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May 13, 2024 3 min read

Mourning jewelry has been a poignant expression of loss and remembrance for centuries, gaining prominence in the Victorian era following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's beloved husband. Crafted from materials like jet and black enamel, these pieces were designed to memorialize the departed. They were typically black, often highlighted with pearls or woven hair, and frequently bore the names or initials of the deceased. One such piece is a mourning pendant from the mid to late 1800s, which commemorates Samuel Whitbread and his wife, Elizabeth. This is their story.



Samuel Whitbread II was born to Samuel Whitbread I and Harriet Hayton on January 18, 1764, in Bedfordshire, England. His father was the founder of the Whitbread brewery, established in 1742. By the 1780s, this brewery had become one of the largest in the world. Samuel II inherited the business after his father's death in 1796.



Samuel II was deeply in love with Lady Elizabeth Grey, the sister of his friend Charles Grey. They married in 1787. Lady Elizabeth was the daughter of Charles Grey I, the first Earl Grey. (Yes, this is the Earl Grey after whom the famous tea is named! His son, Charles Grey II, Elizabeth’s brother, served as Prime Minister from 1830-1834 and was the second Earl Grey. His wife adored a Chinese tea so much that she insisted it be produced in England, leading to the birth of Earl Grey tea.) Charles I was a distinguished British general who served during the Seven Years' War, the American Revolutionary War, and the French Revolution, and was regarded as one of Britain's most successful military leaders.



Like his father, Samuel Whitbread II became a Member of Parliament in 1790, serving until 1815. A member of the Whig party, he was an advocate for parliamentary reform and a vocal opponent of slavery. Despite his efforts, many of his propositions were rejected, and some viewed him as too radical. This perception led to political cartoons that often depicted Whitbread in an unfavorable light. By early 1815, he was suffering from depression, which tragically led to his suicide on July 6 at the age of 51. His wife, Elizabeth, lived until November 28, 1845, passing away at the age of 80.



Now, about the mourning pendant that commemorates them: This piece is rich with symbolism and beautifully crafted. The main feature is a snake, designed in the standard mourning black, which wraps around the pendant. In Victorian symbolism, the snake represents immortality, suggesting that the memory of Samuel and Elizabeth will live on forever.

Surrounding the snake is a halo of pearls. After Prince Albert's death, Queen Victoria wore pearls as symbols of mourning, representing tears. This touch connects the pendant to the broader tradition of Victorian mourning jewelry.

At the center of the pendant is a single agate flower, shaped like a forget-me-not. This delicate feature is a reminder to always keep the memory of lost loved ones alive.




This mourning pendant does more than just bear the names Samuel and Elizabeth Whitbread; it tells their story and connects us to the past through its deep symbolism and exquisite craftsmanship. Mourning jewelry like this piece allows us to glimpse into the lives and emotions of those who lived before us, ensuring that their stories are not forgotten.




Image References:

Whitbread logo -

Elizabeth Whitbread -

Samuel Whitbread II -

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