Tag Archives: victorian wedding veil

The Bridal Veil: 1886

Brussels wedding veil 1890


A pretty, dark-eyed girl began to work it, whose lover was over the sea. She was a French girl, and came of a good family of lacemakers.

“I’ll work my own bridal veil in my leisure time,” she said. “So when Walter comes to marry me I shall be a gay bride.”

But she never finished the veil. Walter came too soon. She married her English lover—as poor as herself—and went with him to London, and the half-finished bridal veil went along, carefully folded away at the bottom of a trunk, and, for the time being quite forgotten.

It may have been forgotten in earnest, during twelve years, for aught I know; certainly it lay that long unnoticed. A lovely ten year old girl was the fairy that broke its long sleep at last. She had dark eyes, like the little peasant of twelve years ago, but Walter’s golden hair.

“Oh! the charming lace!” she cried, clapping her hands and dancing delightedly, as Elise shook it out of the folds. “Dear mamma, what is it‘? and who made it? and why is it but half done? Can I have it for a dress for my doll, mamma?”

The pretty, dark-haired matron laughed and shook her head, and half sighed, and she pressed the delicate fabric to her lips. Then she told her child the history of its making.

“Mamma, teach me to work it,” she said one day. “My fingers are much finer and tinier than yours.”

After that she would bring her little work-basket to her mother’s side and work at a veil for her doll. The facility with which she learned the graceful art was astonishing. At the age of fifteen so expert was she that Elise did not fear to let her take part in the creation of the bridal veil itself, but they worked at it now and then as fancy seized them.

* * * *

Louis Riviere was from France, like Adele’s mother—that had been a bond between them from the first —for Adele loved her mother’s country for her mother’s sake, though she herself was proud of being called English ; and she also loved the young Frenchman.

The happy weeks and months grew into years. Adele was seventeen; it was agreed and promised that when spring-time came she would be Riviere’s bride.

“We must finish the bridal veil,” cried Elise, eagerly. “I tell you, Monsieur Louis, no lady of your proud house ever wore a lace more exquisite and rich. Ah! shall I not be proud when I look at my beautiful child in her marriage robes, and think of the poor little peasant girl of long ago, who toiled at the lace to earn coarse bread so far away over the sea?”

Louis turned quickly at these words, a look of displeased surprise in his dark eyes.

“What peasant girl, madam?” he questioned, uneasily.

“Myself,” she answered, happily, not marking the look or the tone. “What was I but a poor little lacemaker when my generous young lover married me, the father of Adele?”

He answered nothing, and Elise went merrily chatting on, but Adele noticed his suddenly downcast air and gloomed eyes, though she was far from suspecting the cause of either.

His haughty family pride had received a blow. He conceived an absolute but violent dislike to the bridal veil.

“I detest the sight of it!” he cried one evening in a moment of self-forgetfulness, and when he and Adele were alone. “If, indeed, you love me, never work at it in my presence, Adele; and if I dared ask one special favor of you it should be__”

He paused suddenly. She was listening in great surprise.

“Well,” she said, “it should be ___”

“Wear any other veil in the world but that one to be married in!”

She folded her work and let her fair hands fall on it in her lap; one could see those little hands were trembling.

“You ask a singular favor,” she said, with forced quietness. “Are you not aware that my dear mother worked this veil?”

The hot, impulsive temper answered instantly, without a thought: “It is for that reason I hate it!”

“You did not know when first you sought me for a bride that mamma was a lace-worker in France; if you had, perhaps you would not have loved me. Since you have learned this fact you have regretted our engagement. You need not speak; I have seen a change in you—I feel that it is so! But there is no harm done,” she went on, with simple dignity, “since I have learned the truth before it is too late; and so,” she held out to him a little trembling hand, which he took mechanically—“and so I will grant you the favor you covet, my friend. Your bride shall not wear my darling mother’s bridal veil”—here he kissed the hand, and she drew it quickly away—“but that is because I shall not be your bride.”

No need to dwell upon what followed. His prayers, his protestations—humble at first, then angry his tears that had no power in them to sap the strength of her resolution.

Her parents questioned her in vain. She had quarreled with Louis; that was all they could learn. And before a chance for reconciliation came Elise was smitten with mortal illness and died in three days, and Adele, overwhelmed by the awful calamity, was prostrate with brain fever.

At this juncture a summons came to Louis from France, demanding his immediate presence there. Strange changes had taken place. Two of the three lives that had stood between him and the titles and estates of the Marquis de la Riviere had been suddenly swept away, and the third, a frail, delicate child, lay dying. The present marquis, himself a feeble old man, was also at the point of death, so they sent in haste for Louis, as the heir of the dying nobleman.

The news bewildered him. His heart swelled with exultation and delight, but it sank again. Adele! Had he lost Adele?

“I care not for rank or wealth, unless she shares them!” cried his heart. “I will go and implore her pardon.”

A few weeks later he wrote, informing her fully of his strangely altered fortunes and imploring her to pardon and accept once more as her true-love the love of the Marquis de la Riviere.

And the letter never reached her. The house to which it came was empty and deserted, the late happy home was broken up, and the little English girl, for whom a husband and title and fortune were waiting in sunny France, was earning a sorrowful living as lace-maker! Such are some of the strange realities of real life more wonderful than any fiction.

* * * * *

Many a gay belle and brilliant beauty had spread her net to secure the splendid prize of a titled husband. Foremost among the many, Rosalind Hale; she was the fairest and wealthiest of them all; and her golden hair was not unlike Adele’s. She arranged charades, tableaux, plays—in which he should sustain a part with her. It never occurred to her that he was at once too good-natured and too indifferent to refuse.

