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Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

Regency Mourning

A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814

Mourning Fashion:

mourning fashion
Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.

One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in Continue reading Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

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Changing Tastes in Georgian Jewelry

Georgian jewelry was made between 1714 and 1830 during the reigns of the four English kings named George. Varying styles of jewelry were produced during this period.

The styles moved from Rococo during George the first’s reign through Gothic revival and Neoclassical (hearkening back to the Greek and Roman empires). Neoclassical styles reached their height during Napoleon’s reign. Neoclassical was all the rage in both England and France. Napoleon funded extensive excavations at Pompeii creating a vogue for the Neoclassical as more Roman houses and artifacts
were revealed.

All Georgian Jewelry was handmade. This was a period of discovery and innovation. Glass paste copies of real gems were developed as well as a substitute for gold called “pinchbeck” named after its inventor. The early Georgian fashion called for the use of large stones set in an elaborate rococo style.

Cameos, intaglios, mosaic, acorns, the Greek key, Urns, Doves, Phoenix, Wheat, and plumage were all popular Georgian motifs.

Men wore more jewelry in those days than is the custom presently. Miniatures, tiny portraits of a loved one, were already popular. A man’s locket with a secret became a fad during the reign of George III. The first ‘lover’s eye’ locket miniature may have been commissioned by Mrs. Fitzherbert for the Prince of Wales after their secret marriage in 1785. These lockets contained a painting of the eye area and a wisp of hair drooping across the forehead. This miniature was both intimate and anonymous.

Large jewelry in the form of bracelets, index finger rings, girandole earrings, memorabilia jewelry, crosses, hair combs, buckles, aigrettes, and tiaras were favored in Georgian
times. Dog collars or chokers as we call them today were popular in the period 1770 to 1790.

A wreath tiara similar to this one was purchased for Princess Charlotte’s wedding. Parliament granted the Princess the sum of 10,000 pounds for jewelry at her marriage in 1816. She purchased “a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves, a diamond fastener for her manteau, a diamond cestus, ear-rings, and an armlet of great
value, with a superb set of pearls from Rundell, Bridge & Co.”

At the beginning of the Georgian period diamonds were used to the almost total exclusion of other stones. To meet the increased demand for white stones in the first half of the 18th century, paste, rock crystal, marcasite, and cut steel were employed with increasing sophistication.

Originally, rhinestones were rock crystals gathered from the river Rhine. The availability was greatly increased when around 1775 the Alsatian jeweller Georg Friedrich Strass had the idea to imitate diamonds by coating the lower side of glass with metal powder. Hence, rhinestones are called Strass in many European languages. Strass is known as the creator of the best and most long lasting paste jewelry. Most paste and rhinestones are simply leaded glass made in colors and cuts that mimic gemstones. Because leaded glass has such a nice luster it gives a look similar to a gemstone, particularly at a distance.

Paste diamond imitations made it possible to make inexpensive copies of the real thing to guard against theft by highwaymen. Diamond alternatives were soon produced with such quality that it was entirely respectable for even royalty to wear them.

At this time diamond cutters were introducing exciting new types of gem cuts such as rose cut, cushion, and ‘brilliants’. In the 1750’s colored stones came back into vogue. Then emeralds, rubies, and sapphires were worn again along with new stones like white-imperial-pink topazes, amethyst, chartreuse chrysoberyl, coral, ivory, pearls, and garnets.

Lava, shell, onyx, and carnelian became popular with the introduction of carved classically themed jewelry. This Neoclassical style began with the discovery and excavation of Pompeii in the mid 1700s. Finds there greatly influenced fashion, architecture, interior design, and philosophy and literature. Cameos became very popular after Napoleon had antique Roman cameos placed on his coronation crown for his 1804 coronation.

