The First Royal White Wedding Dress

Period illustration of the wedding ceremony

On the 10th of February 1840, Queen Victoria wore a dress of white silk satin and Honiton lace to marry Prince Albert. Her choice transformed the growing popularity for a bride to wear a dress of white, a symbol of purity and virginity, into a tradition that continues to this day. She also popularized the wearing of orange blossoms, a symbol of fruitfulness and good luck, that originated in China. A period account of the wedding dress gives the particulars:

The original dress at the Museum of London, sans lace flounce

“Queen Victoria’s dress was of rich white satin, trimmed with orange flower blossoms. The headdress was a wreath of orange flower blossoms, and over this a beautiful veil of Honiton lace, worn down. The bridesmaids or train-bearers were also attired in white. The cost of the lace alone on the dress was £1,000. The satin, which was of a pure white, was manufactured in Spitalfields. Queen Victoria wore an armlet having the motto of the Order of the Garter: “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” inscribed. She also wore the star of the Order.

Portrait of Victoria in her wedding gown without the wedding accessories

The lace of Queen Victoria’s bridal dress, though popularly called Honiton lace, was really worked at the village of Beer, which is situated near the sea coast, about ten miles from Honiton. It was executed under the direction of Miss Bidney, a native of the village, who went from London, at the command of her Majesty, for the express purpose of superintending the work. More than two hundred persons were employed upon it from March to November, during the past year.

Victoria in her wedding gown, with some alterations including the lace flounce removed

The lace which formed the flounce of the dress, measured four yards, and was three quarters of a yard in depth. The pattern was a rich and exquisitely tasteful design, drawn expressly for the purpose, and surpasses anything that has ever been executed either in England or in Brussels. So anxious was the manufacturer that Queen Victoria should have a dress perfectly unique, that she has since the completion of the lace destroyed all the designs. The veil, which was of the same material, and was made to correspond, afforded employment to the poor lace workers for more than six weeks. It was a yard and a half square.”

Following the wedding, the dress was worn for several portraits, altered or accessorized differently for each. The honiton lace flounce was removed from the dress soon after the wedding but was worn again for an official photograph taken late in life.

The dress and the flounce are now held in the Museum of London collection. The dress is currently undergoing restoration for an exhibition at Kensington Palace on Queen Victoria, to open in March 2012.

6 thoughts on “The First Royal White Wedding Dress

  1. Marvelous! Did Queen Victoria make the wearing of white wedding gowns popular? Somewhere in my addled brain I have it that the first white wedding gown was worn by another noble sort in the 17th Century. Am I completely wrong about this?
    Thanks,
    Arthur

    • Hi Arthur – Victoria wasn’t the first, there had been a growing trend to wear white as a wedding dress before Victoria donned hers, but Victoria’s wedding captured the imagination of her English subjects and solidified the trend into a tradition.

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  3. Some research I did on this subject that won’t be going in Wedding Dress book coming out, but is still relevant here: Queen Victoria wore her wedding lace mounted on various dresses throughout her life. She wore it on the dresses she wore to all her children’s christenings, except for Edward, Prince of Wales (because that day coincided with Frederick IV of Prussia’s Garter installation, Victoria wore her Garter Robes instead).

    She also wore the lace mounted on the dresses she wore to her eldest daughter’s wedding in 1858, while Albert was still alive, intending to create a tradition of wearing the lace to all her children’s weddings as well as to their christenings. However, Albert died in 1861 and this tradition was kiboshed before it took hold. She only wore it once again to a child’s wedding, when Leopold married Helena of Waldeck-Pyrmont in 1882, and then her youngest daughter, Beatrice, was allowed the unique honour of wearing her mother’s bridal lace mounted on her dress and veil. Victoria’s other daughters (ie Alice and Helena) and daughters-in-law (ie, the future Queen Alexandra) were effectively commanded to have brand new lace made by the Honiton lace-makers to keep them in business.

    Victoria last wore the lace to the wedding of her grandson, the future George V, to Mary in 1893

    • Oh, and she is also wearing it mounted on her dress for the 1887 Jubilee portrait, I forgot to note.

    • I had found pics of Beatrice wearing the lace in 1882 but had no idea Victoria wore it so many times herself. That is quite fascinating!

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