By now, I’m sure you have all read the headlines: “Queen Elizabeth II Becomes Britain’s Longest-Reigning Monarch.”
According to these articles, The Queen, at 89, was announced as longest reigning monarch on Wednesday September 9, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. British time. This means, Queen Elizabeth II had ruled for 23,226 days, 16 hours, and 30 minutes when she claimed this title. With The Royal Family making headlines all week, I would like to use this spotlight to direct it back in time to the former holder of the longest-reigning title: Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria was an impassioned woman when it came to her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She would often write in her diary of her undying love for him as well as her undeniable grief following his death in 1861. “Without him everything loses its interest” “How I, who leant on him for all and everything—without whom I did nothing, moved not a finger, arranged not a print or photograph, didn’t put on a gown or bonnet if he didn’t approve it shall go on, to live, to move, to help myself in difficult moments?”
After his death, Victoria was cast into a deep state of mourning. Now, mourning in the Victorian era became a very strict practice, socially, with certain expectations of what your appearance and behavior was to be following the death of a spouse, and one common practice was to wear mourning jewelry made using the hair of the loved one you’ve lost (more on Victorian Mourning in blogs to follow). In the case of the Queen, she never recovered from her grief over Prince Albert, and was in a period of mourning for the remainder of her life.
For forty years she wore a black mourning gown and black mourning jewelry made of jet. She completely pulled away from society and rarely appeared in public. As a wealthy woman who was particularly fond of hair art, it is commonly thought that she may have worn a brooch or locket containing the late Prince’s hair. Although I have every reason to believe this to be a possibility, I have yet to see a photograph or painting of her wearing what appears to be hair jewelry, nor have I read definitive information from a credible source to prove this. BUMMER! It’s a safe assumption, but I want the FACTS! It’s also widely believed that she would give pieces of jewelry containing her own hair as gifts to her children and grandchildren.
On the subject of hairwork and Queen Victoria, another interesting fact was that there was a life-sized portrait of The Queen made entirely out of human hair which was displayed at the Paris Exposition of 1855. This, of course, drew big crowds and is an example of hair art that was purely decorative rather than a romantic gesture or a memorial token. I have not been able to find enough information on this piece of art yet to determine if it was a piece of flatwork art (as referenced in a previous blog) or a less common technique called sepia which, in a nut shell, is a type of hair painting. This is just a small bit of information on Queen Victoria and the Victorian relation to hair art, but which I will surely delve deeper into a later date. My particular fondness of the Victorian era is one of the reasons that I have come to learn and practice the art of hairwork.
I’d also just like to note how much of a MAJOR BUMMER it is sometimes to try to gain information from this era. The history is rich and unique, but it was often poorly documented. Even Queen Victoria herself had many of her writings destroyed after her death for fear of the public getting ahold of her more controversial opinions, and unfortunately the censorship of the early 1900’s was a fire. There’s no document retrieval there. Sadface. Many, many sadfaces. The only up side to this frustration is that I’ll be able make a lot of art with the hair I’m pulling out of my head! My personal goal is to continue to build my knowledge of the Victorian era as much as I am able, and my promise to you is that I will share the information as I find it. Meanwhile, I will continue to share with you all that I already know, and maybe one or two of you will read it and find it fascinating. :P
Your frustrated historian,