April 27, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 3: Victoria's Choice

The third post in  my "Why Royal Weddings Matter" column for Confluence Daily, "Victoria's Choice," is reprinted below....to get you caught up on royal wedding history!
Victoria's Choice

If you know one thing about wedding gown history, I would wager that it has something to do with Queen Victoria beginning the bridal fashion of wearing white. (And now, thanks to her, it has been a tradition of sorts for over 175 years.) But I would also wager that most people don’t know the real reason the 20-year-old monarch chose the color white for her wedding gown, breaking the precedent set by earlier princess brides who considered it their right to be “dressed in the usual cloths of silver or gold.” Victoria even chose a crown of fanciful, yet wax orange blossoms instead of one of her dazzling diamond diadems.

Her choices have since been regarded as representing simplicity, modesty and purity—and indeed the young queen was sentimental with an “uncluttered fashion preference,” according to costume historian Kay Staniland. However, Victoria was deeply in love, and this became her guiding inspiration for her wedding attire. Therefore, with much consideration—taking into account her duty, her position and her subjects, carefully discussing her options with her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne—“the queen decided to make her marriage vows to her ‘precious Angel’ as his future wife rather than as the monarch,” wrote Edwina Ehrman, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So Victoria not only opted against wearing the ornate silver and gold of royalty, but also her regal “crimson velvet robe of state”—first worn at her coronation two years earlier—feeling “it would only emphasize her seniority, and overshadow the role of her future husband,” Staniland added.

Victoria’s all-white bridal costume may have been without the usual opulent royal accoutrements of silver and gold or ermine-trimmed robes, but it “was actually exquisite and of great value,” explained Maria McBride-Mellinger, author of The Wedding Dress. Underscoring “patriotic spending,” the young queen commissioned her country’s renowned textile artisans. The rich silk satin for the gown and its 18-foot court train (Victoria giving a subtle nod to her queenly status) was woven in Spitalfields; and “two hundred women in a Devon village were employed for eight months” making the beautiful, lyrically-patterned bobbin lace for her gown’s embellishments as well as her short veil. The only color Victoria wore was near her heart: a large, brilliant blue sapphire brooch which had been Prince Albert’s wedding gift to her.

On the day of the wedding, Victoria’s adoring subjects happily received their queen’s choices, cheering her carriage on its way to the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Dressed in these creamy shades of white and tufts of orange blossom, I doubt that Victoria had a sense of the remarkably romantic lineage she was about to inaugurate. (“Queen Victoria’s wedding and her gown inspired an era and an industry,” wrote McBride-Mellinger.) Nor could she ever know that her most queenly exemplar: “Keep your relationship top priority,” would make fine advice for today’s busy wedding-planning brides.

It seems for this young bride (who just happened to be ruler of an empire), that it came down to choosing the feelings of her future husband over her own ego. Victoria’s heart-centered choice changed bridal history and, in turn, illuminated the supreme sovereignty of a woman in love. ~

[Taken from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, available at Amazon.]

April 18, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 2: The Scent of Love

Continuing our celebration of this spring's royal wedding.... the second post for my "Why Royal Weddings Matter" Confluence Daily column, "The Scent of Love" reprinted below:

The Scent of Love

It’s only natural that flowers are in the news surrounding this spring’s royal wedding and the love story of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—those two deeply soulful romantics! The prince has been open about the memory of his late mother having “an important role in their relationship,” even requesting that their wedding florist (London-based decorative designer Philippa Craddock) include white garden roses in their ceremony, a particular favorite of Princess Diana.

According to goddess legends, the beautiful and resilient rose, with its intoxicating fragrance, is celebrated as the flower of Venus, the Goddess of love in Greek mythology. (“In her love nest,” historian Marina Heilmeyer writes, “Cleopatra had pillows filled with rose petals.”) Affectionately called “the queen of flowers,” inspiring sensuous poetry and close admiration, no other bloom in nature has such a histoire as the rose.

In turn, the rose is most treasured by brides—especially for the intimacy of their bouquet—its scent seems to tap into the memory of the heart. No wonder, as perfumer Mandy Aftel explained: “Scents come in without language and go directly to the emotional center of the brain. That’s why scent is so connected to memory.”

Aromatherapy connoisseur and writer Christopher Bamford reveals that smell is the “most ancient and magical sense, acting as a sort of sensual medium between heaven and earth. A scent or perfume was thought to express the ‘inner essence’ or spiritual nature of a thing.” Therefore, when we smell a rose, it’s the scent of something truly divine.

Princess Diana was known to keep fragrant, fresh-cut garden flowers in her Kensington Palace apartments. Perhaps the remembered scent of roses is such a beloved memory for Harry that having white roses at his wedding is a naturally intimate way to connect the two women closest to his heart.

In early Christian lore, the “mysterious” rose was so cherished (despite its sensual past) that it came to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary; red roses symbolized her suffering, white roses her joy. Did Diana intuitively know this?  According to the former head gardener at Kensington Palace, the princess always favored white flowers over red ones. Unfulfilled in her own search for love, yet Diana found joy in the love of her sons and encouraged them to be true to their heart’s desire. As though she was leaving them with an inner directive to move thoughtfully through the ‘suffering’, then live gratefully inside the ‘joy’.

The memory of love, indeed—with the lingering scent of roses.~

[Bits of this column excerpted from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, available on Amazon.]

