In an era of unbridled patriarchy, when women were advocating passionately for the right to vote, Queen Victoria was such a formidable figure that an entire period is named after her: the Victorian age. When we think of Victorian England, Victorian houses, or the Victorian style, we tend to think of the elegant, Gothic style that was characteristic of her time.
Beyond the elegance and the formidability, though, lay a rather bizarre woman who tediously planned out her funeral, complete with some rather strange items that she wanted in her coffin.
1. The Queen Wrote A Full, 12-Page Instruction Manual For Her Burial
In the Victorian age, people were much more preoccupied with death than they are today. One reason is quite simple and rather obvious: the life expectancy was much shorter, and death was much more of a common feature of life. Queen Victoria was no exception, as she planned out her own funeral more meticulously than someone today might plan out the funeral for a loved one. In fact, following a meeting with the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, she dictated for her personal physician, Dr. James Reid, a 12-page manual for what she wanted at her funeral.
However, these instructions were kept secret, as Victoria was often known to be at odds with many people, including her own nine children. She was renowned for her eccentricities and must have had the foresight to realize that the people around her might not agree with her requests. Moreover, she wouldn’t be around to do anything about it!
Sir James Reid ensured that the instructions were fully followed, down to the rather odd and somewhat bizarre requests of things to go inside her coffin. Some of the items actually had to be hidden because of the reactions that were sure to come from her family members were they to discover them.
2. Flowers Hid Many of the Items in Queen Victoria’s Coffin
Though the queen requested some rather bizarre and eccentric items to be buried with her, she remained secretive about her wishes both in life and in death. Case in point: flowers hid many of the more secretive items that she carried in her hands, including a picture of John Brown. Though the year of her death was only 1901, she was buried with a bouquet that would rival a modern florist who has a global assortment of flowers. Flowers were brought from all over Europe and placed inside her casket before it was sealed.
Though some of the flowers that were brought in were quite rare, the queen’s particular request was for a sprig of heather to be placed on her body. Why heather? Several reasons come to bear. One may be that heather is quite common in Scotland, the home of her lover, John Brown. The flower may have served as an eternal memento of her love affair with him. Another reason may just be that heather has a vibrant, lively smell that disguised the smell of a decomposing corpse.
The heather may have been completely hidden from view by all of the other more elegant, rare flowers that arrayed the queen’s coffin. However, her private physician, Dr. James Reid, ensured that her request was granted.
3. An Embroidered Cloak Made by Her Daughter For Prince Albert
Princess Alice, Victoria and Albert’s third child, and second daughter was particularly special to the queen. She had a close relationship with her father and nursed him throughout his illness, up until his death. When Queen Victoria went into her period of intense mourning, Alice served as her personal secretary and carried out many of her royal duties.
Princess Alice developed an interest in nursing, and during the Austro-Prussian War, she spent much of her time in the direct care of soldiers who were sick or wounded. During an outbreak of diphtheria, Alice fell ill until she succumbed to the disease at the age of 35. She was the first of Queen Victoria’s nine children to die, leaving behind a daughter who would become the last Czarina of Russia.
A memento of particular importance to the queen was a cloak that Alice embroidered for her father. He had worn it proudly for years, and the queen had held onto it affectionately after the deaths of these two family members. The cloak was part of the ensemble that she was buried with, possibly expressing the hope that the queen would be reunited with both of her lost loved ones. Whatever the exact reason, her choice is characteristic of both her interest in the occult and preoccupations with death and preserving the memories of loved ones.
4. Queen Victoria Insisted on a Completely White Funeral, Which Mimicked a Wedding
We tend to associate white with weddings and black with funerals. Queen Victoria is both responsible for some of the color tradition, as well as guilty of breaking it. She insisted on wearing white at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, something that completely broke with tradition. The white was designed to signify that both the bride and groom were virgins on their wedding night.
However, the queen was known to have a voracious sexual appetite and even sometimes placed her physical relationship with her husband over her duties to the country as its monarch. During her ninth pregnancy, a doctor advised her to have no more children, but she famously complained that that physical relationship might as well be over.
