Queen Victoria’s wedding veil was an object of singular poignancy because of the enormous sentimental value that it represented to her in personal terms and the context in which she last wore it. She wore in on the monumental day – 10 February 1840 – the day she decided was in fact, had been the ‘happiest’ of her life. On the morning of her wedding, a day which began with rain pouring down the windows of her bedroom at Buckingham Palace, she would wear a white satin dress with Honiton lace, a lace which would become proverbial in her own family for the weddings of her daughters and daughters-in-law, because she insisted that their dresses be trimmed with it (Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, 120).
With a simple wreath of orange blossoms, she was dressing as a bride, unquestionably a royal one, but as the future wife of her ‘most dearly loved bridegroom’, as she wrote in a little note to Prince Albert on the morning of the wedding; she wanted to stand before the altar in the Chapel Royal, St James’s, as his ‘ever-faithful Victoria R’. She wore the diamond-set sapphire brooch, an item of significant personal meaning, a present from Prince Albert on the eve of their wedding, which she wore pinned prominently on her lace bodice; so sacred was this sapphire brooch in emotional terms, that the Queen willed it to the Crown on her death. Due to the shortness of her train, the bridesmaids (whom she sketched and whose dresses of white silk and roses she had helped to ‘design’) had difficulty in not tripping over it as they processed towards the altar.
When the Queen’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice married Prince Heinrich ‘Henry’ of Battenberg in 1885 at Whippingham Church, where the Royal Family worshipped when at nearby Osborne, this beloved daughter dressed for her wedding day in the room of her father, Prince Albert, just as her elder sister, Princess Alice had done in 1862 as she dressed for her wedding to Prince Ludwig ‘Louis’ of Hesse. This child had the unique privilege of being permitted to wear her mother’s own wedding veil for her marriage ceremony, which the Queen had in fact, worn for the christenings of all her nine children and also at the wedding of her youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, on his marriage to Princess Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Princess Beatrice also wore a wedding dress of white satin as the Queen had done in 1840. Its lace trimmings were her mother’s wedding lace (HRH The Duchess of York with Benita Stoney, Victoria and Albert: A Family Life at Osborne House, pp. 189-190).Queen Victoria was painted by the fashionable portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1847, in a portrait of herself, as a gift to Prince Albert on the occasion of their seventh wedding anniversary. The Queen wrote that she sat for Winterhalter ‘I wearing my dear wedding veil.’ (cit., Staniland, 121). She also wore for the portrait, her orange blossom wreath, which she had carefully preserved and the parure she wore on her wedding day, made from the Turkish diamonds she had received as a gift from the Sultan in 1838. Sir George Hayter had painted the wedding ceremony at St James’s Palace in his large painting The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840 although curiously, the art does not show the Queen wearing the sapphire brooch to which she attached such profound importance, so it is curious that the Queen’s obsessive commitment to true detail, let this omission pass. Queen Victoria’s court train has not survived (Staniland, 122).
On her wedding morning, the Queen noted in her journal: ‘Monday, FEBRUARY 10. – the last time I slept alone. Got up at a ¼ to 9 – well, & having slept well; & breakfasted at ½ p. 9’ (cit., Elizabeth Longford, Queen Victoria, 151). Only then did she begin to describe her toilette: ‘Had my hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on… dressed…I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch’ (cit., Staniland, 122). The veil wasn’t removed until after the register had been signed back at Buckingham Palace, after which the Queen went upstairs and changed into a ‘white silk gown trimmed with swansdown, and a bonnet with orange flowers’ (cit., Ibid, 122). The bonnet, her ‘going-away’ bonnet, was preserved by the Queen and it survives in the Royal Collection, a happy remnant of her carriage ride with Prince Albert for their honeymoon at Windsor Castle.
The Queen’s wedding veil was photographed in its own right, for the albums of Queen Victoria’s private negatives. Done by an unknown photographer, the image is a touching one, showing the Queen’s simple wreath of orange blossoms placed on top of it. The impression is a memorial image, and the veil in its black and white albumen print resembles a strange ghost of the royal wedding.
