Members of the English Royal family rarely visited Wales but their visits were very widely reported and the accounts include descriptions and illustrations of the costumes worn by those who came to see them.
It would be easy to over-emphasis the role of royalty, nobility and gentry in the preservation or creation of a Welsh costume partly because their works are over-emphasised in the press of the time and partly because so little is known about the way that information about the costume was disseminated to those who wore it.
Almost any royal visit to Wales was accompanied by excessive and often sycophantic accounts of their activities in Welsh newspapers and some magazines. The Illustrated London News provided a means of distributing throughout Britain, illustrations of events in Wales at such events, and the inclusion of representations of women in Welsh costume, whether accurate or not, helped establish the Welsh costume, and the hat in particular, as an icon of Wales.
Almost every female, and some male members of the Royal family were presented with dolls in Welsh costume or Welsh fabric, either when they were in Wales, or as gifts at weddings and births. Some members of the Royal family ordered special Welsh costumes or fabrics.
According to the Royal archives, there are no illustrations of any of the Princesses of Wales wearing Welsh costumes. Following the Prince of Wales’ was marriage in 1863, an opportunity arose for the new Princess of Wales to wear Welsh costume during official visits for the same reasons they favoured Scottish costume but there is no evidence that this occurred. However it is said that the Princess ‘expressed a wish to have a thorough Welsh costume’ and when she and the Prince and their children visited Machynlleth, Aberystwyth and Cardiff in June, 1896, a special dress was made for her, but there are no reports of its presentation to her, nor any evidence that she wore it.
Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, is to be presented on the occasion of her approaching visit to Wales with a complete Welsh costume. The donors are Messrs Tyler and Co of Maesllyn Mills, Llandysul whose Welsh cloth has such a wide reputation, having won the highest awards at Liverpool, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney Exhibitions. The costume, which is tailor-made is the work of Mr D Jones and Sons, Penrhiwpal, who had previously made Welsh costumes for Lady Lloyd and Miss Lloyd, Bronwydd. (Carmarthen Journal, 19.6.1896)
In Scotland, the influence of Royalty on the kilt and tartans is well known. Sir Walter Scott organised the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 and this is said to have helped establish the national dress for Scottish men. Queen Victoria was very fond of Scottish plaid (tartan), which became popular throughout Britain. It is found as a narrow band at the top of skirts otherwise made of Welsh fabrics, but would not have been visible.
List of Royal visits to Wales 1832-1911. Those with hyperlinked dates have more information about the wearing of Welsh costume at the events.
Reign of William IV (1830-1837)
1832 Princess Victoria, aged 13, spent just over 2 months in north Wales in 1832. On her way to Bangor, she and her mother visited Llangollen where she was presented with a doll in Cambrian costume. By the age of 12, Victoria had acquired 132 dolls which she and her governess, Baron Lehzen, dressed and named, so it was appropriate for her to be presented with a Welsh doll. When they passed through Bangor a week later, the duchess and princess wore Welsh hats in deference to Welsh women. This is the earliest known reference to the Welsh hat, but unfortunately no description or drawing of them has survived. This Royal seal of approval on the Welsh hat may well have had an effect on its popularity and possibly on that of the costume, but there is no evidence to support this.
Reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
It is said that as queen, Victoria spent 7 years in Scotland, 7 months in Ireland and 7 nights in Wales. Most of her visits as Queen were brief stops on her way to or from Ireland.
Queen Victoria’s fondness for tartan, and her support of the Paisley shawl industry at the baptism of her first son in 1841 may well have influenced the fashionable of Wales and this may explain the brighter, bolder check patterns which appear in some of the prints and early photographs of Welsh costume, particularly those worn by the gentry in Wales. The young Queen Victoria usually wore a shawl, gauzy in summer, Paisley, Norwich or Indian in winter.
The Paisley shawl was popular in Wales possibly only after the pattern was printed rather than woven and was presumably only worn for special occasions. Its popularity might have been overemphasised by the fame of Curnow Vosper’s painting Salem of 1908. Surviving Paisley shawls, of which there are many in Welsh collections, deserve further study.
CHRISTENING OF THE PRINCE OF WALES
At the baptism of Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1841, all the [Royal] ladies wore dresses of British manufacture, and Her Majesty and her mother wore Paisley shawls with a view to encourage the trade of that place. (Ginsburg, Madeleine, The Young Queen Victoria and her Clothes, Costume Society Spring Conference, 1969, ‘Early Victorian’, p. 43)
Her majesty and the Duchess of Kent wore a rich shawl of Paisley manufacture. (Liverpool Mercury, January 28, 1842)
Her majesty and the Duchess of Kent, sympathasising with the suffering weavers of Paisley, each ordered for the baptism a paisley shawl which will probably bring the pattern into fashion. (The Era (London, England), February 6, 1842)
Queen Victoria also held a series of costume balls to help alleviate the economic depression of the early 1840s. At the first, only British produce was worn. (J.R. Planche), [details]. This was at the beginning of a time of depression in the Paisley shawl production which lasted until 1843 (Reilly, Valerie, Why Paisley?, (1996), p. 11; Stanley, Lady Eleanor, 20 years at Court, edited by Steuart Erskine, 1916)
1847 Members of the Royal family landed at Caernarfon briefly on her way to Ireland, and at Milford on their way back.
1848 Prince George visited Baron Hill, Anglesey in December.
1849 Prince George visited Plas Newydd, Anglesey, in September.
1852 The Queen, Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales visited Bangor.
1853 The Royal family visited north Wales on their way to Ireland.
1858 The Prince of Wales passed through Swansea and Milford, incognito, on route for Ireland
1859 Queen Victoria visited north Wales, staying at Penrhyn castle (15-17 October)
1861 Members of the Royal family visited Holyhead, Caernarfon castle and Beddgelert on their return from Ireland
1863 Prince Arthur visited Dolgellau and ordered a Welsh costume for his sister.
1865 Prince Arthur visited south Pembrokeshire.
1868 The Prince of Wales opened the waterworks at Caernarfon
1875 The Duke of York and Duke of Clarence visited Caernarfon Castle
1881 Prince and Princess of Wales opened the new docks at Swansea. A large number of women wore Welsh costume at the event.
1882 The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh visited St David’s, Pembrokeshire
1889 Queen Victoria, Prince Henry and his wife visited Palé near Bala (the home of Mr Robinson)
1890 Queen of Romania at Bangor Eisteddfod
1894 The Prince of Wales visited the Caernarfon Eisteddfod.
1896 The Prince of Wales invested as Chancellor of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth and opened the new library at Cardiff.
1899 The Duke of York, (later George V), visited Caernarfon and Conwy
Reign of Edward VII
1902 The Prince of Wales (later George V) visited Caernarfon and was made Chancellor of the University of Wales
1907 King Edward laid the foundations stone of Bangor University college buildings, then went to Ireland and sailed direct to Cardiff to open new docks.
1911 Coronation – Welsh women marched in Welsh costume in London
1911 Investiture of the Prince of Wales