Despite the fact that she was quite tiny, Queen Victoria looms large over most of the 19th century. She was every bit a woman of her time, engaging in the overblown sentimentality and culture of death so pervasive during the age that bears her name. When she died at 81, the queen left secret, detailed instructions on how to handle her body and what items to place in her coffin. There are, indeed, a number of strange Queen Victoria death facts worth exploring.
Victorians had something of an obsession with death and death rituals. One reason this was true was because people of the era literally lived in close proximity to death. Aspects of the Industrial Revolution shortened life expectancy, even in an age when 40 was considered old. Dead bodies were cleaned and prepared for burial by family members, and the corpses were put in their parlors for viewing. Friends and loved ones created jewelry made from the hair of the deceased; furniture and doorways were draped in black crepe; and even photos were taken of the dead, dressed and seated in chairs with other family members, as though they were still alive. Or families would gather for photos, all dressed in black, around a portrait of the dearly departed, sorrowful looks on every face. Death and all that came with it hovered far more closely to the living than it does today.
This was also the age of Romanticism, an artistic, literary, and cultural tradition that focused on both the natural and unnatural world. Some Victorians expressed a strong interest in the paranormal, the spectral, and otherworldly. Sentimentality and emotion also held sway during the 19th century. It's no wonder, really, that Queen Victoria's death wishes were anything but simple.
- Photo: Anapassos Art
She Required Charcoal And As Much Jewelry As Possible
Was Queen Victoria a pack rat? Was she a supposedly typical "Victorian" in the collecting of knick knacks? Or, did she believe she could take sentimental items with her into the afterlife?
Perhaps the answer to all three questions is: Yes. Her coffin, custom-designed and enormous for such a small person, was nearly filled to the brim before her body was placed inside. Before anything else, a layer of charcoal was placed inside, at the very bottom. This was standard procedure during the days before modern embalming, designed to keep down odors and wetness emanating from the deceased. Spread over this was one of Prince Albert's dressing gowns.
Among the contents of Queen Victoria's coffin were also sentimental mementos from loved ones and friends. These varied from shawls to books, bracelets to lockets, and photos to fresh flowers. Even Victoria herself was adorned with rings on every finger, bracelets on both wrists, lockets and pendants, one hand on Albert's plaster hand, the other clutching John Brown's photo and lock of hair. The crowning touch was her delicate white bridal veil.
A Sprig Of Scottish Heather Was Hidden Beneath Other Flowers
Queen Victoria was buried in a sea of sentimental souvenirs and amid a variety of flowers. Though she died in January of 1901, her family and funeral preparers were able to source floral bouquets and arrangements from greenhouses across the UK and other parts of Europe. Her daughter-in-law, for example, brought fresh hyacinths to the casket before it was sealed. Victoria's doctor and confidant, Sir James Reid, used the new Queen Alexandra's flowery gift as a means to obscure secret items held in Victoria's left hand.
Perhaps chief among the floral grave offerings was a request made by the old Queen herself, in her secret burial instructions. She asked that a sprig of heather be placed on her body as it was made ready for burial. The flowering heather is a Scottish symbol, and perhaps served as a remembrance of happy times with her family at Balmoral Castle, as well as of the adventurous, exciting times she shared with servant and companion, John Brown.
A Special Memento Of Her Late Daughter Was A Finishing Touch
Perhaps one of the most touching items placed in Queen Victoria's coffin was a heavy, ornately-embroidered man's cloak, which belonged to her late husband, Prince Albert. The cloak was sewn and embroidered by the couple's daughter, Princess Alice, and worn by her father with pride.
The cloak served as a remembrance not only of the Queen's beloved husband, but also Alice, who was, for many years, the child closest to Victoria. She was also the first of Victoria's nine children to die. So, in a sense, the placement of the cloak Alice made was another manifestation of Victoria's interest in death and memory.
Her Request For An Effigy Went Unfollowed For Unfortunate Reasons
Queen Victoria was laid to rest in the ornate mausoleum she'd had built years earlier to house her beloved Albert's remains. At his death, she ordered a life-size sculpture of Albert in repose, his head inclining toward a sculpture of his wife, which was placed atop his sarcophagus.
Her own, matching statue was put in storage to be displayed upon her own death. Victoria in marble repose appears just as she imagined herself even at the end: young and in love. However, when she died 40 years after Albert, everyone had forgotten where her grave statue was stored. So the queen was initially buried without the statue, and it was a number of months before it was found, boarded up behind a wall in Windsor Castle.