Whilst the Queen’s wedding dress survives in the Royal Collection, the wedding veil does no longer and with good reason. Whilst she had worn it many times since her wedding, Queen Victoria left amongst her private instructions on her death that she should be buried with a whole host of personal trinkets, known only to her trusted doctor, Sir James Reid and those select dressers who prepared the Queen’s body for burial because there were objects she wished to be placed into her coffin, ‘some of which none of the family were to see’. These were contained with the strictly private envelope on which the Queen had written ‘Instructions for my Dressers to be opened directly after my death and to be always taken about and kept by the one who may be travelling with me’ (cit., Kate Hubbard, Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, 359).
Susan Reid saw the Queen’s body the following day and wrote that her face resembled a ‘marble statue’ – recalling the effigy which would have to be found for the Queen’s burial, eventually located at Windsor Castle by the Office of Works (Longford, 616) – and that ‘she still looked “the Queen”, her wedding veil over her face…’ (cit., Ibid, 357).
The Queen wished for a military funeral, as befitted the soldier’s daughter that was she was proud to have been, her coffin to be borne on a gun-carriage to Frogmore, as might be expected for the only daughter of the soldier-Duke of Kent. Importantly, however, she wanted her funeral to be white, as Tennyson’s had been and as he had confided to the Queen in a conversation, they had back in 1873 when Tennyson had said how he ‘wished funerals cd be in white’ (cit., Longford, 614).
Significantly, I think that the Queen wanted a white burial, apart from the fact that she greatly disliked black funerals, having been horrified by the sight of the hearse at Balmoral, with its attendant horses and their black plumes (Ibid, 614). I believe that for the Queen, her death probably also meant in her mind, the cessation of her period of widowhood. Death would mean a reunion with the Prince Consort, so to be buried in white meant she would become a bride again.
This might be underlined by the fact that she certainly wished for the marble effigy carved of her at the same time as that of Prince Albert’s – by Baron Carlo Marochetti – to depict her in the likeness of a young woman and wife. The effigy, which was locked up at Windsor and found after enquiries were made for it when it was needed for her burial, showed a young Queen Victoria with the head half-turned to her beloved husband, who stares straight upwards into the Neo-Renaissance dome of the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, as if into eternity, possibly as if to indicate he has gone before her. The impression is of royal sleep, a young couple in love again, resting on a bed, symbolic of the passionate marriage they had enjoyed. Importantly, the Queen is shown wearing a veil-like cloak.
When the Queen died at Osborne in 1901, her body was prepared for burial. The Queen and Empress was dressed in a white dress, upon which flowers had been strewn. It was almost as if the Queen was somehow being ‘dressed’ again – for her wedding. To add to this, her wedding veil was carefully draped over her face. The Queen would wear it for eternity, and it would forever cover her head, like the bride that she was. In death, she wore amongst other rings to be placed on her fingers (which had been heavily ringed in life), her wedding ring.
Interestingly, however, the Queen’s huge mourning identity remained with her, even after death. This is symbolised in the fact that one of her legendary widow’s caps, was placed over her hair, even with the wedding veil. As such, she was painted on her death-bed in a portrait by the artist Hubert von Herkomer dated 24 January 1901, the Queen is shown as she had been laid out following her death two days earlier. The portrait is a permanent moment of serenity, capturing the Queen’s face, looking almost young again, covered in the wedding veil she had loved and clasping the silver crucifix in her hands which had previously hung over her bed (Longford, 614). This is how she looked, strewn with flowers when a service was performed in the Queen’s bedroom on the night of her death, laid on her bed, as opposed to the small sofa-bed on which she had died.
The white imagery continued, almost as if by order of the dead Queen. When she was buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, snowdrops were growing round about, and snow or ‘sleet’ fell on that February morning.
Her wedding veil will forever cover the face of Queen Victoria.