Mourning in the Georgian Era

Most people are 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.”[1] However, when the Princess Dowager Augusta died in 1772, mourning lasted six months and theatres were closed for three weeks, whereas when Princess Amelia Sophia died in 1786 the mourning period lasted six weeks and theatres were closed for a mere ten days.

Mourning in the Georgian Era - Princess Amelia Sophia in 1738

Princess Amelia Sophia in 1738, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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 requirement for black was noted when Prince William, Duke of Cumberland died in October 1765. The Scots Magazine reported that besides the public going into “decent mourning” requirements for those of the court and in service to the King involved the following:

“The ladies to wear black silk or velvet, fringed or plain linen, black or white fans, and white gloves. The men to wear black full-trimmed fringed or plain linen, black swords and buckles. … His Majesty does not require, that the officers of the army (except those of his horse and foot guards) should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion, than a black crape scarfe round the arm, and black crape sword-knot, with their uniforms, except when they come to court.” [2]

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.”[3] One gentleman added to Swift’s comment that “black clothes are but seldom accompanied with sorrowful countenances.”[4] 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.”[5]

Jonathan Swift, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jonathan Swift. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.”[6] 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.”[7]

Although some people were willing to abide by proper etiquette and rules when mourning in the Georgian Era, one 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.”[8] 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:

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.”[9]
  • 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.”[10]
  • The second month, she was allowed to attend a comedy and she could “smile but not languishingly.”[11]
  • 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.”[12]
  • 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.”[13]
  • 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.”[14]
  • 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 in the Georgian Era. 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. Besides Nelson’s family and his wife Frances mourning his death his 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.”[15]

Mourning in the Georgian Era - Horatio Nelson

Horatio Nelson as Vice Admiral by Lemuel Francis Abbott in 1799. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Likewise there was intense mourning when Princess Charlotte died in 1817. No business was to be conducted with the Magistracy of London on the day of the funeral and businesses and shops were also closed. In addition, church bells rang “throughout the City and continue[d] to toll at intervals each day previous to, but more particularly on the day of the funeral.”[16] Princess Charlotte’s father, the Prince Regent, was so distraught he could not attend her funeral because of his grief. Her mother, the Princess Caroline, was out of the country when she received word on the death of her daughter and she was so upset she fainted from shock. The public was just as stunned at the Princess’ death and mourning was so great in the kingdom that linen drapers ran out of black cloth as indicated by the extent to which it was used just in the chapel alone:

“The pavement of the Choir was completely covered with black cloth; the stalls of the Knights of the Garter were hung with the same, in rich draperies; the cushions, seats, and other appurtenances of the Choir, as well as the Altar, were also clothed in black.”[17]

Mourning in the Georgian Era - Princess Charlotte

Memorial portrait commemorating Princess Charlotte of Wales & Saxe-Cobourg Saalfeld produced in 1817-1818. Courtesy of the British Museum.

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.'”[18]

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.

Charlotte Lennox, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Charlotte Lennox. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] “Friday’s Post and Express,” in Norfolk Chronicle, 24 August 1782, p. 2.
  • [2] The Scots Magazine, Volume 27, 1765, p. 611.
  • [3] The Town and Country Magazine, Or Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction, and Entertainment, Vol. 1, 1769. p. 639.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 640.
  • [9] Ibid. p. 639.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid. p. 640.
  • [15] “Nelson’s Funeral”, in Globe, 9 January 1891, p. 3.
  • [16] “The Late Princess Charlotte,” in Star (London), 15 November 1817, p. 2.
  • [17] “The Princess Charlotte,” in Saunders’s News-Letter, 25 November 1817 , p. 1.
  • [18] Lennox, Charlotte, The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself, 1750, p. 304.

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