Queen Victoria is often pictured as wearing completely black, in perpetual mourning for her late husband. However, in keeping with her fascination with the occult and unresolved grief over the loss of her husband, Victoria requested that her funeral, like her wedding, be entirely in white. She was even dressed in a white bridal veil. Possibly this was to signify that she intended to be eternally married to her prince and would be united with him in death. Whatever the case, the white veil indeed indicated that her relationship with her husband had honestly been the happiest relationship of her life.
5. Queen Victoria Wore a Wedding Ring on Each Hand, One For Her Husband and One For Her Lover
Queen Victoria might be a case study in abnormal psychology for how she dealt with grief and chose to carry on with her life after the death of her husband. Though she continued to carry out many aspects of life as if Prince Albert was still alive — such as how she insisted on her children pose for portraits as if their father was still there — she was known to consult with at least one lover following his death.
The most well-known of those was John Brown, a servant from Scotland who supported the queen greatly following the prince’s unexpected, sudden death. The rest of the court, including her children, grew resentful of the individual attention that he received from her and spread rumors that the two were engaged in an affair. Historical evidence, including both letters from the queen and John Brown, as well as the instruction manual for her burial, suggest that these rumors were based in fact.
After John Brown’s death, she probably engaged in affairs with other servants, including an Indian servant named Abdul Karim. To complete her “wedding funeral,” she wore, on the one hand, a wedding ring for Prince Albert and, on the other hand, a ring for John Brown.
6. Queen Victorica Requested a Lock of John Brown’s Hair
In Victorian England, families who had lost members, especially children, often kept locks of the dearly departed’s hair as a keepsake. With an intense fascination with the occult and death during this time, it might not be unreasonable to assume that some used these specimens as a means of trying to communicate with them through mediums or psychics. For many, though, the gesture was probably more a means of preserving the person’s memory by protecting an aspect of his or her own body.
In addition to carrying with her in death a photo of her lover and a ring that he had given her, Queen Victoria wanted a lock of John Brown’s hair. When her son, King Edward VII, ascended to the throne, he had all vestiges of John Brown’s memory removed. However, he could not abolish the power that the man had held over his mother through their relationship; Dr. James Reid fulfilled her wish to preserve Brown’s memory and connection to her.
What is striking is that the queen saw no conundrum in her burial rites uniting her with both John Brown and Prince Albert in the afterlife. Hopefully, the two men were able to resolve any lover’s quarrel and were able to accept their places in the queen’s life.
7. Queen Victoria Wanted Copious Amounts of Charcoal and Jewelry
Is Queen Victoria starting to resemble an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, with her preoccupation with the afterlife and occultic beliefs that, in some ways, mimic the religion of ancient Egypt? That connection is about to become a lot more visible, considering the amount of jewelry that she wanted to be buried with her.
The ancient Egyptian pharaohs were not only mummified but also buried with items from their earthly lives that they wanted to take with them to the afterlife. That’s why you often hear stories about the treasures found in the burial chambers or of grave robbers who cleared out all of the gold, jewelry, and other riches.
Queen Victoria may or may not have drawn her inspiration from the ancient Egyptians, but she did insist on being buried with many items from her earthly life that she may have hoped would go with her to the next life. In burial, she wore rings on every single finger along with numerous bracelets, brooches, necklaces, and sentimental mementos from her loved ones on earth. Each piece of jewelry that Queen Victoria wore carried a special significance to her. Of course, she also wore her white bridal veil and clutched the plaster cast of Prince Albert’s hand.
Prince Albert’s dressing gown must have held incredible significance for Queen Victoria, considering that she insisted on his servants continuing to lay it out every morning for him. There are plenty of arguments that the queen conjured up his spirit in seances and believed that he never left her. Some have even suggested that John Brown, her Scottish lover after the untimely death of her husband, channeled Prince Albert and in doing so kept him very much alive to the queen. Perhaps she believed that his ghost donned his dressing gown every day, just as if he were physically present with his queen.
Inside the queen’s coffin was the prince’s dressing gown, on top of a layer of charcoal, which was there for absorbing the wetness and odors of decomposition. The queen’s body lay directly on top of it. Perhaps there was an occultic significance to this particular item being placed in her coffin the way that it was and she believed his spirit would inhabit it, thereby even further uniting them in death. Perhaps she was merely so attached to it that she could think of no other way to spend eternity than on top of it. Whatever the case may be, it was probably one of the more “normal” items placed in her coffin.
