Mourning Customs in Regency England


Queen Victoria circa 1847

Mourning customs in the Regency Era were less rigid than in Victorian England. The excessively strict mourning rules we often encounter in historical novels came about after Queen Victoria’s husband died — she wouldn’t give up her black mourning clothes and she turned mourning into a firmly followed rule of propriety. Her subjects used her example to springboard their own mourning customs. Keep in mind that these are not LAWS for mourning. Any display of mourning was done at a family’s or person’s discretion. However, there were social norms, that, if not followed, might raise some eyebrows.

In the excellent book, The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Trumbach gives the following data for mourning periods:

12 months for a husband or wife

6 months for parents or parents in-law

3 months for a sister or brother, uncle or aunt

6 weeks for a sister-in-law or uncle or aunt (no explanation for the duplication here so perhaps it had to do with the closeness or lack thereof

3 weeks – uncle or aunt, aunt who remarried, first cousin

2 weeks – first cousin (and whether they were close or not?)

1 week – first and second cousin, and husband or stepmother’s sister.

black mourningTrumbach says there was usually a designated female who kept up the family tree and ordained the degree of mourning required for the dearly (or not so dearly) departed.

Bombazine and crepe were typical fabrics used for clothing of deep mourning. Crepe was a lightweight black silk, while bombazine was a medium-weight silk and wool blend. Over time, shinier fabrics emerged in the evening. The less wealthy simply took apart their clothes, dyed them black, then re-sewed them.

Mourning–or lack hereof–could also be used as an opportunity to get back at someone you disliked by cutting down on the time or style of one’s mourning.

The widow would be in black for the first six months, and then in half mourning (black and white mixed) for the next six months. After that, the widow would go into half mourning. White, grey, and even lavender were suitable for half mourning. Again these are ideals, and not everyone observed them. Ackermann’s had a half mourning dress in a 1819 issue that was all white. Lavender is not mentioned in this issue, but it was commonly accepted as an appropriate half-mourning costume. On one blog I visited, I saw mention that there were some fashions circa 1811 of someone wearing scarlet for mourning, but “scarlet,” often a term used to describe items that are scarlet (red) in color, was also used to describe any brightly-dyed, plain-woven woolen fabric. I find it impossible to determine which meaning is being used when they say it was a scarlet mourning shawl, but I found this: February 1811 For the Promenade, cloaks in Scarlet merino or grey cloth, black velvet pelisses, lined with grey sarsenet, wrapped plain in tippets; Spanish hats in velvet, or cottage bonnets in black, grey, or scarlet cloth.

In March 1811, La Belle Assemblee Ladies Magazine said that scarlet mantels were much worn during mourning, and generally succeeded by short pelisses of purple velvet. Ladies Monthly Museum didn’t have any mention of scarlet.

[I am adding at a later date, thanks to the sleuthing skills of Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher, this from March 1811 page 100 La Belle Assemblee ladies magazine:

For the promenade, scarlet mantles have been  so general during the mourning, that for mere variety they must now he laid aside; we think they are more frequently succeeded by the short pelisse of purple velvet, trimmed with broad black lace, or small cottage mantlet, lined with while sarsonet, ornamented with white chenille or gold. Purple sarsonet pelisses, or black velvet, lined with colours, are equally approved.]

And here is this from the same magazine:

A round dress of white satin, sloped up in front; with small train ornamented round the bottom with velvet in a scroll pattern, vandyked at the edges, and dotted with black chemille; the velvet during the mourning should be grey or scarlet ; the bosom, girdle, and sleeves of this dress are ornamented to correspond, in the form exhibited in the plate. A turban cap of white satin, looped with pearls, and edged with velvet; the hair combed full over the face, curled in thick flat curls, divided on the forehead. No lace, earrings, and bracelets of gold and pearls blended. White kid shoes and gloves; fan of white crape and gold.

Princess Amelia died in November of 1810, and the official mourning went from November almost to March. However, scarlet mantles were definitely mentioned in January and March issues. Those who wore proper mourning were probably happy to have an excuse to wrap themselves in a scarlet mantle. I doubt many would wear scarlet if mourning a close friend or family member.

A bride would never wear mourning colors to her own wedding. In fact, a new bride was not supposed to be in mourning at all; though if her parents had recently died she might wear black or more sober clothes for a period, especially as brides were not supposed to go out socializing for a month after their wedding. Also, keep in mind that communication and travel were both slow, so the family may choose not to tell a bride on her honeymoon out of a desire not to ruin her wedded bliss, and because it was unlikely she could arrive home in a timely manner. Also remember, mourning during the Regency was an individual and family-dictated observance.

mother and child in mourningJulia Johnstone (before she was ruined and became a courtesan) had her court presentation and her debut in society not long after her father died, so clearly the world didn’t stop for people in mourning. However, while in full mourning, the family of the deceased typically avoided large, formal entertainment such as balls, dinner parties and dances. They were expected to limit social obligations to necessities and church but apparently only for 4 to 6 weeks.

Men wore black armbands, black gloves and some wore black cravats. Some wore all black while in mourning. There is no mention of half mourning attire for men, however there was mention of men wearing a white band or ribband (ribbon) on their hats to mourn a young girl.

In THE WORKWOMAN’S GUIDE by A Lady (pub. 1840, long before Q. Victoria went into mourning) it says military men wore black armbands below the elbow, not above, and that affluent families put their servants in mourning etc.

When notifying relatives of death, the announcement often came trimmed in black. I have also heard of the family mailing black gloves along with the announcement of death.

A hatchment or a mourning wreath would be suspended over the front door of a deceased person’s house for 6 to 12 months, after which it was moved to inside the parish church. The last recorded use of a hatchment I found was hung in a London street in 1928.

Widows were not supposed to dance or to go to the more frivolous and silly plays while in mourning. Widows were not supposed to marry until a year had passed to end any doubt about the identity of child’s father if she were found to be increasing, but many did remarry. This could cause a scandal but it was usually forgotten in a year or so.

Widowers did not have the same reason for waiting a year to remarry, and if they had small children, widowers were forgiven and even expected to remarry soon.

There were no hard and fast rules about these things. It all depended on how the movers of society reacted. Men were criticized much less for such breach of propriety than women. What a surprise!

Only the length of public and court mourning was set out in a fixed manner. The Lord Chamberlain notified the Gazette as to what it would be. If anyone were invited to court during this time, they were also sent instructions as to what to wear.

Upon his mother’s in 1818, the Prince of Wales announced that he intended “to wear the longest mourning that ever son did for a mother…” then he actually limited the official mourning period for the people of England to six weeks.

Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria


I couldn’t find the official mourning proclamation for Princess Charlotte, but I did find this for the father of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Kent, who died in 1820:

Lord Chamberlain’s Office, Jan. 25.

Orders for the Court’s going into mourning, on Sunday next, the 30th instant, for his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, viz. The ladies to wear black azins, plain muslin or long lawn, crape hoods, chamois shoes and gloves, and crape fans. Undress.—Dark Norwich crape. The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers, chamois shoes and gloves, crape hatbands, and black swords and buckles. Undress.—Dark gray frocks.

Herald’s College, Jan. 25.

The deputy earl Marshal’s order for a general mourning for his late royal highness the duke of Kent. In pursuance of the commands of his royal highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty.These are to give public notice, that it is expected that upon the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness Edward Duke of Kent and Strathern, fourth son of his majesty, all persons do put themselves into decent mourning, the said mourning to begin on Sunday next, the 30th instant. HENRY HOWARD – MOLYNEUX-HOWARD, Deputy Earl-Marshal.

Horse-Guards, Jan, 25. It is not required 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 command of his royal highness the commander-in-chief.

HARRY CALVERT, Adjutant-General.

Admiralty-Office, Jan. 25. His royal highness the Prince Regent does not require that the officers of his majesty’s fleet or marines should wear any other mourning on the present melancholy occasion of the of his late royal highness the duke of Kent and Strathern, than a black crape round their arms with their uniforms. J. W. CHOKER

For more information on mourning clothing, I highly recommend The Jane Austin Centre.

7 thoughts on “Mourning Customs in Regency England

  1. Warrick Lisle says:

    Hi Donna , wonderful synopsis of Regency mourning – could you help me please – mourning for sons and step sons ( same individual ) , who died tragically ( Melbourne 1846 ) . An upper middle class family , moderate prosperity – 6 months mourning ? Was that customary ? Was it still the done thing to have ” hair rings ” made ? And how did the family ” receive ” – I believe callers were largely ignored by the female relatives , is that correct ? Any help very gratefully received , thank you , Warrick Lisle , Rosebud Victoria , Ausralia

    • Donna Hatch says:

      Thanks for stopping by. 3 to 6 months is a very reasonable mourning period for a son or step-son and would not raise eyebrows for being too short or too long. By 1846, they probably had a an even longer half-mourning than full mourning. Remember, mourning was highly individual based on the person’s temperament and how close one was to the deceased. Do whatever works for your situation.
      All kinds of jewelry made from the hair of loved ones were very popular from the through the Victorian Era–rings, broaches, watch fobs etc. and were lovely.
      Callers were not ignored unless the lady was too distraught to receive, but women never attended a funeral or burial–that was strictly a male event since ladies were considered too delicate. They didn’t generally host or attend balls or large dinner parties during full mourning. A family dinner or a small dinner party for a few close friends was deemed acceptable.
      Does that help?

  2. Nancy says:

    I saw some colored fashion pictures in 1810/1811 with scarlet shawls — colored scarlet- amazed me. After the mourning for Princess Amelia there was a fashion note that said scarlet shawls were much exploded. Before that, in discussion of the morning for the princess, scarlet shawls were mentioned. In Mrs. Hurst Dancing the girls wear scarlet shawls. It was very fashionable around 1810/1811 . Perhaps ladies didn’t want to give up their favorite shawls for a princess whom they didn’t know. Those in personal mourning, probably didn’t wear scarlet.

    • Donna Hatch says:

      I would love to see those fashion pictures, Nancy. If you remember where you found them, please let me know!

      • Nancy says:

        La Belle Assemblee — I am pretty sure it was in that magazine. In December of 1811, the notes mention scarlet mantles edged with fur to be worn with a Mary Queen of Scott’s hat. Will look for the illustration I saw. I have it at home but don’t know if the source is included.

  3. Great article! Thank you so much for all your thoughtful time and effort on this subject.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *