November 18, 2017

{Coronation Gowns / excerpt No. 1}

Here's an excerpt from one of my presentations, “SOMETHING MOST ROYAL: Recreating Crowns & Gowns for Victoria & Elizabeth, featuring costume design stories from PBS’ Victoria and Netflix’ The Crown about recreating the royal wedding gowns and ornate coronation garments. (Since you can read about Victoria and Elizabeth's wedding gowns in my latest book, I thought I'd share information about their coronations here!)
Sometime between Victoria’s accession to the throne and her coronation in 1838, just over a year in time—“the Mistress of the Robes received an enquiry from the Treasury about the cost of the robes the Queen would require…this would need to be included in the overall coronation expenses to be presented to Parliament for official approval.”

For the garments alone, there were hundreds of busy fingers! Not just dressmakers, robe-makers, shoe and stocking makers, as well as crown-makers to engage and instruct, but decisions, like:

Was there time to custom-weave silk satins, silk velvets and cloths of gold…or would these precious fabrics have to be bought—Heaven Forbid!!—“off the shelf”? And what about the regal wear for the Queen’s Maids of Honor?

Would a new crown have to be made for the monarch’s tiny head? Would her tiny feet reach the floor once seated in the sacred 500-year-old St Edward’s Chair?
So many dilemmas, so little time!!

Nonetheless, at 10 on the morning of 28 June 1838, the Queen sets off from Buckingham Palace “wearing the kirtle of her Parliament robe over her dress of gold-brocaded white satin,” according to official records. 

“In paintings of Victoria’s coronation her dress is consistently obscured by her robes and only recently has it become possible to gain an idea of this rich silk dress, when a page was deciphered from the ledgers of the Office of Robes as relating to the coronation.” (So this is how Rosalind Ebbutt, the costume designer, knew how to recreate Victoria’s gown in a more authentic design.) The original fabric, probably of Spitalfields manufacture, is “a design of cartouches and flowers worked in sliver-gilt strip on a white satin ground”—probably “off the shelf” instead of custom woven, and probably made by QV’s “long-serving dressmaker, Mary Bettans.”

Jenna Coleman from "Victoria" on PBS
Victoria was also wearing the silver, gold and “diamond circlet of George IV, one of the most familiar pieces of royal jewelry. (We’ll see it later with Queen Elizabeth.) Victoria had it reset with diamonds and pearls from the royal collection” (in fact, it is “set with 1,333 diamonds, including a 4 carat pale yellow brilliant in the centre of the front cross”)… “and Victoria wore it constantly until the death of her husband Prince Albert.”

Although made for George IV’s extravagant coronation in 1821, “the diadem has been regularly worn (and slightly modified) by queens regnant and consort from Queen Adelaide onwards. This feminine association belies its origin….”

[to be continued....]