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Queen Victoria’s Wedding Anniversary

Today is Queen Victoria’s wedding anniversary – 173 years on. Did you know that Albert designed some of the jewellery for their wedding?

We’ve included here an excerpt about the royal wedding from our award-winning book, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe.

Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria

Victoria’s marriage to Albert took place at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, on 10 February 1840. The ceremony was at one o’clock in the afternoon, a break with the tradition of holding royal weddings in the evening. Victoria had given much thought to her dress, searching for precedents, particularly in the marriage of her grandfather George III to Queen Charlotte. Many of these she rejected, dressing in white rather than cloth-of-gold or cloth-of-silver and leaving off the crimson or purple robe of state in favour of a train from the waist of white satin trimmed with orange blossom. The satin for the dress and train was made at Spitalfields.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

Queen Victoria in her Wedding Dress, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Oil on canvas, 1847. Royal Collection. The Queen wears the sapphire and diamond brooch given her by Prince Albert with her ‘Turkish” diamond necklace and earrings.

Reporting started early, with The Times stressing the Queen’s commitment to troubled native industries, silk from Spitalfields and lace from Honiton in Devon. On 15 January The Times noted that ‘various tradespeople have received commands from Her Majesty to execute a large and superior assortment of presents, and amongst others Messrs Turner (the goldsmiths) are actively engaged in preparing several elegant and valuable articles in jewellery’1. Hoping for the Crown Jeweller title, they had to be content with several Royal Warrants and with acting as back-up to their rival Garrard’s. On 20 January it was reported that ‘the “wedding favours” of lily-white satin or silk riband will be universally worn on the wedding day’, and that ‘extensive orders’ had given employment to thousands who would have otherwise suffered depression usual at this season’2. The ribbon was woven with a crown, a true lovers’ knot and a rose, thistle and shamrock wreath3.

On the day she rose early and ‘had my hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on… I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch’4. Although painted seven years later, the clearest image of her wedding dress, lace and jewels is shown in a portrait by Winterhalter, made for the Prince on the anniversary of their wedding in 1847. Her choice of white and orange-blossom flowers became the ’uniform’ of brides throughout the Victorian period and beyond.  …As the indefatigable Times reported observed, the Queen ‘wore no diamonds on her head, nothing but a simple wreath of orange blossoms. …A pair of very large diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, and the insignia of the Order of the Garter, were the personal ornaments worn by the Queen’5.

Three orange blossom brooches. English, 1830 - 50. British Museum, Hull Grundy Gift.

Three orange blossom brooches. English, 1830 - 50. British Museum, Hull Grundy Gift.

The brooch in enamelled gold and porcelain (top) retains its original Hunt & Roskell display case, and was probably made in the wake of the royal wedding. The firm traded under this name at 156 New Bond Street from 1846. Orange blossom brooches in textured gold with engraved veins set with coral and shell flowers were popular from the 1830s.

Her ‘Turkish diamond necklace and long fringe earrings were made by Rundell’s in 1839 from diamonds in the gift of jewellery presented to her by Sultan Mahmud II in 1838. Prominent on her lace collar is Albert’s sapphire brooch.

Brooch in the form of a German eagle with wings displayed. Made by Charles Du Ve, London 1840. British Museum, given by the Hon Mrs Mary Anna Marten.

Brooch in the form of a German eagle with wings displayed. Made by Charles Du Ve, London 1840. British Museum, given by the Hon Mrs Mary Anna Marten.

The brooch, in gold and silver pave-set with turquoises, was a souvenir of the royal marriage. One was given to each of Queen Victoria’s twelve train-bearers. The turquoise eagle has a diamond beak and ruby eyes and grasps two large pearls in its claws.