This much might seem obvious; of course, the queen’s skeleton was inside her coffin. The purpose of a coffin, if nothing else, is to house the body of the deceased. However, the fact is that nobody expected Queen Victoria to die. She lived to the age of 81 at a time when 40 was considered to be old and had reigned for nearly 64 years. What this means is that two or three generations of people within each family had lived entirely under her rule. They couldn’t imagine a Britain without her.
Reports of bickering and heated arguments among the queen’s children in the days and 10eks leading up to her death underlie the fact that even her children did not expect that she would die. The Prince of Wales was reportedly enraged that Dr. James Reid requested him to come to her house at Osborne should the queen need to see him at short notice. The queen herself, in a rare moment of clarity, said, “I should like to live a little longer, as I have a few things to settle.” Even the queen herself did not expect that she would die. Her death left the country, and the world, in a state of shock.
10. Victoria’s Request For an Effigy Could Not Be Followed
When Prince Albert died, he was buried in a mausoleum at Frogmore Estate near Windsor Castle. His wife had the shrine built upon his death, using her own money and sparing entirely no expense. Queen Victoria commissioned a life-sized effigy to be made of him and placed atop his coffin. She also ordered an image of herself so that she could be assured that the two would be united in burial. Both of the sculptures showed the royal figures lying down, with Albert facing his young, besotted bride. The prince’s effigy was immediately placed on top of his coffin, and Queen Victoria’s was put into storage until she should join him in death.
Despite the requests made in her 12-page instruction manual, which Dr. James Reid ensured were tediously followed, this request was unable to be supported. The effigy had been kept in storage within the walls of Windsor Castle and could not be found at the time of her burial. It was located several months later and eventually placed on top of her sarcophagus. The image of the queen and her beloved husband now lay engraved in stone for all posterity to see. Today, the memorial is open to the public.
When Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, died, she was devastated. The way that she went on to mourn him reveals much about the queen’s attitude towards both life and death: she created a cult of death surrounding him and even went on to worship him.
One might say that she did not healthily grieve his loss and never really did let go of him. Sadly, her approach to grief and loss defined much of the culture of the day. Possibly it was at least somewhat informed by her dealings with the occult, which was also not uncommon in the era (even though people were still punished for witchcraft).
After Prince Albert’s death, the queen had his servants carry out his dressing ritual every morning by bringing in hot water, razors, and his clothes for the day into his bedroom. Every evening, the same — unused — items would be removed. She had a plaster cast of his hand and slept with it every night.
In her final requests, she asked that the plaster cast of his hand be buried with her. Perhaps she believed that in doing so, they would be reunited in the afterlife.
12. The Jewelry Held Emotional and Perhaps Occultic Significance
Queen Victoria was one of those women who valued the emotional value of keepsakes far over the gifts themselves, and this sentiment indeed extended to how she viewed jewelry. As a child, she wore a locket that contained a lock of her deceased father’s hair, believing that it gave her a connection to him. When she was engaged to Prince Albert, as a young lady Victoria had a tuft of his hair mounted in a locket, which the future queen wore nearly every day. She even had pebbles from the Balmoral Castle, which Prince Albert purchased for her, polished and mounted next to precious, expensive stones. Much of the fascination with Queen Victoria revolves around her attitude towards jewelry and what she viewed as being truly valuable.
Some of the jewelry in her coffin had more sentimental than monetary significance, such as the locket with John Brown’s hair. Perhaps this gesture was more emotional, as the queen wanted to retain her physical connection to her Scottish lover just as she had maintained it with her late father and husband. However, one can’t dismiss the possibility of an occultic belief that being buried with this memento, and other ones like it, would enable her to be reunited with him in the afterlife.
13. The Last Friend Queen Victoria Wanted To See Was Her Dog
For months before her death at the age of 81 — incredibly old age for someone of that period — Queen Victoria’s health deteriorated until she was thin and frail. She became tired quickly and often experienced confusion that may have been attributable to dementia. She began suffering strokes in January of 1901 and became bedridden. Eventually, she was under the continual supervision of her physician, Dr. James Reid, and he was the one who carried out her final requests. After he soon realized that she was dying, the doctor summoned her family to her bedside.
