Some time ago I blogged about orders for mourning his royal highness the Duke of Kent (father of then Princess, later Queen Victoria), who died on 24 January 1820.
Court mourning was a profitable business for purveyors of things black, because the court was obliged to mourn the monarch’s numerous relations, minor and major, on the Continent. In 1835, they did it for the Emperor of Austria from March 17 to April 12, whereupon they promptly recommenced for another relative:
"Orders for the Court's going into mourning on Sunday next, the 12th instant, for his late Royal Highness the Prince Augustus of Portugal, Consort of her most faithful Majesty, viz., the ladies to wear black silk, fringed or plain linen, white gloves, necklaces, and ear-rings, black or white shoes, fans, and tippets. The gentlemen to wear black, full trimmed, fringed or plain linen, black swords and buckles. The Court to change the mourning on Sunday, the 19th instant, viz: The ladies to wear black silk or velvet, coloured ribbands, fans, and tippets, or plain white, or white and gold, or white and silver stuffs, with black ribbands. The gentlemen to wear black coats, and black or plain white, or white and gold, or white and silver stuff waistcoats, full trimmed, coloured swords and buckles. And on Sunday, the 26th instant, the Court to go out of mourning."
—The court journal: court circular & fashionable gazette, Vol. 7, 1835
Here’s how an American explained court mourning to his countrymen in 1856:
"Court mourning, too, is a subject for the most serious consideration. The number of days it must be worn, the depth of the sorrow it indicates, the colors of the fans and the shoes, are all prescribed; and the presence-chamber of Her Majesty after a person of royal rank in Siam or Brazil has gone to receive his deserts in some other world, is lugubrious in the last degree. A black drawing-room, as it is called, would be unendurable were it not that all is so manifestly matter of form. The grief that court ladies feel on the death of the uncle of the Czar, or of some petty cousin of the Queen, whom even Her Majesty has seldom seen, can hardly be very profound. Besides, if the mourning lasts more than ten days, they are generally allowed to mitigate its sombreness with purple or red, and though their clothes must be as black as the court circular requires, they may go to as many balls as they please."
—Aristocracy in England, by Adam Badeau, 1856
Illustration: Duchess of Kent with toddler Princess Victoria in 1821
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.