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Queen Charlotte’s Only Surviving Dress is on Display at Kensington Palace

queen charlotte
Queen Charlotte’s Dress is on DisplayGetty Images; Netflix

Queen Charlotte’s fashion choices have been spectacularly reimagined through Netflix series Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte. But in reality, just one item of clothing that the wife of King George III wore in her lifetime has survived, and it is now on display in Kensington Palace.

A dress made entirely of Brussels lace (pictured above) is one of the centerpieces in new exhibition, Untold Lives: A Palace at Work. The exhibit features the stories of servants and courtiers who played key roles behind the scenes from 1660 to 1830. From wardrobe maids and wet-nurses to pages, chefs, and medics, the exhibition explores the different roles and the stories of the individuals who held them.

The dress is included to demonstrate the extraordinary craftsmanship that went into creating the garment, which was made by unidentified lace-makers and dressmakers and adorned with the letter C for Charlotte. “It’s super, super high quality,” exhibition co-curator Sebastian Edwards said today about the item. “This is made of Brussels lace which is the most expensive and labor-intensive lace. Little tiny bits are stitched together, it’s not made on a loom like a big piece. It’s super elaborate and expensive. She would have been the talk of the town wearing this dress.” He added, “Normally you use this lace just for decorating the edges of things, around your bonnet or around your collar. To have a whole dress of it is absurd really.”

Other notable items in the exhibit include an apron worn by Queen Charlotte’s Wardrobe Maid Ann Elizabeth Thielcke. “Assigned to Queen Charlotte in 1786, she was responsible for dressing the Queen every morning and would therefore have had unparalleled access to her,” Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which runs the public opening of Kensington Palace, said in a statement. The exhibition also delves into some of the more unusually-named roles such as the Keeper of Ice and Snow and the Rat Catcher.

One of the challenges for exhibition curators is the fact that there is often little documentation of the lives of the workers. Few portraits were taken of them and their possessions and stories were often not saved or written down. “Curators have delved into the archives to piece together their stories, drawing from manuscripts and records and uncovering a range of unexpected objects that depict the breadth of roles palace workers performed,” Historic Royal Palaces said.

Untold Lives: A Palace at Work runs from March 14–October 27, 2024 and is included in palace admission.


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