Victoria(n) mourning: how the Widow of Windsor changed Victorian customs
October 16, 2019 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Although Queen Victoria had been on the throne for over twenty years, the 14th December 1861 marked the beginning of the reign of the mourning Queen (Royal Central). After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria decreed that everyone in the household had to appear in full mourning while on duty for two years and although official mourning for the Prince ended in 1863, women at court still had their wardrobes dictated by the Queen (Enough of this Tomfoolery blog), which influenced society at large and and abroad....

See also: House of Mourning - Victorian Mourning & Funeral Customs in the 1890s (Victoriana).

British subjects followed the Queen's lead and death practices became more elaborate, though as subjects got farther from the queen, these norms changed. For instance, Australian responses to death and dying evolved from the personal experiences of immigrants in a new and unforgiving environment, and heralded a break from traditional European culture (Angel Pig; more from Australian Museum).

The fashion for heavy mourning was drastically reduced during the Edwardian era and even more so after the Great War. So many individuals died that just about everyone was in mourning for someone. By 1918 a whole new attitude had developed and this was hastened even further by the Second World War (Fashion Era). But there were those who spoke out (to a degree) as to the heightened value and importance of Queen Victoria's mourning, while other young men died in service to their country, as seen in Rudyard Kipling's The Widow at Windsor (Poetry Lover's Page; context and details from Kipling Society).
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have a theory that the reason the Victorians were so fascinated by ancient Egypt was because the main aspects of ancient Egypt that survived for posterity were its funereal practices, which fit the bill for a publicly funereally-minded culture. Seeing a civilisation through the distorting lens of tombs and ornaments, they saw a reflection of their own socially-mandated permanent mourning.
posted by acb at 8:47 AM on October 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


A widow emerging from her first mourning also had to reassess her position in the world – she might well have lost both her income and her social status with her husband, and women who remarried were regarded with faint distaste as being unfaithful to the memory of their husbands, which was regarded as almost as bad as physical infidelity and was not immune from severe censure.
When Margaret Atwood says that she pulled most of The Handmaid's Tale from reality, I wonder if she was thinking of some of this in addition to the Iranian Revolution. This was not so long ago.
posted by clawsoon at 9:47 AM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


A widow emerging from her first mourning also had to reassess her position in the world – she might well have lost both her income and her social status with her husband, and women who remarried were regarded with faint distaste as being unfaithful to the memory of their husbands, which was regarded as almost as bad as physical infidelity and was not immune from severe censure.

I also wonder how much this had to do with a shortage of marriageable men (because of wars and male migration to colonies) - a way to say "one to a customer, please?" Because widow remarriage was not discouraged - in fact, wealthy widows were marriage market prizes - before the Victorian era. And I think the new middle-class idea of "marriage for love" also factored in - a woman's heart should be in the grave and all that.

And I think the article covers this, but black dye was expensive and hard to produce before the advent of synthetic dyes, so all but the very wealthiest couldn't wear head to toe black mourning even if they wanted to.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


What a good post! My Gran told me there was a mourning warehouse here in Copenhagen right up to the fifties! I looked it up now and saw it was started in 1944, so someone must have kept up the tradition way beyond the Great War.
As with so many things, the Victorians overdid it, but I can see the meaningfulness of treating loss and grief as a practice. I've lost too many family members and friends during the last two decades, and it is rough, but over time, I have become better at managing it, and early on my siblings and I decided to involve our children. We realized that because we had been sheltered from all of the practicalities and grief when people died while we were young, we had to invent everything on our own when we were the grieving. To put it bluntly: when we go, our children will maybe grieve, but they will have a method to deal with it that we didn't have.

During the last decade, I have been at funerals that were really beautiful and heart-wrenching goodbyes, and at funerals that were utter madness. Having a rule-book can be really helpful.
posted by mumimor at 12:36 PM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


The other day I was reading reflections that my mother wrote a few years after the death of my older brother. She talked about how she felt pressured to act like everything was normal again, everything was okay. If she said she was still grieving, still raw, would she lose her job? If she didn't act like the love of Jesus made everything better within a suitably short time, would she be looked down on at church?

She probably could've used a Victorian length of mourning.
posted by clawsoon at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


A widow emerging from her first mourning also had to reassess her position in the world – she might well have lost both her income and her social status with her husband, and women who remarried were regarded with faint distaste as being unfaithful to the memory of their husbands, which was regarded as almost as bad as physical infidelity and was not immune from severe censure.
A man's reputation in death is more important than how a woman lives her life.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:51 AM on October 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


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