…Victoria gave each [of her train-bearers] a turquoise brooch, designed by Albert himself, in the form of a German eagle. The brooches were treasured in the families of the girls as a souvenir of a great occasion. The eagle, pave-set with turquoises, has a ruby eye (for passion), a diamond-set beak (for eternity) and holds pearls for ‘true love’ in its claws. The Queen presented the train-bearers with their brooches in dark blue velvet cases after the ceremony.

Extracted from Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria, by Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe, winner of the 2011 William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History. Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum unless otherwise stated.

Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria is available for a discounted £45 when bought online at the British Museum shop (rrp £55).

  1. The Times, 15 January  1840, p.5
  2. Ibid., 20 January 1840, p. 6
  3. J. Roberts 2007, p. 2
  4. Esher 1912, Vol 1, p. 63
  5. The Times, 11 February 1840, p. 4. This is not strictly true, as Lady Wilhemina Stanhope (later Duchess of Cleveland) noted in her journal, she had on her head ‘a very high wreath of orange flowers, a very few diamonds studded into her hair behind’

Anniversary of the British Museum

Today is the anniversary of the British Museum! The British Museum opened to the public on 15 January 1759. It was first housed in a seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury on the site of today’s building. Entry was free and given to ‘all studious and curious Persons’.

With the exception of two World Wars, the Museum has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of 5,000 per year to today’s 6 million.

In celebration of the Museum’s 254th year, we’ve published below an extract from the Treasures of the British Museum, by Marjorie Caygill.

The Trustees' Mace

The Trustees’ Mace, which lay on the table at Board meetings and was reputed to have been carried before the Trustees during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on their visitations to Museum departments. Made of silver hallmarked 1758/59 and inscribed ‘The Trustees of the British Museum 1759’, the year that the Museum opened to the public. L. 2.4 m. The mace rests on a copy of the Act of Parliament ‘for the purchase of the Museum or Collection or Sir Hans Sloane, and of the Harleian Collection’, 1753.

A visitor to the British Museum a few years after its foundation in 1753 would have had to negotiate a massive entrance gate on Great Russell Street. On crossing a cobbled courtyard he, or she, would have entered Montagu House, a hastily although lavishly converted mansion, built on the previous century on the edge of London. Inside, after admission tickets had been collected, a small group of about ten people would have been conducted on a guided tour, lasting about two or three hours, past natural history specimens – both attractive and disgusting, but always interesting – and a miscellaneous collection of antiquities, ethnography and what could only be termed curiosities. Before leaving, the visitor would be able to inspect the outside of the books on the library shelves and might perhaps be shown some fine paintings of flowers. There were at that time in the Museum’s collections around 88,000 books and volumes of manuscripts, 24,000 coins and medals, 43,000 natural history specimens and perhaps 5,000 antiquities and ‘modern’ curiosities. This vast collection was curated, protected against the influx of the London mob, and kept clean, by twelve staff. Today the British Museum houses 6 – 12 million objects (if sherds and other small items are counted separately), and has a staff of over 1,000. Its offshoot the Natural History Museum has 70 million specimens and the more recently separated British Library holds 150 million items.

The origins of the British Museum lie in the will of the eminent physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753), the greatest collector of his age, particularly noted for his assemblage of natural history specimens, who bequeathed his vast omnium gatherum to King George II for the nation in return for £20,000 for his two heirs. The king was somewhat indifferent but Parliament had the foresight to accept the offer. The British Museum Act received the royal assent on 7 June 1753. Funds to buy a repository and to run the Museum were raised by a state lottery, noticeably corrupt even for the eighteenth century. Parliament seized the opportunity to add to Sloane’s miscellany the historical and literary manuscript collections of the Cotton and Harley families. In 1757 George II donated the Old Royal Library of the sovereigns of England and with it the privilege of copyright deposit. A body of powerful Trustees with perpetual succession, was appointed to govern the Museum on behalf of the nation.

The Museum and its small reading room opened to the public on 15 January 1759.

Text and image © Trustees of the British Museum

You can read more about Treasures of the British Museum by Marjorie Caygill on the British Museum shop website.