vain after her death tried to get it there and elsewhere’ (cit., David Duff, Hessian Tapestry, pp. 270-71). Queen Victoria’s later travels increasingly took her to Cote d’Azur, to resorts such as Menton, Hyeres, Cannes, Grasse and finally, Cimiez. At Grasse, Queen Victoria became a familiar figure in black mourning now slightly relieved by the trimmings in her hats or her accoutrements, an unmistakably regal figure whose incognito was widely guessed at, driving in her donkey carriage, a glorified ‘garden chair’ as she called it (HRH The Duchess of York and Benita Stoney, Travels with Queen Victoria, 38) with a donkey as ‘plump as a well-fed monk’, as the mule was described in 1891 (cit., Ibid, 38). Queen Victoria’s rooms at Grasse were a replication of her rooms at Windsor and Osborne in particular, filled with personal memorabilia and sentimental clutter, her desk set up much like her sitting room at Osborne, to which photographs readily testify (Ibid, 36).

Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg’s memory of her grandmother’s scent is important because it tells us where the Queen obtained it. Grasse is first mentioned in the Queen’s journal in 1887 and in 1891, she wrote her journal from Grasse’s Grand Hotel. This tells us that either the Queen obtained the perfume later, or it was supplied to her years prior to her visit, at least, long enough ago for the Princess to remember it (she was born in 1863 and would have been a child of the 1860s and early 1870s, thinking back on the Queen). Interestingly, Queen Victoria does mention the perfume factories at Grasse during her stay there in 1891, but she does not refer to orange blossom in this connection, at least not in the edited versions of her journals that have come down to us.

Original research has enabled me to finally identify what I think is the perfume that the Queen probably used, which Princess Louis of Battenberg was unable to find. I can now present this here for the first time. I believe it was made by the renowned parfumeur Molinard. Hyacinthe Molinard founded the company in Grasse in 1849 to sell various eaux de fleurs, or flower water fragrances. According to Molinard themselves, Queen Victoria numbered amongst their clientele. This places the orange blossom scent remembered by Princess Louis of Battenberg before the Queen’s own visits to Grasse towards the end of her reign, which tallies with her memories. It is reasonable to assume that this orange blossom perfume was amongst the eaux de fleurs, created by the company when it was established. I aim to research this further.

Pleasingly, Maison Molinard sells orange blossom perfume today, their Fleur D’Oranger, retailing at EUR 59 per bottle.

Nor was this the only scent the Queen liked. She also liked eau de Cologne. This was created in Cologne by the Italian-born perfumier Giovanni Maria Farina and is known as the Farina 1709 Eau de Cologne. Farina wrote in 1708 to his brother: ‘‘I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination’.

Queen Victoria visited Cologne in 1845 and after an exhausting journey which had taken her across Belgium in the royal Belgian train (Ibid, 53) to Cologne via Aachen, she must surely have been refreshed to find on her arrival at Cologne railway station, that the streets had been sprinkled with eau-de-cologne in her honour (Ibid, 54).

Farina 1709 Eau de Cologne opposite the Jülichs-Platz, Cologne was supplied to Queen Victoria from this, the oldest eau-de-cologne and perfume factory, together with its own museum. It was a popular fragrance amongst royalty and the elite, with the company holding the royal or imperial warrant for the houses of Germany, France and Italy, as well as Britain. Its royal clientele included on the British side, William IV, whom Queen Victoria succeeded, as well as Queen Victoria herself and her eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, later Crown Princess of Prussia and German Empress. Edward VII and George V continued the tradition, apparently down to Diana, Princess of Wales. Queen Victoria gave Farina the Royal Warrant and they were duly appointed ‘purveyor of Eau-de-Cologne in ordinary to Her Majesty‘. The Warrant (Shown above) was signed by her Lord Chamberlain, Lord Conyngham, ‘Given under my Hand and Seal this Twenty Seventh day of September 1837 in the First Year of Her Majesty’s Reign‘.

According to Farina 1709 Eau de Cologne, ‘from Queen Victoria onwards, we’ve been purveyor of the Court… She bought the original eau-de-cologne. She knew this product from childhood on. An average order of sixty dozen [bottles] was not unusual.’ A document shown in a documentary presented by Michael Portillo, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Berlin to the Rhine showed that the Queen had some fifty dozen long flasks of eau-de-cologne sent to her in a case, to be delivered to Buckingham Palace. There are several rather charming entries in the Queen’s journal, made in the early part of her reign, where she gave gifts of eau-de-cologne to her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, on more than one occasion. The Queen only began her journal in 1832. I have been unable to find out as yet, anything more about her knowledge of it, in her childhood.

There is a sad, final twist to the Queen’s use of eau de Cologne. Queen Victoria records giving it to Prince Albert, four days before his death, as he lay in the Blue Room at Windsor. She sprinkled his sheets with eau-de-cologne and administered vinegar as smelling salts to him (Elizabeth Longford, Queen Victoria, 323). 

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019