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when she tripped at the first sitting

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Elizabeth Jane Timms
Historian

 when she tripped at the first sitting

Royal Wedding Rewind: King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium

 when she tripped at the first sitting

Flowers from the weddings of Queen Victoria’s daughters

Northampton Museums own a pair of flat shoes, believed to be those worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day, 10 February 1840. Of white satin, they certainly would have complimented the Queen’s own simple wedding dress of finely woven Spitalfields silk satin in her own words: ‘I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton, imitation of old…’ Northampton Museum & Art Gallery lists them as ‘Wedding Shoes worn by Queen Victoria (1840)’ on the current selection of its digitised images under ‘Women’s Shoes’, giving a concise overview of the considerable collections, until the Museum itself reopens in 2020. If these shoes were indeed worn by Queen Victoria on what she herself described as the ‘happiest’ day of her life, what more can we learn about them?

Tied around the ankles with long ribbons, these may then have been laced around her feet on that rainy wedding morning at Buckingham Palace, after the Queen had had her ‘hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on’. The shoes therefore may hide discreetly within her excitedly hurried word ‘Dressed’ (cit., Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion, 122).

 when she tripped at the first sitting

The pair of shoes held in the collections of the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, believed to be Queen Victoria’s ‘wedding shoes’ (Northampton Museum [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])

I have studied the large painting made of the wedding by Sir George Hayter, The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, today hanging in the East Gallery at Buckingham Palace, as well as the oil sketch that Hayter made in preparation for the painting. Sometimes it was the case in ceremonial artworks that the tip of the toe of the sitter’s shoe was painted, just visibly jutting out from beneath the costume or gown; Hayter for example, chose to depict Queen Victoria in coronation robes in 1838, with one of her shoes pointing out from beneath the lace of the colobium sindonis, the ancient linen garment she wore at her coronation, but which seems to have vanished around the time of the Queen’s death. The only photograph according to current knowledge of this remarkable and antique gown was reproduced in The Archaeological Journal in 1894. (Staniland, 114).

In the large painting of the Marriage, Hayter does indeed include one toe of the Queen’s wedding shoes, jutting out from beneath her wedding dress. It is almost certainly the Queen’s right foot. This is the only real artistic record of the Queen’s wedding shoes, so the view is tantalising. All we can really say is that Hayter painted the shoes correctly, if they are indeed these shoes of white satin. Hayter finished the picture in March 1842, as his own inscription on the back of the artwork records: ‘painted by George Hayter painter in ordinary to Her Majesty finished March 1842’. The Queen personally sat for Hayter, ‘Bridal dress, veil, wreath & all’. Fortunately, there appears to have been no similar mishap as happened when he painted her in her coronation robes, when she tripped at the first sitting, on the lace of the colobium sindonis. (Ibid, 115).

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