However, the queen’s last request for whom she wanted to see was not a member of her family, at least not a human one. Perhaps she was confused due to the multiple strokes she had suffered, or maybe she was just tired of everyone telling her what to do during her last days. Her four-legged, furry friend, her favorite pet, a Pomeranian dog named Turi, was the last to see her alive. He was laid upon her bed shortly before she passed away.
Her family was known to be jealous when her affections were for those outside of their own members, particularly regarding her affair with John Brown. How did they feel about her wanting to see the dog before she died? As far as we know, they were mum on the issue.
Seeing as Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 64 years, Britain had gone for quite a long time without a monarch’s funeral. As such, there was plenty of room for Victoria to break with tradition regarding how royal funerals were held. She hadn’t been someone who just sat on her throne and sipped tea while eating crumpets all day long. Queen Victoria was the daughter of a soldier and had turned the British Empire into a formidable global force. She was not only the queen of Great Britain but also the Empress of India, at the time a British colony. Her funeral was not to be a church service but somewhat akin to one given for a soldier.
Instead of dukes serving as pallbearers, as had traditionally been done for royal funerals, Victoria requested that equerries — equestrians who served the royal household — be the ones to handle her coffin. The casket was transported via a gun carriage, which is a mount used for heavy artillery, down the streets of London in a military procession. Her funeral broke so heavily with tradition that it set the stage for how state funerals are now conducted, not only in Britain but throughout the world.
15. Queen Victoria Didn’t Want to Lie Publically in State
Public figures tend to go through periods in which they lie in state in an open area so that people who admired them have the opportunity to pay their final respects. However, Queen Victoria had mostly retired from public life following the death of Prince Albert, at least to the extent that she didn’t want to be followed by paparazzi or have people outside of the royal household privy to personal information. As you have already seen, she was so secretive that she didn’t even want her family members to know some of the contents of her coffin, like the mementos of her affair with John Brown.
In keeping with how she had lived her life, the queen did not want to lie in state for public viewing. Instead, her body was carried on the gun carriage straight from where she died in the Isle of Wight to her funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. She did lie in state for two days, but viewings were closed to the public. What this meant was that, even though her funeral was one of the largest in world history, it was primarily a family affair and much more intimate than previous royal burials.
16. The House Where She Died Was the Site of Many Seances
The Victorian Era witnessed a surge of interest in spiritualism, particularly regarding the occult and the attempt to communicate with the dead through psychics, mediums, and seances. People from all strata of society, from the poorest of the poor up to the royal household, were caught up in the fervor. In fact, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were party to many seances and even held some at their private residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. They were particularly fond of an older clairvoyant named Georgiana Eagle and a young one named Robert Lees.
The story goes that the 13-year-old Robert Lees participated in one of the family’s seances shortly after the death of Prince Albert. He began to channel Albert’s spirit and recalled information known only between him and the queen, including a pet name that he used to call her. Victoria knew that many mediums were frauds, but when she had Lees thoroughly investigated, he came out clean. He was invited to the palace nine times and was even asked to become the palace’s resident medium. He declined the request.
The queen died at Osborne House, the place where her late husband’s spirit had supposedly been conjured.
17. Queen Victoria’s Coffin Was Topped With a British Flag
Queen Victoria indeed was an enigma in many ways. She brought the British Empire to the height of its power, especially by solidifying its control over India. She ruled over what was possibly the largest empire the world had yet seen. Nevertheless, her personal life told a story that was less traditional and even less dignified than what one might expect from one of the most powerful women in the world. Her relationship with Prince Albert created fodder for public gossip, and even after she resigned from letting her personal life be on display, her affair with John Brown created quite a scandal among members of her family.
Still, she was the quintessential British monarch. Despite the somewhat morbid, bizarre, and creepy contents of her coffin, it was draped over with the most British symbol of all: the Union Jack. The flag is what most people saw during her funeral procession, and if you were to visit her coffin today, which is at her mausoleum at Frogmore Estate in Berkshire, nothing on the outside would indicate its strange contents. By all accounts, you might think that you are looking at the perfectly normal coffin of one of Britain’s greatest monarchs.
However, of course, nothing is at it seems.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: