I know this is a macabre subject, but it has always intrigued me. What did royals choose to wear before they lost their heads?
Think about it. You are most likely going to be buried in it and it will be your last public viewing. How do you decide which outfit to wear for such a momentous historical occasion? I think the last choice of clothing says a lot about how royals chose to be remembered.
Here are a few examples:
King Charles I
Charles decided to dress warm for the occasion and broke out two heavy shirts. He was worried that he would shiver in the cold and consequently look fearful. Charles had always been viewed as the weakling in the shadow of his stronger, older brother, Henry so even at his death he was concerned about appearing brave.
Charles also worried that his hair would get in the way of the messy business of execution and asked his executioner, ‘Is my hair well?’
Charles I strikes me as the kind of ruler who focuses on the details instead of seeing the big picture. During the parliamentary uprisings, he seemed to agree to one demand after another while failing to see the long term consequences and larger significance of a political revolution. And now at his death, he is worried more about his hair than the head he is about to lose.
Queen Anne Boleyn
Anne traded in her square plunging necklines and went to her execution with a conservative make-over. She chose to wear a loose dark, gray gown of damask trimmed in fur with a matronly mantle of ermine covering her regal shoulders and decolletage. More interestingly, she adorned her soon-to-be-missing head with the simple, gabled head-dress which was frequently worn by her demure predecessor Jane Seymour (shown on the right). This hairstyle choice is an obvious contradiction to her signature, and far more risque French hood (shown on the left) which all her attendants had once copied. With one swipe of the executioner’s sword…French hoods were out and making your head look like a church steeple was back in vogue.
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary chose a crimson petticoat – a clear symbol of a catholic martyr. When Mary was convicted of plotting Queen Elizabeth's assassination, she knew her death would bring outcries from Catholic nations such as Spain and France. By her simple choice of clothing, Mary shifted the cause of her downfall from treason to religious persecution. Although religion was undeniable a huge factor in her death, that blazing red petticoat was one last stir of the pot from a tragic queen.
After her death, Mary’s red petticoat was burned for the fear that it would become another saint’s relic.
Queen Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette didn’t get much say in the matter. She was even forbidden to wear the tattered and torn, black mourning dress she had been wearing for two months straight, most likely because the revolutionaries did not want any public sympathy for her. Instead, Marie Antoinette climbed into an old, rubbish cart wearing a clean, white chemise that she had saved for the occasion and a fichu (large, squarish kerchief) over her shoulders. A pleated white cap adorned her famed hair which had been cropped at the neck.
Image Credits: Charles I - FCIT http://etc.usf.edu/clipart