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Friday, August 10, 2018

Regency Mourning Practices

by Donna Hatch

Mourning customs in the Regency Era were less rigid than in the Victorian Era. Excessively strict mourning rules we often encounter in historical novels came into practice after Queen Victoria’s beloved husband died -- she wouldn’t give up her black mourning clothes and turned mourning into a firmly followed rule of propriety. Her subjects used her example to springboard their own mourning customs. Keep in mind that these are not LAWS for mourning. Any display of mourning was done at a family's or person’s discretion. However, there were social norms, that, if not followed, might raise some eyebrows.

In the excellent book, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Trumbach gives the following data for mourning periods:
12 months for a husband or wife
6 months for parents or parents in-law
3 months for a sister or brother, uncle or aunt
6 weeks for a sister-in-law or uncle or aunt (no explanation for the duplication here so perhaps it had to do with the closeness or lack of same
3 weeks - uncle or aunt, aunt who remarried, first cousin
2 weeks - first cousin (and whether they were close or not?)
1 week - first and second cousin, and husband or stepmother’s sister.

Trumbach says there was usually a designated female who kept up the family tree and ordained the degree of mourning required for the dearly (or not so dearly) departed.

Bombazine and crepe were typical fabrics used for clothing of deep mourning. Crepe was a lightweight black silk, while bombazine was a medium-weight silk and wool blend. Over time, shinier fabrics emerged for appropriate evening wear while in mourning. The less wealthy simply took apart their clothes, dyed them black, then re-sewed them.

Mourning--or lack hereof--could also be used as an opportunity to get back at someone you disliked by cutting down on the time or style of one’s mourning.

Customarily, the widow would be in black for the first six months, and then in half mourning for the next six months. White, grey, and even lavender were suitable for half mourning. Again these are ideals, and not everyone observed them. Ackermann’s had a half mourning dress in a 1819 issue that was all white. Lavender is not mentioned in this issue, but it was commonly accepted as an appropriate half-mourning costume. On one blog I visited, I saw mention that there were some fashions circa 1811 of someone wearing scarlet for mourning, but "scarlet," is not only red in color; was also used to describe any brightly-dyed, plain-woven woolen fabric.

I found this: "February 1811 For the Promenade, cloaks in Scarlet merino or grey cloth, black velvet pelisses, lined with grey sarsenet, wrapped plain in tippets; Spanish hats in velvet, or cottage bonnets in black, grey, or scarlet cloth." I can only assume in this instance, the term means the way it was dyed, rather than the color red. 

In March 1811, La Belle Assemblee Ladies Magazine said that scarlet mantels were worn during mourning, and generally succeeded by short pelisses of purple velvet. Ladies Monthly Museum didn't have any mention of scarlet. I find it hard to believe any bright color, scarlet or otherwise, was an acceptable mourning color but who knows?

A bride would never wear mourning colors to her own wedding. A new bride was not supposed to be in mourning at all; though if her parents had recently died she might wear black or more sober clothes for a period, especially as brides were not supposed to go out socializing for a month after their wedding. Also, keep in mind that communication and travel were both slow, so the family may choose not to tell a bride on her honeymoon out of a desire not to ruin her wedded bliss, and because it was unlikely she could arrive home in a timely manner. Also remember, mourning during the Regency was an individual and family-dictated observance.

Julia Johnstone (before she was ruined and became a courtesan) had her court presentation and her debut in society not long after her father died, so clearly the world didn’t simply stop for people who were in mourning. However, while in full mourning, the family of the deceased typically avoided formal entertainment such as balls and large dinner parties. They were expected to limit social obligations to necessities and church for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.

Upon his mother’s death in 1818, the Prince of Wales announced that he intended “to wear the longest mourning that ever son did for a mother...” and he actually limited the official mourning period for the people of England to six weeks. I'm sure his mother would have been moved. Ahem.

In mourning, men wore black armbands, black gloves, and some wore black cravats. Some wore all black while in mourning. There is no mention of half mourning attire for men, however there was mention of men wearing a white band or ribband (ribbon) on their hats to mourn a young girl in the family.

In The Workwoman's Guide by A Lady (pub. 1840, long before Q. Victoria went into mourning) it says military men wore black armbands below the elbow, not above, and that affluent families put their servants in mourning etc.

When notifying relatives of death, the announcement came trimmed in black. I have also heard of the family mailing black gloves along with the announcement of death.

A hatchment or a mourning wreath would be suspended over the front door of a deceased person's house for 6 to 12 months, after which it was moved to inside the parish church. The last recorded use of a hatchment I found was hung in a London street in 1928.

Widows were not supposed to dance or to go to the more frivolous and silly plays while wearing mourning. They were also not supposed to marry until a year had passed (to see if she were expecting the child of her former husband) to end any doubt about the identity of child’s father if she were found to be increasing. However, many did remarry prior to the year mark. This could cause a brief scandal but these were always forgotten after a time.

Widowers did not have the same reason for waiting a year to remarry, and if they had small children, widowers were forgiven and even expected to remarry soon.

There were no hard and fast rules about these things. It all depended on how the movers of society reacted. Men were criticized much less for such breach of propriety than women. What a surprise!

The length of public and court mourning was set out in a fixed manner. The Lord Chamberlain notified the Gazette as to what it would be. If anyone were invited to court during this time, they were also sent instructions as to what to wear.

I couldn’t find the official mourning proclamation for Princess Charlotte, but I did find this for the father of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Kent, who died in 1820:

Lord Chamberlain's Office, Jan. 25.
Orders for the Court's going into mourning, on Sunday next, the 30th instant, for his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, viz. The ladies to wear black azins, plain muslin or long lawn, crape hoods, chamois shoes and gloves, and crape fans. Undress.—Dark Norwich crape. The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers, chamois shoes and gloves, crape hatbands, and black swords and buckles. Undress.—Dark gray frocks.

Herald's College, Jan. 25.
The deputy earl Marshal's order for a general mourning for his late royal highness the duke of Kent. In pursuance of the commands of his royal highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty. These are to give public notice, that it is expected that upon the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness Edward Duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, all persons do put themselves into decent mourning, the said mourning to begin on Sunday next, the 30th instant. HENRY HOWARD - MOLYNEUX-HOWARD, Deputy Earl-Marshal.

Horse-Guards, Jan, 25. It is not required that the officers of the army should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion than a black crape round their left arms with their uniforms. By command of his royal highness the commander-in-chief.
HARRY CALVERT, Adjutant-General.

Admiralty-Office, Jan. 25. His royal highness the Prince Regent does not require that the officers of his majesty's fleet or marines should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, than a black crape round their arms with their uniforms. J. W. CHOKER

For more information on mourning clothing, I highly recommend The Jane Austen Centre.

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