Friday, April 2, 2010

Donna Hatch: Regency Mourning Customs

Today I welcome fellow Regency author Donna Hatch. The Wild Rose Press will release Donna's latest book, The Guise of a Gentleman on April 16. Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win a digital copy of The Guise of a Gentleman. Donna will select the winner. Check the comments to see who the lucky winner is.

Welcome Donna!

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 mourning. 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 died 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 bombazine was a medium-weight silk and wool blend. Over time, shinier fabrics emerged in the evening. The less wealthy simply took apart their clothes, dyed 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 scarlet mantels were much worn during mourning, and generally succeeded by short pelisses 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 person's 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 heroine left up her 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 death, the announcement came trimmed in black, so the receiver would have some warning about the contents of the letter.

Widows were 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 if 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 remarry, 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 breach of propriety than women. 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.

The Guise of a Gentleman--available April 16 from The Wild Rose Press

The widowed Elise is a perfect English lady living within the confines of society for the sake of her impressionable young son. Her quiet world is shattered when she meets the impulsive and scandalous Jared Amesbury. His roguish charm awakens her yearning for freedom and adventure. But his irrepressible grin and sea-green eyes hide a secret.

A gentleman by day, a pirate by night, Jared accepts one last assignment before he can be truly free. Elise gives him hope that he, too, can find love and belonging. His hopes are crushed when his best laid plans go awry and Elise is dragged into his world of violence and deceit. She may not survive the revelation of Jared’s past…or still love him when the truth is revealed.

Donna, thanks for coming over. Visit Donna at her website, and her blog.


Linda Banche said...

Hi Donna. Fascinating information. Thanks for coming over, and congrats on your release!

Denise Patrick said...

Interesting information, Donna. I have read about mourning customs before, but I found the information regarding how detailed announcements were interesting. I learned something new today - thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Donna. What an interesting post. I'm glad there aren't so many rules for mourning now...I would never be able to remember them all! Congrats on your release.

♥ Sallie said...

Great research!

Yay for April 16th!

Angelina Barbin said...

Thank you for your very informative post. My current WIP has a lady in half-mourning and I learned a lot from you.
I hope to meet you at the Desert Rose Conference.

Angel Barbin

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Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Donna,
Very interesting and informative blog,thanks for sharing, best of luck with your new release.

Gillian Layne said...

Wow, that's great information, Donna. I didn't know about the black notices or the wreaths. Thanks so much for sharing.

Deb Marlowe said...

Hi Donna! Great job--so useful to see all of this information together in one article!

Did you find any information on what the mourning wreath had to look like? Anything special it had to be made of or include?

Your new release sounds great!

Macao said...

Hi Donna, strange I was just doing research on patterns for caps and chemises in THE WORKWOMAN'S GUIDE by A Lady [googlebooks] (pub. 1840, long before Q. Victoria went into mourning). I was diverted by this same subject.

In the long section on mourning, the customs were about the same except white was worn quite a bit in deep mourning--ie. the hat bands for gentlemen (esp. in the case of the death of a young woman). Black armbands by the military were worn below the elbow, not above, affluent families put their servants in mourning etc.; also instructions on how to make the shroud.

Fascinating slice of life; thank you!


Donna Hatch said...

Thanks, everyone for stopping by. Deb, I did several searches on mourning wreaths and never found a clear description of the materials found to make one, but they appeared to be made of twigs, leaves and flowers. If you find a good description of one used in the Regency era, please let me know!

Donna Hatch said...

Angel, I'd love to meet you at the Desert Dreams. I'm teaching a class called Power Editing, so feel free to stop by and say hello.

Donna Hatch said...

Thanks Leslie! I'll file that info away, too.