Monday, January 21, 2013

Queen Victoria’s Nuptial Gifts

Queen Victoria + Prince Albert's Wedding Cake
Photo Source: The Wedding Dress Blog

The Cakes
In the months preceding Queen Victoria’s winter wedding, over one hundred wedding cakes were ordered from various confectioners in London. Gunter’s Tea Shop of Berkeley Square was commissioned to bake fourteen of these confectionary masterpieces.

Assumed by James Gunter in 1799, the popular bakery was well established by 1839, when the Royal orders were sent. By this time, Robert Gunter (James’ son), “cook, confectioner, and fruiter”, and his cousin, John, were the managing partners and chief bakers. {44, p. 362}

While the most elaborate of the Queen’s wedding cakes made by Gunter’s was reserved for the royal party held at St. James’s Palace the evening after the wedding ceremony, the other thirteen cakes were given as gifts to Princess Sophia (George III’s daughter), the Duchess of Kent, Princess Sophia of Gloucester, the Duke of Sussex, Viscount Melbourne, the Lord Chancellor, the Marquis of Narmanby, Sir John Cam Hobhouse, the Earl of Clarendon, Lord Holland, the Right Honorable T. B. Macaulay, and the Earl of Erroll. {17}

A batch of eighteen cakes was also requested from Gunter’s stiff competitor, Mr. Charles Waud of New Bond Street, London. {44} Charles Waud allegedly filed for bankruptcy in 1833, but he seems to have made a glowing comeback by 1840, when he artfully created what Ms. Eva Hope calls “chaste and elegant” cakes. {72; 17 p. 724-25}

Ms. Hope further describes the wedding confections as “naturally and delicately fanciful,” absent the typical frippery {17, p. 724-25}. Abandoning the usual white mortar work, silver leaf, and cherubs, Mr. Waud molded the cakes into vases and baskets with architectural curves reminiscent of the Etruscan masters.

The cakes were “embellished with leaves, flowers, and fruit,” or with “shells and rock work, waves and ripples.” {17, p. 724-25} Their only apparent flaw was that they were so beautiful that few would dare carve and serve them.

Five of these divine cakes were sent to Lacken, Hanover, and Coburg, while those remaining were presented to Dowager Queen Adelaide, Princess Augusta, the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Earl of Uxbridge, the Earl of Albermarle, Right Honorable F. T. Baring, the Marquis of Landsdowne, Viscount Palmerston, the Earl of Minto, the Right Honorable Henry Labouchere, Viscount Duncanon, and Viscount Morpeth. {17, p. 725}

It is not clear from the historical records which confectioners made the remaining seventy cakes. If you have information regarding these other gift cakes, I do hope you will leave a comment and let me know. Be sure to include your sources, as well.

Coburg Eagle Brooch, 1840
Bridesmaids Gifts from Queen Victoria
Turquoise, diamond, pearls, rubies
Copyright The Royal Collection
Photo Source: The Royal Post Blog

Jeweled Favors
Their wedding was just the beginning of Queen Victoria's and Prince Albert's passion for jewelry design. Well in advance of the ceremony, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sat before several different artists, most probably including Sir William Ross, the Queen's "Miniature Painter in Ordinary", Henry Pierce Bone, and possibly Sir William Ross and/or William Drummond to fashion numerous miniature portraits of the Queen and her Consort. {A}

Some of these miniature portraits were then sent to Mssrs. Rundell and Bridge, the Royal Jewelers from 1797 to 1843. The prestigious jewelers set these miniatures into the lids of finely crafted gold snuff boxes, which were presented to each of the foreign ambassadors on the day of the wedding ceremony.

