Saturday, May 23, 2009

Royal Mourning and Regency Culture

To be honest, I skimmed Royal Mourning and Regency Culture (Stephen C. Behrendt, 1997). It's research for my alternative history, in which, among other things, I have a British royal death or two. It occurred to me as I was revising that I know next to nothing about the relevant mourning and funerary customs. The nearest real royal death to my fictional ones was the 1817 death in childbirth of the Princess Charlotte, at the time the only legitimate grandchild of George III and therefore after her father the Prince Regent heir presumptive to the throne. Her son was stillborn, and the double tragedy set off a series of belated marriages among her uncles, ultimately leading to the birth of the future Queen Victoria.

Behrendt's book looks at the cultural response to Charlotte's death as an early example of the kind of public grief we've seen in our time over figures like JFK or Princess Diana. He analyzes everything from poetry to commemorative prints to essays tying Charlotte's life and death to the post-Waterloo uneasiness and social upheaval facing England at the time. Reasonably interesting stuff, if you're a research geek like me...but I still ended up skimming, since I was seeking general principles to apply to my fictional deaths rather than trying to learn all the details of poor Charlotte's real one. (Charlotte's death resonates with me more than you'd expect for an obscure royal who died well before I was born, because it's highly possible she had preeclampsia, which there but for the grace of modern medicine would've killed me, and I first read about her case not long after my daughter was born.)

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