Friday, March 18, 2011

Mourning in "The Ladies' Monthly Museum"
The Death of Princess Charlotte

I have been reading about Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of our Prince Regent and his unloved wife Caroline of Brunswick, lately. The book I just finished was 'Becoming Queen Victoria' (by Kate Williams) which had a useful, if somewhat dramatic, take on the life of the erstwhile Princess.

Then I found, in The Ladies' Monthly Museum of November and December 1817, coverage of her death, and the outpouring of national grief that followed it. The reaction was similar to that which occurred on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, but there was much more reason for the public reaction.

Charlotte was the last hope of a nation depressed by the illness of its king, and tired, disgusted and disheartened by the behaviour of the Prince Regent. There was a belief that she would be the monarch they had been waiting for, a queen who would right all the wrongs perpetrated by her forebears, exclude her dissolute uncles from the throne, and make her people--burdened by economic hardship--happy. And then it was all cut short on November 6, 1817 and The Ladies' Monthly Museum lamented:

The sudden, unexpected, and melancholy death of the only presumptive Heiress to the Crown of England in direct succession (after being delivered of a still-born son,) in the bloom of youth and beauty, in the height of her happiness, in the midst of conjugal endearments, beloved and respected, with the prospect of attaining the pinnacle of human greatness, has excited a general sentiment of sympathy and sorrow throughout the country; absorbed every other consideration; and for a time exclusively fixed our attention upon the character of illustrious victim, and the future consequences of her loss.

The Museum took an idealized engraving of the princess and turned it into a keepsake that no doubt was framed by many, and enshrined:
Following this portrait was a twelve page "Memoir of the Life, Death, and Funeral, of her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte Augusta." In the same issue, in the column titled Epitome of Public Affairs, was a five page article on the funeral of the Princess. It includes information on the body's preparation for burial (!), minute details of the coffin ('massive handles with enriched chased borders'), and the activities of each half hour of Wednesday, November 19, the day of the funeral.

There were regular articles in this issue of the Monthly Museum (A New System of Mythology, Comic Use of a Retentive Memory) but they were interspersed with further outpourings of grief:

Even the Fashion Notes for which The Ladies' Monthly Museum was notable were all about mourning clothes. " is soothing to our feelings to perceive the general respect paid to her memory by all classes of people, no person of decent appearance being seen out of mourning."

The walking dress is black bombazeen with black crape trim. Worn over it is a pelisse of black Levantine. The French bonnet is of black Leghorn. The evening dress is black crape over black sarsnet. trimmed with jet beads. All the jewelry is of jet.

The Museum always included a 'Costume Parisiennes' column. This month it begins:
"The latest accounts from Paris announce that the French court have gone into mourning for our Princess, for eleven days, and all the English of distinction have paid her memory a similar mark of respect:..."

'The more things change, the more they stay the same' -- we may not wear mourning clothes any more, but the reaction to tragedy has not altered in the last two hundred years.

But on to more cheerful matters--next week, award-winning, multi-published Regency author Janet Mullany will visit to blog about Brighton. Please join us then!

'Til next time,



Anne Gallagher said...

I love your posts, they're so informative.

I moved my book's time frame, just because of her death. I couldn't justify what I wanted to write because I knew the country was in mourning.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

It's the sort of detail that is too often overlooked, isn't it, Anne? I found the way the magazine covered the event very interesting.