In my Regency Romance Novel, The Guise of a Gentleman, I deal with and mourning. There is a widow who is still mourning her husband, and then later in the book, the hero’s father dies, so my characters deal with death and mouring. So here is a little more background on the mourning customs of Regency England.
Mourning customs in the Regency Era were less rigid than in Victorian England. The excessively strict rules for mourning come about after Queen Victoria’s husband dies and she wouldn’t give up her black. Keep in mind that these are not LAWS for mourning. Any display of mourning was done at a 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:
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 crape were typical fabrics used for clothing of deep mourning. Crepe was a lightweight black silk, while azine was a medium-weight silk and wool blend. Over time, shinier fabrics emerged in the evening. The less wealthy simply took apart their clothes, died 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.
The widow would be in black for the first six months, and then in half mourning (black and white mixed) for the next six months. After that, the widow would go into half mourning. 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. I saw mention that there were some fashions circa 1811 of someone wearing scarlet for mourning, but have not yet been able to find the actual print. To complicate matters, scarlet is used to describe any brightly-dyed, plain-woven woolen fabric up through the Victorian era. At the same time, it is also used to describe items that are scarlet (red) in color. I find it impossible to determine which meaning is being used when they say it was a scarlet mourning shawl, but 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.
In March 1811 La Belle Assemblee Ladies Magazine said that as scarlet mantels were much worn during morning, and generally succeeded by short pelisse of purple velvet. Ladies Monthly Museum didn't have any mention of scarlet. So who knows?
Brides never wore mourning to the wedding. White was a good choice though a widow could wear brighter colors. A new bride was not supposed to be in mourning at all; though if her parents had recently died she might wear more sober clothes for a period, especially as brides were not supposed to go out socializing for a month after their wedding.
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, dinner parties and dances. They were expected to limit social obligations to necessities and church.
Upon his mother’s 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.
Only the length of public and court mourning was set out. 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.
A hatchment or a mourning wreath would be suspended over the front door of a deceased persons house for 6 to 12 months, after which it was moved to inside the parish church. The last recorded use of a hatchment was when one was hung in a London street in 1928. Hatchments were used from the 17th to 19th centuries. In The Guise of a Gentleman, my e left her up mourning wreath for years, and it wasn’t until she took it down that gentleman began thinking she might be ready to be courted (which is partially why she left it up).
Men wore black armbands, black gloves and some wore black cravats. Some wore all black for their mourning time. There is no mention of half mourning attire for men.
When announcing a , the announcement came trimmed in black, so the receiver would have some warning about the contents of the letter.
Widows not supposed to dance or to go to the more frivolous and silly plays while wearing mourning. Widowers were never expected to go into seclusion for more than a fortnight, if at all, because it was known that men had to conduct business.
Widows were 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 in she were found to be increasing) but many did remarry. This could cause a scandal but it was usually forgotten in a year or so. Widowers did not have the same reason for waiting a year to remarrry, 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 biggest gossips and movers of society reacted. Men were criticized much less for such beach of propriety than . What a surprise!
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, go to The Jane Austin Centre