An Imperial Christening: 1899

The Baptismal Font, Sir Edwin Landseer, c. 1870.

The Baptismal Font, Sir Edwin Landseer, c. 1870.

Today is the Christening of the young Prince George, who will be wearing a replica of this gown made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. The original gown, as might be expected of an historic textile, has become too fragile to be exposed to tiny, clutching fingers. Here is a 1926 description of the original, which was worn by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth as an infant:


Will be Christened in Dress Worn by King.

London, May 17. The new baby princess, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, will wear the christening robe of old lace in which the Prince of Wales and King George were christened. The christening will take place probably some time late this month.

The baby’s name was officially registered today as Elizabeth Alexandria Mary. The queen herself had expressed a wish that the little princess should be named for her mother, Elizabeth.

The robe was taken to the Bruton Street home of the Duke of York by Queen Mary herself.  It is wrapped in many layers of blue paper to preserve the whiteness of the lace. Over all is a muslin cover tied with pink satin ribbon. Little lavender bags of silk surround the garment.

The skirt of the christening robe measures several feet in length, but the little princess will not wear such long garments ordinarily, as her mother does not believe in “old fashioned frills.” [Mrs Daffodil is amused by this statement, considering the Winterhalter-inspired crinoline gowns designed by Norman Hartnell so beloved by our present Queen’s mother.]

Mixing her Royal houses, Mrs Daffodil thought that her readers might enjoy a description of the Imperial Russian Christening of Grand Duchess Marie, as narrated by an eyewitness, the young Grand Duchess’s nurse, Miss Eagar:

When Marie was a fortnight old she was baptised in the church in the Great Palace in Peterhoff. The ceremony, which is a most imposing one, lasted for a couple of hours, or rather more. The Empress had made arrangements for me to go into the church by a particular door and to return by the same. Accordingly, on the appointed day, clad in a white silk dress, I took my place in the carriage and was driven to the church. The Cossack who was on guard would not allow the carriage to pass; I spoke no Russian, and I thought that perhaps I might be allowed to pass in on foot. I therefore got out of the carriage. But no! he lowered his bayonet and blocked the way. There I stood in my white dress in the road, with the assembled crowd gazing at me. I did not know my way round to any other door, but at last I saw an officer whose face I knew, having seen him on guard at the palace. I made my way to him, addressed him in French and told him my dilemma. The officer was exceedingly kind and took me through the guards, and into the church itself, where the priests and bishops were assembled. They were engaged in combing out their long locks. One of them came to me and in a wonderful mixture of tongues asked me how hot the water should be. I answered him in French and English, but he did not seem to understand. I then showed him on my fingers the number of degrees, and a group of interested and excited priests prepared the font for the child.

Presently in came all the invited guests ambassadors and their wives, all in the dresses of their various courts. The little Chinese lady looked very sweet and bright. She wore a gorgeous blue-figured silk Kimono, and had a little round blue cap on her head, a red flower over one ear and a white one over the other. The Roman Catholic church was represented by a cardinal with his red hat and soutane, and the head of the Lutheran Church in Russia was also present, wearing a black gown with white ruffles. The Poles are for the most part Roman Catholic, and the Finns Lutheran or Reformed church.

There were also present the suites of the various courts. The Dowager and young Empress have five hundred ladies belonging to their court “Demoiselles d’honneur” as they are called. These ladies all dress alike on such occasions, in scarlet velvet trains embroidered in gold, with petticoats of white satin. While the elder ladies, “Les dames de la cour,” wear dark green, embroidered in gold.

When all were assembled, the small heroine was carried into the church by Princess Galitzin, the senior lady of the Court. She carried a pillow of cloth of gold, on which reposed the little Marie Nicolaivna in the full glory of her lace robes lined with pink silk, and wearing a little close-fitting cap or bonnet. The Emperor, the Dowager Empress, the other god-parents and all the Grand Dukes and Duchesses and foreign royalties followed. According to the law of the Russian Church the parents are not allowed to remain in the church during the baptism, so the Emperor, having received the congratulations of his relations, withdrew from the church, returning afterwards for the Confirmation, and to bestow the Order of St. Anne upon his little daughter.

The baby was then undressed to her little shirt, which was the same that the Emperor had worn at his baptism. It was, alas! stolen from the church that day and never recovered. She was then dipped three times in the font, the hair was cut in four places, in the form of a cross. What was cut off was rolled in wax and thrown into the font. According to Russian superstition the good or evil future of the child’s life depends on whether the hair sinks or swims. Little Marie’s hair behaved in an orthodox fashion and all sank at once, so there is no need for alarm concerning her future. The child was then brought behind the screen, where she was dressed in entirely fresh clothing, and the robe of cloth of silver was put on her and the Mass proceeded. She was again carried into the church and anointed with oil. Her face, eyes, ears, hands and feet, were touched with a fine brush dipped in oil. She was now carried round the church three times by the Dowager Empress, supported on each side by the godfathers. Two pages held up the Empress’s train.

The Emperor, who had re-entered the church when the baptismal ceremony was over, came forward and invested her with her Order in diamonds, after which the procession retired in the same order that it had entered the church. The baby was brought to the church in a gilt and glass coach drawn by six snow-white horses, each horse led by a groom in white and scarlet livery with powdered wig, and she was escorted by a guard of Cossacks. Six Years at the Russian Court, M. Eagar, 1906

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously heard from Miss Margaretta Eagar, the nurse to the Imperial Russian children, in a post on an apparition seen at the time of Princess Elisabeth of Hesse’s untimely death. Grand Duchess Marie [1899-1918] was the third daughter of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. As we all know, the prophetic curl that sank in the font was too sanguine about the Grand Duchess’s bright future. The Order of St. Anne or St. Anna was established in honour of Anna Petrovna, the daughter of Peter the Great. Its motto was “Amantibus Justitiam, Pietatem, Fidem” (“To those who love justice, piety, and fidelity”). There are illustrations of the order here. Here is a site with some of the Imperial family’s possessions, including the Tsarevich’s Christening robe, and a brief description of the festivities.

Mrs Daffodil wishes the young prince health, happiness, and worthy Godparents who will provide proper spiritual guidance and that all-important first pony.

For a scandalous story of another (perhaps) royal baby see here. Here are two other royal baby items: various notes on regal nurseries and infants and a piece about a royal nursery contretemps, in a jocular vein. And for a look at cradles of the royal houses of Europe, see here.

4 thoughts on “An Imperial Christening: 1899

  1. Pingback: The Correct Christening: 1885 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: The Spirit of an Unhappy Empress: 1898 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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