Bezels, foilbacked stones, low flat goldwork, and cobalt blue and black and white enameling are common features of Georgian jewelry. Georgian pieces can sometimes be detected by the way the stones are mounted. Unlike the open work favored today for gem stones, Georgian gems were often set over gold or silver foil with their backs enclosed with metal as rhinestones generally are today. In more recent jewelry foil backing always indicates a fake stone.

Gold with high karat content was preferred. However, Berlin iron made in that city from 1806 was popular during the Napoleonic Wars as a show of patriotism. Pinchbeck a cheap replacement for gold was used for faux pieces.

Given the uncertainty of life and the state of medicine in those days, it is no surprise that memorial jewelry was common. However, it was not yet such a major force as memorial or hair jewelry was to become by Victorian times when the overcrowding of cities, poor sanitation practices, and plagues would take a terrible toll on families. The strands of hair in this pendant are believed to be Jane Austen’s, taken by her sister Cassandra just before her coffin was closed in 1817.

Reprinted with permission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical
tour through Regency London!

Additional information from Wikipedia

“Charles has been buying gold chains & Topaze crosses for us…” – Jane Austen

complete any outfit with this beautiful Topaz cross

  • Inspired by the necklace that Charles Austen gave his sisters in 1801.
  • 18K white gold plated pendant and chain.
  • 5x8mm Yellow Topaz stones with a 4mm White Topaz centre stone.
  • Pendant measures 32 mm x 23 mm
  • Chain measures 47cm / 18″.
  • Comes in a delightful gift bag.
  • The finishing touch to your Jane Austen costume.


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The Madness of King George

I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her. I am not sorry to be back again, for the young ladies had a great deal to do, and without much method in doing it.

Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 6, 1811

George William Frederick, (4 June 1738-29 January 1820), or
King George III, is said by many to have gone mad,
necessitating the Regency. But is this what really

Not according to recent research.

Actually, the research isn’t all that new, which is why it
is inexcusable, to my thinking, to continue to characterize the King as merely having gone mad.

In 1994, the movie, The Madness of King George tried to
set the record straight…sort of. If I remember correctly,
there was a little blurb at the end stating that the King
actually suffered from Porphyria, a disease of the blood. One is inclined to think, however, that most people never read the blurb, though this is, in fact, the modern consensus of what the King’s malady actually was. Porphyria.

So-what, we ask, is porphyria? Dictionaries will merely
tell you that it is a metabolic disorder that affects the
blood, secondarily. The main cause of symptoms, however, is
not a result of how the blood is affected, but the
accumulation of porphyrins in the body, which are toxic to
tissue in high concentrations.

Porphyrins, in turn, are actually precursors of
heme-an essential part of the blood. In the disease state,
porphyrins are not manufactured into heme as they should
be, thereby leaving them to roam the system, which is the
root of the trouble.

There are differing types of porphyria, which result in
differing symptoms, but the King is thought to have had the
blood type (“hepatic porphyria”) which affects the nervous
system, and results in abdominal pain, neuropathy, seizures
and mental disturbances, including hallucinations,
depression, anxiety and paranoia. (Little wonder that 19th
century doctors thought he was nuts!)

Interestingly, research has shown that the disease is
hereditary and plagues the British royal family, stemming
from Scottish monarchs James 1 and Mary 1 of Scotland. Queen Anne of Great Britain, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Charlotte, and prince William of Gloucester (not to be confused with the current Prince William) almost certainly suffered from the illness (as well as Vincent Van Gogh).

They suffered from what is called, “Acute Intermittent Porphyria” which is certainly what the King had, as can be attested by his record of attacks;

1.1765 – a brief episode.

2.1788 -a longer episode. A Regency Bill is

3.1810-final,debilitating attack; the King is
considered insane and Parliament meets to enact a Regency

The King never returned to his senses, or to power,
and he was “locked away at Windsor Castle” where he also fell subject to the misinformed and sometime brutal treatment of his physicians, and to eventual neglect.

