What do you think of when you think of Queen Victoria? I’m betting you don’t think of recycling, or of frugality. The truth is, though, that she hated waste, wasn’t huge on pomp and circumstance where it could be helped, and was tremendously sentimental. These three facts combined to make sure she reused her wedding lace for the rest of her life.
This is what the scene looked like on February 10, 1840, when young Queen Victoria married her cousin Prince Albert at the Chapel Royal, St. James.
Compared to other royal brides of the period, Victoria dressed simply. She kept the jewels to a minimum and had her wedding clothes made of English products, including her lace. In fact, it’s widely believed that she ordered the Honiton lace ensemble of wide skirt flounce, narrow sleeve flounces, veil, and a fichu before she even proposed to Albert. Whether or not that’s true, she certainly did have the lace made in the village of Beer under the direction of one Miss Jane Bidney. It took some two hundred lacemakers to create the set. When the lace was completed, she ordered the patterns destroyed so that it could not be replicated.
But that’s not the end of the story.
You see, Queen Victoria was both a practical and a sentimental woman. She hated waste and she adored her husband. Lace was also a very different beast at the dawn of the Victorian age. Machine manufactured lace was in its infancy – or possibly its early childhood, since the first lacemaking machine was invented in 1809. Most lace was still produced by hand. Handmade lace took a long time to make and was tremendously expensive to buy. Lace would be temporarily attached to clothing and unpicked from the garment when it was wanted for another outfit.
Queen Victoria used nearly any excuse she could come up with to reuse her wedding lace. She wore it every year on her wedding anniversary, a tradition she kept up even after Prince Albert’s death in 1861. She wore it to state occasions. She wore it for official portraits. She even wore it to the weddings of all but one of her children. She did not wear it to Princess Beatrice’s wedding because she had loaned it to the bride.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get a good look at the lace itself in these pictures, but there’s one where it’s much easier to see. After all, by the time Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee rolled around, photography had gotten pretty darn good.