Her Majesty also commissioned Mr. William Wyon, chief engraver at the royal mint, to etch their profiles into one hundred quarter-inch medallions, which were later affixed to gold rings and distributed most generously to guests on their wedding day. Eva Hope reports that under magnification the Queen’s features are “beautifully delineated” and the inscription ‘Victoria Regina’ crowns her beautiful head. {17, p. 729-30}

Perhaps the most exquisite of these jeweled favors were the twelve Coburg eagle brooches made for the Queen’s bridesmaids. The body of each bird was seeded entirely with turquoise beads, symbolic of true love. Each eagle clasped in each of its gold talons a large pearl, also symbolizing true love.
Under the Queen’s personal direction, with some input from Prince Albert, the design of these birds was carried out to perfection by London watchmaker and jeweller Charles Augustus Ferdinand du Ve, a contractor for R. & S. Garrard. {B} Their jeweled faces featured eyes made of rubies to symbolize passion and beaks made of diamonds, representing eternity. {B}

These gifts were unique and exquisite, and it must have been the happy couple’s sheer delight to bestow them upon their most precious guests and family members. However, it is safe to surmise that their most intimate exchanges were their most treasured.

Common Book of Prayer, 1840
Given to Queen Victoria by her mother, the Duchess of Kent
Photo Source: The Royal Collection

Intimate Exchanges
Perhaps the most precious of all of Queen Victoria’s nuptial gifts were those exchanged between the Bride and Groom. The first of these intimate exchanges took place well before the wedding. Prince Albert designed and commissioned the most exquisite engagement ring, the first of what would later be called Victorian engagement rings.

Ever mindful of the symbolism of all things, he designed the band as a twisting serpent biting it’s tail. This symbol of enduring love was crowned with a dark green emerald, the Queen’s birthstone and a powerful stone believed to ensure that a woman would become a loving wife.

Then, just two days before their wedding, Queen Victoria sent a courier to deliver a most prestigious gift to her husband. She had commissioned Rundell & Bridge to fashion the Royal Orders of the Garter (described in detail in the linked post). She also requested that a miniature portrait of herself, painted by Sir William Ross, be set into a mounted watch-case for Albert. {17, p. 730}
Following their very public wedding ceremony, the Royal Couple spent a brief time in secret, at which time Victoria gave her new husband his wedding band.* Though it was not customary for the groom to receive a wedding ring during the ceremony, the sentimental Queen would have wanted Albert to have this very special token of their wedding day.

In addition to these most intimate gifts exchanged between the two of them, Victoria’s family honored the couple with tokens of their affection. The Duchess of Kent commissioned complementary Books of Common Prayer for her daughter and new son-in-law. Bound in red velvet and decorated with Victoria’s monogram on the front board, Victoria’s book featured a metal plate on the back engraved with 10 February 1840. Inside, her mother wrote these words: “Given To my beloved Victoria on her Wedding Day by Her most affectionate Mother.” {B}

Albert’s book was bound in what appears to be green velvet and featured a similar engraved plate on the back. Two golden hands joined together served as both the clasp and as “a reminder of the joining of hands in the marriage ceremony." {49} The bookmark was made of gold and silk ribbon and featured eight gemstones in an acrostic spelling out Victoria’s name: Vermeil, Jargoon, Chrysolite, Turquoise, Opal, Ruby, Jargoon, Amethyst. {49} The Prince’s first name was embossed on the front cover in gold, and he carried this precious book with him to the altar and referred to it during their wedding ceremony.

The Duchess of Kent also commissioned for her daughter a serpentine bracelet fashioned almost entirely of turquoise. The serpent’s head was encrusted with diamonds and rubies, and around its neck it wore a collar of brilliant diamonds. {17, p.731}

Queen Victoria also received gifts from her royal aunts*, as well as a beautiful ruby ring from her older half-sister, Princess Feodora. The central portion of the gemstone ring featured a pear-shaped ruby nestled beside a pear-shaped diamond with a crude diamond tiara set above the stones. {47}

*Details of Albert’s wedding ring and the Queen’s gifts from her aunts have yet to be discovered by this author. I welcome any information regarding these items in the comments section. Please be sure to include your sources.

Additional Sources:
A. National Gallery, The. "Prince Albert, William Charles Ross, 1840." Accessed January 21, 2013.
B. Royal Collection, The. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love Exhibition. Book of Common Prayer.” Accessed January 21, 2013.
C. Royal Collection, The. “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love Exhibition. The Form of Morning Prayer.” Accessed January 21, 2013.

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy


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