In Georgian times, when love was perhaps more frequently found outside of marriage than in it, unabashed sentimentality is apparent in the keepsakes that were created. Aside from the engraved gold bands that, as we use them today, symbolize marriage, our Georgian’s ancestors were incredibly inventive.
Miniatures, painted on ivory or vellum, were very popular from the early 1760’s. Portraits featuring remarkable detail were often set in gold frames, or worn as jewelry. Depending on the importance and wealth of both parties they might be set with diamonds, pearls or gemstones. But can you imagine wearing your partners face on you finger? While I do adore my hubby I think that might be a bit much for me. [Oops hubby just read this and very heartily disagreed. LOL.]
The more disturbing variation, at least to me, of the full portrait was the “lover’s eye” miniature portrait (above right). In 1786 the Prince of Wales paid five guineas for eye miniatures of himself and Mrs. Fitzherbert which were encased in gold lockets. Before his death in 1830, the then King insisted that he be buried with her portrait around his neck. Given that they were no longer “together” at the time I find that so endearing. However, the invention of photography and its increasing popularity put an end to much of the interest in miniature portraits beyond the 1830’s.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” ~ Jack Lemon.
Wearing mourning jewelry was a way for the bereaved to hold onto the memory of their loved ones after death. Lovers, friends, and relations could still wear the miniature portraits of the deceased, but what else could be worn?
This memorial urn ring (below) is a fantastic example. The smooth, flat back is really a glass covered locket and although this particular one is without any contents, I imagine a loved ones hair might have been placed there.
Some mourning jewelry is sad and heartbreaking, especially where the inscriptions indicate a young person’s death. Mourning broaches featuring urns, broken columns, fallen trees, and distant ships are common imagery.
The fashion of keeping a lock of hair belonging to a loved one has been around a long time. And although often seen as mourning keepsakes alone, many kept these mementos as tokens of love and friendship, as would be the case with children’s hair. I know I have a lock from the first haircut my children ever had tucked away in a drawer. But locks of hair they could also be kept to record sexual prowess, somewhat like cutting notches on a belt. According to diarist Charles Grenville, who quotes that the Duke of Wellington found King George IV had kept a ‘prodigious amount of hair – of all colours and lengths’ as souvenirs from his lovers. What a startling discovery that must have been.
The business of arranging mourning jewelry was often decided before death. Robert Walpole, Earl of Oxford died in 1745 and left seventy two rings for his mourners. Samuel Pepys, famous for his published diary from the end of the 17th Century, left one hundred and twenty three.
The expression of love and mourning for loved ones has changed over the years. What was common in my grandparents’ time is far different from how modern love and death is dealt with lately. These days, apart from the actual burial site, a death can spur a facebook page where mourners can gather to post their thoughts or remembrances from now until the internet age ends. Just down the road is a street-side shrine where a young girl was tragically killed and quite often I see her family and friends gather to change the flowers.
So, I’m touching wood as I write this. I’m just a wee bit superstitious, you see. How you would want your family to remember you? Would something like jewelry be for you or (for the technically minded) would a facebook page be ok? How would you remember the love of your life if they were taken from you?
All photos courtesy of The Three Graces