top of page
  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Royal Dress Up - The Royal Children

Just like Victoria and Albert the royal children had a fondness for dressing up just like any other child. Just imagine the costumes the royal children were encouraged to wear! Unlike the feather boa and our mother's heels we all plodded around the house in when we was just knee height- The Royal children had more than their parents baggy clothes to play dress up in, they had specific costumes coordinated and tailored to them.

From past royals, characters from stories and artwork to everyday common folk. The royal children had a whole range of costumes to let their imagination run wild. Much to Victoria's amusement the royal children even performed plays, danced and sung for their parents. It became a tradition for the children to surprise their parents on commemorative days such as birthdays, anniversaries and seasonal celebrations. A particular favourite of Victoria and Albert was dressing their children in traditional dress from Germany, this can be seen in various watercolours, paintings and lithographs. In January 1852 the six eldest royal children appeared in a performance of August Von Kotzebue's 1803 comedy 'Der Hahnenschlag' ( The Cockshy) Queen Victoria wrote the performance and chose the costumes. Victoria also captured this performance as a watercolour, Prince Albert helped her to complete the painting.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

In this painting Queen Victoria shows her six eldest children acting the closing scene of Kotzebue’s comedy Der Hahnenschlag (The Cockshy) in a performance at Windsor Castle on Twelfth Night in 1852.

For the New Year's celebrations Queen Victoria's children often dressed in costumes and participated in theatrical performances providing family entertainment. In 1855 the royal children performed ballet for their parents in 18th century costume and on New Years Day 1844 Victoria The Princess Royal dressed as Princess Charlotte as a surprise for her father.

Princess Victoria's costume was a copy of the dress and cap worn by Charlotte, Princess Royal in the Benjamin West painting showing Princess Charlotte with her Mother, Queen Charlotte.

The dress worn by Princess Victoria was copied from a print possibly explaining the difference in colour from the original shown in the painting.

The children were encouraged to wear costumes from a young age, Victoria and Albert often used the children dressed up as an opportunity to practice their sketching and watercolour skills. Many of the children's costumes were documented as sketches in Victoria's journal as well as in her various albums of watercolours. The costumes were not just for photographs as the children often performed in plays but it wasn't always fun and games. The performances involved dedicated rehearsals with the children's tutors to achieve the appropriate level of professionalism.

One of the most notable of the children's costumes is 'The Seasons' inspired by James Thompsons. Although the costumes are relatively simple they show which character each child is portraying rather well. This scene would become an inspiration for various pieces of Queen Victoria's sketches and watercolours.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

From left to right, Princess Alice as the embodiment of Spring, Prince Arthur and Victoria, the Princess Royal as the embodiment of Summer, Princess Helena as The Spirit Empress, Prince Alfred as the embodiment of Autumn and Princess Louise and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales as the embodiment of Winter. The children act out the concluding Tableau of 'The Seasons' by James Thomson, performed at Windsor Castle.

Not only did the children dress in costumes together as gifts for their parents on important dates but they would produce artwork of each other in costume for their parents. Here is an example of Prince Arthur in 1853 as Henry VIII -

Queen Victoria's children often made cards and drawings for their parents as gifts on important dates, such as this watercolour executed by Victoria, Princess Royal for her parents wedding anniversary on 10 February 1853. In her journal entry of that day, Queen Victoria describes the gifts she received from her children and how "Vicky, in particular, had done a beautiful sketch, almost entirely by herself, of little Arthur as "King Hal", — from nature".

A watercolour showing Prince Arthur dressed as Henry VIII. The young boy is shown full-length, standing and facing forward. He is dressed in Tudor costume and is holding a rose in one hand.

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

All of Victoria and Albert's children had dance lessons from a young age, their dancing skills were exceptionally higher compared to children of this day and age. Victoria herself was incredibly fond of the theatrical arts, often hosting her own costumed balls and having annual seasons of plays perform at Windsor Castle. From dancing to their mother and fathers piano duets, participating in tableau vivants to posing in costume for the ever progressing photography methods it is evident the children enjoyed taking part in their parents love of music, theatre and dance.

We are all familiar with having costume party for your birthday as a child but Victoria and Albert took it to a next level. On the 7th April 1859 the royal couple held a children's fancy dress ball in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace to celebrate their youngest son Prince Leopold's sixth birthday. Children from six to fourteen and came dressed in a wide variety of costumes such as national dress, fairy Queens, 1745 dress, Greeks & little ladies à la Watteau; even George II and Charles II appeared. Prince Leopold and Prince Arthur attended the ball as sons of King Henry IVth.

A description from The Albion, A Journal of News, Politics and Literature, on April 30, 1859. The Albion was a weekly New York newspaper that covered British matters extensively.

"There were little Greeks and little ladies à la Watteau, costumes of Charles II, and of George II's reign, also a few dresses illustrative of the time of the Plantagenets, but he Stuarts and the First and Second Georges were the favourite periods chosen, and powder was plentiful. The children of the Duke of Beaufort and Lord John Russell were remarkable for the appropriateness of the early English costume. The children of Mr. Sidney Herbert were most carefully dressed, though it as difficult to fix the exact date -- very much the style of Charles II, but dark and sombre -- black, trimmed with dark red, the doublet slashed with white. Many young ladies wore gay dresses, à la Watteau. The young son of the Earl and Countess of Hardwicke was a very good and effective specimen of the time of Charles the Second. Another member of Lord Derby's Cabinet also distinguished in the dress selected for his little boy, young Master Pakington, who, in virtue, perhaps of his papa being the First Lord of the Admiralty, appeared as a sailor; the get up was perfect. It was as though Winterhalter's picture of the Prince of Wales had been vivified. The son and daughter of the Count and Countess Bernstorff appeared as Cupid and Psyche, and there were a few "Fairy Queens," but their magic wands appeared somewhat of an encumbrance to the little mortals who bore them. The little grandson of the Lord Chancellor wore a Greek dress, as id the youngest son of the Marquis of Salisbury; another wore the dress of Charles II. There were one or two Italian peasants, a vivandière or two, an Austrian uniform, a Zouave, and a dress more like a Massaniello than anything else, but there was nothing on the whole, more effective than the 1745 dress, both for the boys and girls. The powder and patches, the tucked up skirts, and the high heeled shoes, all were perfect as were the pure velvet suits, powdered wigs, swords, ruffles, shoes, and hose of the boys. Mr. Gladstone's children -- both girls and boy -- appeared in the Greek, or as it was whispered in the room, the Ionian costume. The girls wore a crimson velvet cap and jacket, embroidered in gold, with a double skirt of white satin -- a dress both rich and pretty."

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

The costumed Leopold and Arthur wore were based on those worn by actors in the final scene of Charles Kean's production of Richard II, which was performed at Windsor Castle in February 1857

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

Princess Louise and Princess Helena wearing Swiss National costume to a fancy dress ball April 1859.

11 views0 comments
bottom of page