Some of the mystifying behaviour he was said to display? For starters, he claimed to talk to angels. By itself, and by modern standards, we would likely not label him insane for such claims. (Questionable, eccentric, or odd, perhaps, but probably not mad.) But there’s more.

He spoke for hours on end without pause; and he once greeted
an oak tree as though it were King Frederick William III of Prussia. Sadly, before he died, he prattled incessant nonsense for upwards of 50 hours, then lapsed into a coma and death.

King George was a popular monarch in Britain for most of
his reign. Here in the United States we tend to think badly of
him, no doubt due to the fact that our forefathers saw fit
to blame him entirely for all the injustices and wrongs
we suffered as a British colony. (Parliament is not mentioned in the Declaration–only the King.)

However, he was a thoughtful, domestic family man; he loved to cultivate crops and build gardens and was dubbed “farmer George” because of it. He remained faithful to his wife for his lifetime, which was singular for a Hanoverian monarch and much admired by the British people. And he espoused thrift and economy; the very opposite of what his son, the Regent, later did.

In short, I cannot help but to like this King. He was not
able to foster a good relationship with his eldest son, and
in fact, was disliked by his own father. But he was a King
with a conscience, and, except for an occasional stubborn
streak (which he showed in his refusal to give up the
colonies for so long), he was a reasonable man, savvy
enough in the political arena to retain the power of the
throne during his reign, and had a sincere desire to do
what was right.

As to the misfortune of his having had porphyria, the best
thing I can say is that, if not for the disease, we would
not have had the Regency. That, indeed, would have been a
great loss–at least to us Regency authors!


Linore Rose Burkard is the author of Before the Season Ends, an Inspirational Regency Romance that readers love. She spent a great deal of time researching the period while writing her book.

Coming soon from Harvest House Publishers: a new edition of Before the Season Ends, (December 1, 2008) followed by its sequel, The House in Grosvenor Square.( April, 2009)

Visit her website to read more great articles and subscribe to her free monthly eZine, Upon My Word! Facts, Fashion and Figures of the Regency.

Sources: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University,

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Dressing for Mourning in the Regency

My mother is preparing mourning for Mrs. E. K.; she has picked her old silk pelisse to pieces, and means to have it dyed black for a gown — a very interesting scheme, though just now a little injured by finding that it must be placed in Mr. Wren’s hands, for Mr. Chambers is gone. As for Mr. Floor, he is at present rather low in our estimation. How is your blue gown? Mine is all to pieces. I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a touch. There was four shillings thrown away, to be added to my subjects of never-failing regret.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Oct 7,1808

Much of what we now assume to be hard and fast rules of 19th c. mourning were really the brought into play during the Victorian era when ettiquette books became a popular way for the newly burgeoning middle class to immitate the behaviour of their more established “betters”. To be sure, some rules applied, but printed lists similar to this one from 1875 would not have been found:

Parent or Child: Twelve Months, six in parametta with crepe trim, three months in black, three in half mourning
Six months, three in crepe, three in black
Aunt or Uncle: Three months in black
First Cousin: Six weeks in black

How then, would the Austen’s have prepared for mourning? Their lives were continueally touched by sorrow and the question of what to wear is mentioned several times in Jane’s letters. Here, she refers to the death of her sister in law, Elizabeth Austen Knight, who passed away soon after her eleventh confinement:

Your parcel shall set off on Monday, and I hope the shoes will fit; Martha and I both tried them on. I shall send you such of your mourning as I think most likely to be useful, reserving for myself your stockings and half the velvet, in which selfish arrangement I know I am doing what you wish.

