Edward, Prince of Wales,
later King Edward VII (1841-1910),
Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers of Malta

The Prince of Wales's costume as sketched for The Queen, 10 July 1897
The Prince of Wales's costume
as sketched for
The Queen, 10 July 1897

Albert Edward (Bertie), as he was known until he succeeded to the throne, in 1897 was in the unfortunate position of being 56 and still prevented by his mother, Queen Victoria, from playing any role in state affairs. She initially held the shock and horror felt upon the discovery of his romance with an Irish actress in 1861 responsible for the death of her beloved husband Prince Consort. She despised the fast life led by her son and his friends in the “Marlborough House set”, which was named after Edward’s residence in London. For all the misgivings expressed about his capabilities and morals by the press upon his accession, he proved to be not only a popular, but also a dutiful and wise monarch.

The Prince’s costume as Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers of Malta, was made by the theatrical costumier, Monsieur Alias of Soho Square. His wig, made by Mr. Clarkson, was reputed to be “the lightest ever made, weighing barely half an ounce.”

Much less elaborate than some of the other guest’s costumes, the prestige of the Prince of Wales meant that almost all of the many published reports described his clothing in minute detail way beyond the ken of even a hardy society reporter - and in such similar terms that this presupposes a printed description handed out by Monsieur Alias.

The Daily Telegraph contained one of the more detailed accounts:

“[he] was attired in a rich dress of the Elizabethan period, carried out in black and silver. The doublet or pourpoint was of Genoese velvet, with silver woven in. The trunks were grey silk, with over-straps of velvet wrought with silver, the boots high turreted and of black leather, with large rowel spurs and spur-straps.

The sword-belt was a mass of black velvet with steel mountings, and the mantle of black velvet had the White Cross of Malta on one shoulder.

The hat was high, rather of the Spanish than the English style of that day. It was of black velvet and embroidered with jet, while at one side was a white plume of ostrich feathers. In front was a Maltese Cross in diamonds.

The riband of the Order of the garter on a palaco riband was worn. the Prince looked as if he had walked out of a splendid masterpiece by Velasquez., from the pourpoint of black epingle velvet, richly embroidered in steel, embroidered with rubies and beads of steel and jet, with passementarie of jet - to the bejewelled cross-handled sword, and the jewelled cross of Malta and Order of the Garter round his neck.”

The image was registered for copyright with a much simpler accompanying description “Photograph from life of H.R.H. Prince of Wales, full length standing, in fancy costume, left hand on hilt of sword.”

The Templars would have been familiar to Edward’s contemporaries from the Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s grand opera of the same name - at whose first performance in 1891 the Prince of Wales was present.

As the royal pair were the last to arrive at the Ball, and were then shown to a dais from which they observed the various processions of guests entering the saloon of Devonshire House, this image must have been made in the photographer’s tent in the small hours of the morning – well after the Prince’s favourite bedtime of half-past midnight.

Glory to those who battle for the Cross, And most to those, the bravest and the best, Wonder of land and sea, of east and west, Knights of the Holy Order of the Temple.

Sir Arthur Sullivan, Ivanhoe, Act I,
libretto by Julian Sturgis, 1st performed 1891

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1335

Cabinet card of the Prince of Wales by Lafayette, Dublin, 1880s
Cabinet card of the Prince of Wales by Lafayette, Dublin, 1880s



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All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011