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I came across this gorgeous portrait a couple of years ago while admiring the Lafayette Negative Collection, held by the V&A Museum.

I decided to colourise it and as always proceeded to analyse the garments, place and time in order to decide what colours to use and be as historically accurate as possible.

At first sight you instantly assume it's a wedding portrait. After all the lady is wearing a light gown, a veil and even a bouquet of flowers, right? Wrong!!

This couple was married the previous year ( and 3 years later she eloped with a lover to New York!! After which the enraged husband found the lovers and tried to kill the other man... all very detailed in a news article which I also found because... well because who doesn't like a little drama...)

So if this is not a wedding photo, what is it?

During Victoria’s reign and indeed until 1957 in the UK, a select number of young ladies were presented at Court in Buckingham Palace at 4 stated periods every year – 2 before Easter and 2 after.

When the date of a presentation was announced, letters poured into the Lord Chamberlain, suggesting names of ladies for presentation. Everyone who had been presented before, was able to nominate another for presentation. But it wasn’t guaranteed that any name submitted was accepted. The list underwent careful scrutiny by both the Lord Chamberlain and the Queen, Her Majesty only receiving those who “wore the white flower of a blameless life.”

There were only three qualifications for admittance to the throne room:

The lady wishing to be presented should be of good moral and social character.

Presentation had to be made by someone who had already been presented.

The status of the actual presentee. The most obvious candidates, were the wives and daughters of the aristocracy, then came the ranks of those candidates whose presentation would be sealed by the action of kissing the Queen’s hand. These included the daughters and wives of the country gentry and Town gentry, of the clergy, of naval and military officers, of professional men such as physicians and barristers, of merchants, bankers and members of the Stock Exchange, and “persons engaged in commerce on a large scale.”

Summonses were sent out three weeks in advance, allowing ample time for the excited debutante or newly married lady such as the lady in the photo, to practice the complicated court curtsy and order the regulated costume demanded for presentation, as laid out, via the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, in Lady Colin Campbell’s Manners and Rules of Good Society, 1911 edition:

King Edward and Queen Alexandra

Full Court Dress: low bodice, short sleeves, and train to dress not less than three yards in length from the shoulders. Whether the train is cut round or square is a matter of inclination or fashion. The width at the end should be 54 inches. It is also imperative that a presentation dress should be white if the person presented be an unmarried lady and it is also the fashion for married ladies to wear white on their presentation unless their age rendered their doing so unsuitable The white dresses worn by either debutante or married ladies may be trimmed with either coloured or white flowers according to individual taste.

So how can one tell it's not a bride but a lady being presented?

The answer is on the feathers! It was compulsory for both Married and Unmarried Ladies to Wear Plumes.

The married lady’s Court plume consisted of three white feathers. An unmarried lady’s of two white feathers. Coloured feathers may not be worn. In deep mourning, white feathers must be worn, black feathers are inadmissible. If you pay close attention to the back of the lady's head dress you will spot the feathers! So there is your evidence!

White veils or lace lappets must be worn with the feathers. The veils should not be longer than 45 inches.

Bouquets are not included in the dress regulations issued by the Lord Chamberlain although they are invariably carried by both married and unmarried ladies. A fan and a lace pocket handkerchief are also carried by a lady on presentation or on attending a Court but these two items are also altogether optional.

So now you can go back to any mysterious "bride" photos you may have encountered in your family collection and who knows, perhaps you will find it is not a bride after all!

in the photo

The original photo

Sir Morgan George Crofton, 6th Bt., of Mohill (1879-1958); 2nd Life Guard; served in S. Africa 1899-1902 (severely wounded at the relief of Ladysmith), 1914-18 War (DSO) and in 1939-45 War and his first wife Lady Crofton, née Frances Margaret Irby (d. 1950); only daughter of Lt.-Col. Leonard Howard Lloyd Irby; m. (1905)


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