The tableaux were suggestive enough. One, upon which Miss Hale had quite set her heart, was that of a bridal—need it be said that Louis was the bridegroom, herself the bride‘?

“He will speak, now, surely,” she thought, as she blushed and trembled before him, While the curtain came slowly down. But no, he only bowed as he led her from the platform; and then one of the buttons of his coat caught in her bridal veil. As the marquis stopped to disengage the lace suddenly he uttered a strange cry. It was Adele’s bridal veil.

“I borrowed it of a lace-maker,” Miss Hale said, in reply to his anxious questioning. “I had ordered one like it; but her health is bad and she failed to have it finished in time. So I made her lend me this.”

“Oh, no? very thin and worn and sad,” she said in reply to another question of Louis’; “with fine eyes, but too dull and pale to be called pretty. But an exquisite lace maker. I shall be glad to give you her address if you have any work for her.” Yes, he had work for her—work that they would share together; the blessed work of binding up an almost broken heart, of restoring love and happiness to both their lives.

Pale and thin and somewhat careworn still was the bride of the marquis on her wedding day; but to his eyes—the eyes of faithful love—it was still the sweetest face in the whole world that smiled and wept beneath Elise’s bridal veil. And he kissed the old lace and blessed it, because through it he had found her again.

The Otago [NZ] Witness 2 January 1886: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Suggestive tableaux, indeed!  There is a bit of Blanche Ingram in Miss Hale, although fortunately there is no Bertha Mason Rochester to tear Elise’s veil. One hopes that the Marquis, who, we may observe, is no Mr Rochester, ate a good deal of humble pie before Adele took him back.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


A Tear Drop’s Stain: The Story of a Wedding Veil: 1896

Habsburg wedding veil of Brussels lace.

Habsburg wedding veil of Brussels lace.


The Strange Romance of an Old and Precious Heirloom

[Chicago Chronicle] On the North Side there is a wedding veil that has done trousseau service for exactly 12 brides and a half, and now is owned by a man. But he soon will adorn his bride with it, and thereby hangs a tale. The veil is a web of misty Brussels lace, and it is so old that orange blossoms in the pattern have turned the color of the fruit. The first wearer of the dainty veil was the three times great-grandmother of a Washington girl, who will probably be the next bride whose head it will adorn. Last winter this girl’s mother lost her money in the epidemic of bank failures, leaving the two almost as pathetically helpless as that pair of babes in the woods. Quite by chance, when the mother was sick and the daughter unhappy, and both as poor as church mice, the girl read a newspaper account of the difficulty a certain New York woman was having in matching a pattern of lace. The description tallied with the orange border on the family veil. So she sketched a bit of the design and, inclosing it with the heirloom’s pedigree, sent them to the New York lace hunter, who caught at the bargain at once.

Now this veil was to be worn by the daughter of the lace hunter at her bridal, and in great triumph she showed it to an uncle of hers from Chicago, who had come to the wedding. He read the Washington girls’ letter. He compared the veil with the etching, and then he made a discovery. It was a tear. It had raised a welt on the paper, and he vowed by the dismal little splash that he would buy that Brussels veil if it took every dollar he was worth. He was worth a great many dollars, but his niece owned an equal amount of will. He—and only he—had seen her trying on that veil, and had said she was simply divine. Under such circumstances a woman becomes a human Gibraltar, and no one knew better than the rich uncle that Gibraltar is not to be moved. When the wedding night came, however, the bride was gowned, veiled and blossom crowned, she dismayed her attendants by commanding somebody—everybody to help her off with that veil. She said that splash seemed to dampen every pleasure the hour brought. She could defy her rich uncle, but she could not fight a tear.

It will be worn the next time in the spring by one of the prettiest girls in Washington, but the North Side man will not say how he got her promise to wear the veil of her ancestors.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 25 January 1896: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Brussels lace was highly desirable and very costly. The flax for this lace was grown in Rebecq-Rognon, Belgium, and might cost $2,500 per pound (in 1901). It was processed in dark, moist cellars by women who spent their lives spinning underground so that the threads did not separate. The lacemaking was also done in rooms with limited light. Hundreds of bobbins and multiple lacemakers were employed on a single piece.

The Brussels lace veil pictured above was commissioned for the wedding of Princess Stéphanie of Belgium for her ill-starred wedding to Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, perhaps best remembered for being found dead in bed with his lover at the hunting lodge of Mayerling.  Princess Stéphanie sold the veil and other items when she fell into financial difficulties. The Habsburg veil was purchased for her daughter Adelaide’s wedding by Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1925. Mrs. Post was also the possessor of a tiara and necklace given by Napoleon to Empress Marie Louise, earrings worn by Marie Antoinette, and jewelry which was formerly the property of Emperor Maximillian of Mexico.

Mrs Daffodil understands the impulse of wealthy Americans to purchase some sort of pedigree.  She was once lady’s maid to what is popularly called a “Dollar Princess.”  One’s gentle attempts to correct the young woman’s notion that all people have their price and that anything, including breeding and honour, could be bought, were met with scorn. The heedless creature came to an unfortunate end; what was believed to be her body was found in the Thames in such a shocking state of decomposition that she was only identified by her diamonds.*

Mrs Post’s attempt to purchase the glamour of the crowned heads of Europe for a beloved child was no doubt well-meant, but the Imperial marriage was scarcely one a mother would wish her daughter to emulate. The superstitious might note that Adelaide’s first and second marriages ended in divorce. Perhaps the story of the Chicago man and the Washington girl had a happier ending.

*The story is “Mrs Daffodil and the Dollar Princess,” (2014).