I am to be in bombazeen and crape, according to what we are told is universal here, and which agrees with Martha’s previous observation. My mourning, however, will not impoverish me, for by having my velvet pelisse fresh lined and made up, I am sure I shall have no occasion this winter for anything new of that sort. I take my cloak for the lining, and shall send yours on the chance of its doing something of the same for you, though I believe your pelisse is in better repair than mine. One Miss Baker makes my gown and the other my bonnet, which is to be silk covered with crape.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Oct 15, 1808

This description of what Jane already owned and what she intended to purchase probably gives a good representation of what might be in the closet of any middle class lady of moderate fortune. The crepe that she refers to was a lightweight black silk, while bombazine was a medium weight silk and wool blend. As referred to in the first quote, it was also possible to dye existing garments to a suitable shade for mourning and thereby extend your wardrobe with little expenditure.

Far from being the go with anything neutral that it is today, black was a color reserved for mourning. Other colors which would have been worn during various stages of mourning were violet, lavender, and gray. These lighter colours would have been used during half-mourning—the time between the “slighting” of all-black (though white trim was acceptable) and that of resuming current fashions and colours. For a widow, this would traditionally be one year and a day from her husband’s death to 18-24 months after his death when she could resume a full social calendar.

Yet so miserably had he conducted himself, that though she was at this present time (the summer of 1814) wearing black ribbons for his wife, she could not admit him to be worth thinking of again.

Husbands, brothers, fathers and sons would be expected to wear black suits as well as a black crepe armband. Their mourning would be less noticeable as black was an accepted color for men’s attire, and expected at formal events.

During full mourning, the family of the deceased was expected to eschew formal entertainment such as balls, dinner parties and dances, restricting their social obligations to the necessities and church. Children and siblings need not mourn quite as deeply or as long as a spouse, but a show of respect was expected even for distant relatives. When a Royal died, the entire nation was plunged into mourning. Thrify Mrs. Austen sought to purchase material for mourning gowns before the king’s expected death in 1811, for surely prices would increase with demand.

I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her. I am not sorry to be back again, for the young ladies had a great deal to do, and without much method in doing it.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 6, 1811

She need not have worried—George III would live on until 1820.

Much of what we know about mourning attire is from period fashion magazines. With the high mortality rates of the time it is not impossible to imagine one spending several months of the year in mourning for some relative or royal. This plate is from The Gallery of Fashion, 1794.

A Lady in mourning.--Head- dress: composed of six yards of black and white cross-striped crape-gauze, formed into a twisted turban, and finishing behind in a long veil, trimmed with a fringe of bugles. The toupee and side curls lightly frizzed and intermixed with the turban; the hair behind thrown into ringlets. One white ostrich and one black heron feather placed on the right side. Robe and petticoat of black taffeta; long sleeves, with short loose sleeves over them; the whole trimmed with bugle fringe. Crape handkerchief with in the robe. One string of large black beads round the neck, and black ear-rings of the same. Black gloves, fan, and shoes.

A Lady in half- mourning.–Head-dress: white chip hat bound with black, and trimmed with a piece of black silk; two black feathers placed on the right side, near the front. The toupee combed straight, and the hair behind in ringlets. Pierrot and petticoat of clear white lawn; short sleeves, with full half sleeves, trimmed with narrow love riband: the petticoat embroidered and trimmed in black. Full plaiting of lawn round the neck, tied in the front with love riband. Sash of broad love riband tied on the left side. Two strings of black beads round the neck. Ear-rings of the same. Grey gloves. White shoes, trimmed with black.

It is clear to see that while fashions changed over the following 10 years, expectations of mourning, did not. Even jewelry was expected to be toned down during mourning, with memorial pieces and those set with locks of hair from the deceased being popular choices. As the century progressed, pearls, diamonds and jet jewelry became the expected accessories to full and half mourning.This print, from The Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement, was published in 1805
Figure 1: Plain chemise dress of Italian gauze; full front, fastened in the centre with a jet broach, over a black sarcenet slip; sleeves and front trimmed with black net trimming, fastened with bugles. Leather gloves, and black jean shoes.

Figure 2: Dress of imperial lustre; short sleeves. Gloves and shoes the same as the first figure.

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Historical prints and descriptions from Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page.