April 11, 2018

{Why Royal Weddings Matter} No. 1: The Real Fairy Tale

In celebration of the upcoming royal wedding, I’ve just begun a limited-edition weekly column, “Why Royal Weddings Matter,” on Confluence Daily, an online magazine especially for women. 
The first post, “The Real Fairy Tale,” has excerpted bits from both The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride (available on Amazon) and my book in progress, A Memory of Beauty: The Spiritual Mission of a Princess
I've reprinted the article below with some yummy wedding photos. Enjoy!

The Real Fairy Tale

With splendid pageantry and elegant costumes, royal weddings bring up “fairy-tale” dreams of love and romance. “Fairy,” an English word, comes from the French fée, which came from the Latin fatare, “to enchant.” No wonder royal weddings and “enchantment” go hand-in-hand—especially when there is an engaging tug-of-the-heart story with the charms of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Following in his brother Prince William’s footsteps, Harry not only will marry the woman he loves this spring, but his spiritual partner as well. Only a generation before—in the arranged marriage code-of-conduct royal world—such a “love first, duty second, woman with a past” arrangement for any heir to the British throne would have been, if not impossible, certainly one with consequences.

William and Harry’s parents’ wedding in 1981 stirred the hope of “fairy tale” and yet, as Diana and Charles’ marriage played out, any notion of “happily ever after” soon vanished. Theirs was an arranged marriage that pretended it was not. Although times were changing when they married, the social culture had not shifted enough to allow Prince Charles to follow his true feelings. Perhaps even more consequential, the Windsor family was shadowed by kinsman King Edward VIII who in 1936, with some political pressures, gave up the throne “for the woman he loved.” The scandal was a little too close in historical proximity for Charles to make a similar decision about marrying someone for love who didn’t fit the “queenly model.”

Nonetheless, almost seven decades after King Edward’s abdication, cultural changes were on Prince Charles’ side—thanks in great part, ironically, to his late wife insisting on bringing more heart into the royal family. In 2005, 24 years after his marriage of “dynastic duty” to Diana, Charles did not have to give up the throne nor start a palace revolt, yet, with his queen’s blessing, he indeed married the woman who had been his longtime friend and confidante—the woman he had long loved.

In this more modern and egalitarian grand gesture, Charles and Camilla’s marriage put the seal on “love over duty,” supporting Edward’s heartful claim that “he could be a better king with the woman he loved at his side.” With such a legacy, when it was time for Charles’ sons to marry, they fell in love with women who matched their vision and compassion—beautiful “commoners” with “backgrounds” no less!

So call royal weddings “fairy tales” if you must, but the conscious connection that both Princes William and Harry have made in their marriage choices is simply what I call the way life is meant to be when heads are clear and hearts are strong. Whether king or prince or commoner, “what your heart thinks is great, is great,” poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. “The soul’s emphasis is always right.”

April 2, 2018

{Trousseaux on the Titanic}

My article, “Trousseaux on the Titanic,” is included in the Spring issue of SEASON magazine (scroll to page 73.) I’ve reprinted it below with the featured costume image courtesy of fashion historian and collector, Randy Bryan Bigham.

The Irish bride-to-be was nervous. Her boat train from Cork arrived late in Queenstown where she was to set sail for America and into the arms of her betrothed. Bertha Mulvihill, with a third-class ticket in hand, held on tight to the carpetbag filled with her precious belongings as she finally boarded the RMS Titanic.

During her stay in Ireland, “Bert”—as she was affectionately called—had gathered with family members for the intimate ritual of assembling her trousseau linens: a nightgown, tablecloths, napkins and doilies, probably trimmed with handmade Irish croquet or a delicate carrickmacross needle lace. Perhaps it’s hard for modern brides to imagine how dear a trousseau was to a bride and her family at one time. With origins from an Old French word meaning “bundle,” the trousseau consisted of personal items a woman brought to her marriage—which could include clothes, accessories and lingerie, along with household linens and wares.

Titanic passenger Mary Farquharson Marvin,
circa 1912. Photo courtesy Randy Bryan Bigham,
 author of 
Lucile – Her Life By Design.
Bert’s modest trousseau was no less precious to her than the fancy frills fashioned by couture designers for several newlyweds also on board the Titanic, sailing home from extended continental honeymoons in first-class parlors. Like Madeleine Astor, the teenage bride of the wealthiest man on the ship, whose trousseau included stylish silk-trimmed hats from Lucile, Ltd., designed by fellow Titanic passenger Lady Duff Gordon; and Mary Marvin, daughter of a couturiere, with steamer trunks packed with lavish dresses and lingerie, especially created for her trousseau. (Both Madeleine and Mary were saved from the sinking Titanic, but their trousseaux, along with the rest of their elegant wardrobes, were, of course, lost.)

Although fewer third-class passengers were rescued, Bertha Mulvihill later explained how, after being pushed down a staircase by a crew member, she fought her way to the deck—perhaps emboldened with thoughts of her fiancé Henry Noon waiting for her at home in Providence, Rhode Island. Once safely aboard Lifeboat 15, her lovingly hand-stitched trousseau lost, Bert was reassured to know that the gold pocket watch Henry had given her remained securely pinned to her undergarments.

Bertha shared later that her fiancé traveled to New York to be there when the rescue ship Carpathia docked days later: “He thought I was drowned. He came to see if anybody could say anything about my last words,” Bert recounted. “Then I saw Henry from the back, I sneaked up behind him and put my arms around him. We went back on the train. They wanted me to get checked at a hospital first, but I wanted to go to Providence with Henry.” ~

Thanks to Richard Salit of the Providence Journal for introducing me to Bertha Mulvihill and her Titanic love story.