Fifty Shades of Black

Ackermann_mouning_eveningdress1817_fullCara/Andrea here, I'm musing today on a dark subject . . . as in black! Now, New York fashionistas would have no problem adhering to the complex rituals of 19th century mourning—wearing black is very stylish and an everyday staple of any modern trendy wardrobe. It’s hip and ultra cool to eschew brighter colors for the shadow-dark hue of midnight. But as we all know, black had a different connotation in in the past.

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18th century mourning


Charliedrac Hi, here's Jo, thinking black. Charlie as Count Dracula will have to do as illustration!

The hero of my MIP — titled An Accidental Countess, and to be out next March — is a very new earl, and his family is still in mourning. I had to go digging for details.Perhaps you, too, thought serious mourning was a Victorian invention, but it seems not. In fact one book said that they copied it from the Georgians!   I've been digging around and I've come up with an assortment of funereal details from the mid 18th century. I'm going to share them here, because I think they're fascinating.

It's a long blog and short on pictures, but I hope you enjoy it. I've put in some comments along the way. MyEdaug comments are in blue, like this.

I start with the official court instructions upon the death of Edward Augustus, duke of York (25 March 1739 – 17 September 1767), the king's younger brother, taken ill en route to Italy. As you'll see, he was young, as was the king at this time. I can't say he looks it in this picture, however.

Lord Chamberlain's office. Orders for the Court's going into mourning  on Sunday neat, the 4th day of October, for bis late Royal Highness  next brother to his majesty, viz.

The  ladies to wear black silk, plain muslin or long lawn, crape or love hoods, black glazed gloves, black paper fans, and black silk shoes. Undress, black or dark grey unwatered tabbies. (Tabby means a plain weave.)

The men to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and *weepers, crape hat- bands, and black swords and buckles. Undress, dark grey frocks."

*Weepers were white bands worn instead of frills at the cuff, or as a white lining to the ciff. I'm not uite sure. The cravat bit is to stress that they be plain, without lace.

The instructions to people at large were: "That it is expected, that upon the present occasion of the death of  his late Royal Highness Edward Augustus, duke of York and Albany, all  persons do put themselves into decent mourning, the said mourning to  begin on Sunday next, the 4th day of October."

Poor Cate — yes, my hero's called Cate, from Catesby. His brother's death catches him with nothing more sober to wear than shabby riding clothes.

To the military. Sept. 29, 1767. Scarborough, M. War-Office, Sept. 19. His majesty does  not require 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 his majesty's command.

On a different note, here's a satirical piece from the The Town and country magazine,1769 which besides probably being true of some situations, tells us what mourning behaviour should be.

General Rules for behaviour in Mourning

A Wife losing her husband.

Not to appear in publick the first week; nor in private without a  handkerchief. The second Sunday at church, much affected with the  sermon ; the handkerchief is not omitted.

May go to a tragedy after the first month ; and weep in character,  either at the play, or the loss of her husband.

The second month she  may assist at a comedy, smile, but not languishingly.

The third month she may laugh at a play, or dance at Cornelys's*, with her intended bridegroom. And the fourth month she may jump into his  arms, and finish her widowhood.

*Anyone remember Madam Cornelys, who played a part in A Lady's Secret? At this point, her events were the Almack's of the time. Her business failed, and Almack picked up the very good idea.

A Husband losing his wife.

Must weep, or seem to weep at the funeral. Should not appear at the chocolate house the first week.

Should vent a proper sigh whenever good wives, or even matrimony is mentioned. May take a mistress into  keeping the third, week, provided he had not one before. (I think this means that if he'd had one during the marriage there'd be no change.)

May appear with her in public at the end of the month ; and as he, probably, may not chuse to marry again. he may at the close of the second month, be  allowed a couple of mistresses to solace him in his melancholy.

An Heir losing his Father.

It would be more decent not to break out before the funeral. Horses, dogs, and equipage may, however, be getting ready; plans of villas,  dispositions of gardens, and the like, may be in the meanwhile  examined; the additional servants may be hired, and even put into mournin.

The ladies may visit him, (after the funeral) or he may visit them (before) provided some little precaution is used to prevent scandal.

He may frequent the gaming table, get admitted a member of the Jockey Club and the Franciscan Friar  as soon as he can;(Presumably the Hell Fire club, where the members wore monk's robes. At
this time it doesn't seem to have been a place of occult wickedness,
but a slightly kinky club popular with major figures in society and
politics.
)

and if he  is not ruined by the expiration of his mourning, he may only change his  dress, and pursue the same plan as long as his fortune will last.

Complaints of extravagant funerals.

If people really were beggaring themselves to pay for grand funerals, they had a point.

"I have frequently known a greater sum expended at the funeral of a tradesman, than would have kept his whole family for a twelvemonth, and it has more than once happened, that the next heir has been flung into gaol for not being able to pay the undertaker's bill."

