Everyone is usually familiar with Victorian mourning and its strict etiquette and rules. Mourning in the Georgian Era also had rules associated with it and those rules varied. For instance, in 1782 there was no general mourning when Prince Alfred died as etiquette established “never to go into mourning for any of the blood-royal of England under 14 years of age, unless [they were] … the heir-apparent.” When the Princess Dowager died, mourning lasted six months and theatres were closed for three weeks, whereas when Princess Amelia of Great Britain died in 1786 the mourning period lasted six weeks and theatres were closed for a mere ten days.
Georgians, just like Victorians, wore black when in mourning. Black was worn to denote “the privation of life,” as black was considered the “privation of light.” The Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift noted that despite wearing black, Georgian Era mourning was sometimes neither strict nor somber. He demonstrated this when he wrote that “he always observed the merriest faces in mourning coaches.” One gentleman added to Swift’s comment that “black clothes are but seldom accompanied with sorrowful countenances.” The gentleman also maintained that at least two women he knew, who had not recently lost a relative, became “very melancholy” as mourning clothes were of “great advantage to their complexions.”
The two melancholy women mentioned above were not the only ones to show improper decorum when it came to mourning. For instance, it was reported that a man named Sir Henry Lovejoy went to a new play “in black and weepers; and though he had buried his wife but a week, he laughed as hearty as if he was to have been married the next day.” There was also a certain lady who reputedly danced at Cornelys’ just a fortnight after her husband’s death, and a son whose father had so severely restricted his finances, that upon the father’s death the son “immediately rifled the strong box … and swore he would not return home till his father was buried, and every farthing spent.”
Although some Georgians were willing to abide by proper etiquette and rules when it came to mourning, one Georgian gentleman in 1769 felt that disrespectful mourning had gotten out of hand. He wrote to the editor of the Town and Country Magazine hoping to improve the decorum of Georgian mourners. He stated that if that happened “foreigners will no longer be able to twit us with all want of decency; and we shall approach a little more towards rational beings.” He also offered various rules and etiquette for Georgians mourners, and provided a bit of humor with it. He suggested his ideas be used by wives mourning for their husbands, husbands mourning for their wives, and heirs mourning for their fathers.
Here are his suggestions:
Wives Mourning for Their Husbands:
- The first week wives were not to appear in public.
- They were also not to be without a handkerchief, even in private.
- The second Sunday they were to be “much affected with the sermon; the handkerchief not omitted.”
- After the first month, the widowed wife could attend a tragedy and then “weep in character, either at the play, or the loss of her husband.”
- The second month, she was allowed to attend a comedy and she could “smile but not languishingly.”
- The third month, allowed for laughter at a play or dancing at Cornelys’ with her perspective bridegroom.
- The fourth month permitted her to jump into her intended arms, and “finish her widow-hood.”
Husband’s Mourning for Their Wives:
- The husband was directed to “weep, or seem to weep at the funeral.”
- He could not be seen at the chocolate house for the first week and was supposed to provide a “proper sigh whenever good wives, or even matrimony [was] mentioned.”
- The third week allowed for a mistress, if he did not have one.
- The fourth week he could appear in public.
- The second month he could obtain more mistresses if he chose not to marry, as mistresses supposedly provided solace for his melancholy.
Heirs Mourning for Their Fathers:
- The heir was instructed not to leave before the funeral ended, although horses, dogs, and equipages could be readied for his departure.
- The disposition of the estate, gardens, etc. could be examined.
- Additional servants could be hired if needed and they could be put into mourning.
- Immediately after the funeral women were allowed to call on the heir or he could visit them.
- The heir could also frequent the “gaming table [or] get admitted [as] a member of the Jockey Club [or] the Franciscan Friars.”
- Finally, if not ruined by too early expiration of his mourning, he could also discard his mourning dress.
Of course, not everyone was so lighthearted when it came to death and mourning. Public figures had epic funerals and associated with them was epic mourning. For instance, when Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, died, besides a specific order in which the funeral procession was to proceed, there were numerous mourning coaches and his body was covered with a black velvet pall. Nelson’s servants were also “in mourning” and rode in a “mourning coach,” and at least one mourning coach bore several gentlemen “in their full uniform coats, with black cloth waistcoats, breeches, and black stockings, and crape round their arms and hats.” In 1798, there was a report of a woman dressed in deep mourning who had lost her husband and two sons in the war. She hoped to present a petition to the majesties but was prevented, although she eventually succeeded in throwing her petition into their carriage, where it fell upon Princess Elizabeth’s lap.
Mourning rules were also associated with families, relatives, and servants in the Georgian Era. In the Life of Harriot Stuart, written in 1750 by the English poet and authoress, Charlotte Lennox, she noted:
“[The] length of time devoted to mourning, and the apparent intensity with which one mourned, were determined to a large extent by the relationship that … existed between the two people and the ‘public knowledge of that relationship’ … mourning was usually only done for kindred, and … the formal rules that governed mourning, which specified an exact amount of time for each degree of kinship, ‘showed that servants were excluded from family.'”
This meant that mourning by any employer for one of their servant’s, indicated their relationship was more of a friendship than mere employer and domestic.
- Annual Register, Vol. 1798, 1800
- Friday’s Post, in Ipswich Journal, pg. 2, 24 August 1782
- “Friday’s Post and Express,” in Norfolk Chronicle, pg. 4, 2 October 1790
- Lennox, Charlotte, The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself, 1750
- The European Magazine and London Review, Vol. 49, 1769
- The Order to be Observed in the Public Funeral Procession of the Late Vice-Admiral Horatio Viscount Nelson, Vol. 8, 1806
- “Wednesday & Thursday’s Posts,” in Northampton Mercury, pg. 2, 4 November 1786
- Urban, Sylvanus, The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 1806