The writer cites this example, and again we see what a funeral might have looked like.

"I was passing the other night through a narrow little lane in the skirts of the city, I was stopped by a grand procession of a hearse  and three mourning-coaches drawn by six horses, accompanied with agreat number of flambeaus and attendants. I naturally concluded that all this parade was to pay the last honours to some eminent  person, whose consequence in life required that his ashes should receive all the respect which his friends and relations could pay to  them.

I could not help smiling, when upon enquiry I was told  that the corpse (on whom all this expence had been lavished was no other than Tom Taster the cheesemonger, who had lain in state all the  week at his house in Thames-Street, and was going to be deposited with his  ancestors in White-chapel burying-ground.

This illustrious personage was, I believe, the first of his family, that ever thought of riding in a coach, living or dead : he was the son of a butcher in White-chapel, and died indeed but in indifferent circumstances: his widow however, for the honour of her family, was resolved at all events to bury him handsomely."

Another criticism.

"It was the custom, in the time of the plague, to fix a mark on those  houses in which any one had died. This probably may have given rise  to the general fashion of hanging up an atchievement. 

(Ah-ha! The source of that strange word, "hatchment" for the crest of the deceased hung upon the door. I've always wondered about the origin of that.)

However this be,  it is now designed as a polite token that a death has happened in the family, and might reasonably be understood as a warning to keep people  from intruding on their grief.

No such thing is, indeed, intended by it: I am therefore of opinion, that it ought every-where to be taken  down after the first week. Whatever outward signs of mourning may be preserved, no regard is ever paid to them within : the same visitings, the fame card-playings, are carried on as before ; and so little  respect is shewn to the atchievement, that if it happens (as it often does) to intersect one of the windows in the grand apartment, it is occasionally removed, whenever the lady dowager has a route or  drummajor.This naturally leads me to consider how much the customary suits of solemn black, and the other trappings and signs of woe, are  become a mere farce and, matter of form only."

A complaint about excessive black.

"When a person of distinction goes out of the world, not only the relations, but the whole household, must be cloathed in sable. The kitchen-wench scours  her dishes in crape, and the helper in the stables rubs down his  horses in black-leather breeches. Every thing must put on a dismal appearance: even the coach must be covered and lined with black.

This  last particular, it is reasonable to imagine, is intended (like a death's head on the toilet*) to put the owner constantly in mind, that  the pomp of the world and all gay pursuits are but vain and  perishable.

*I'm not sure what this means. Not a skull on the loo, obviously, but what? Any ideas?

Yet what is more common than for these dismal vehicles to wait at the doors of the theatres, the opera-house, and other public places of diversion? Those who are carried in them are as little affected by their dismal appearance as the horses that draw them ; I once saw with with great surprize an harlequin, a scaramouch, a shepherdess and a black satin devil, get into a mourning coach to go to a jubilee masquerade.

If I should not be thought to lay too much stress on the lesser formalities observed in mourning, I might mention the admirable method  of qualifying the melancholy hue of the mourning ring, by enlivening it with the brilliancy of a diamond. I knew a young lady, who wore on the same finger a ring set round with death's heads and cross marrow bones  for the loss of her father, and another prettily embellished with burning hearts pierced through with darts, in respect to her lover."

 Mourning rings were a huge part and a large expense. They were given to mourners at the funeral.

From Costume of Colonial Times, which from other research was usually the same as in Britain except a little later.


"These mourning rings were of gold, usually enamelled in black. They were frequently decorated with a death's – head or a coffin with a skeleton lying in it, or a winged skull. Often they held a framed lock of hair of the deceased friend. Sometimes the ring was shaped like a serpent with his tail in his mouth.A favorite motto was "Death parts United Hearts." Others bore the legend: "Prepare for Death;" another, "Prepared be to follow me." Some funeral rings bore a family crest in black enamel.

The story is told of Doctor Samuel Buxton, of Salem, Mass., — who died in 1758, aged eighty-one years, — that he left to his heirs a quart tankard full of mourning rings which he had received at funerals.

That might have been a tidy inheritance!

Black gloves were part of mourning, and also sometimes sent to mourners as a gift. Black-headed pins were available, for pins were much used to fix women's dress. There was also black sealing wax and black edged paper, which led to another complaint.

"But what I most of all admire is the odd contrivance, by which persons  spread the tidings of the death of their relations to the most distant  parts, by the means of black-edged paper and black sealing wax. If it were possible to inspect the several letters that bear about them these external tokens of grief, I believe we should hardly ever find  the contents of the fame gloomy complexion : a luscious sonnet, or an  amorous billet-doux would be much oftener found to be conveyed under these dismal passports, than doleful ditties or reflections on  mortality : and indeed these mock signs of woe are so little attended to, that a person opens one of these letters with no more concern than is felt by the postman who brings it. "

Fascinating, isn't it?

Anyone have anything to add about Georgian mourning?

Jo