Alexandra of Denmark, born in Copenhagen in 1844, was Princess of Wales from 1863 to 1901 (the longest time any woman has held that title) before becoming the queen consort of Great Britain from 1901 to 1910, following the death of Queen Victoria. Alexandra’s family rose to prominence when her father was chosen to succeed the Danish throne. When she was sixteen, it was arranged that Alexandra should marry the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), an event that took place in 1863.
Edward was known for being a playboy (he had well-publicized affairs with many actresses and society women), but despite this, his marriage to Alexandra was said to be generally happy, and it was fairly popular, for a royal marriage. Alexandra was renowned for her beauty, grace, and charm, and her style of dressing was much imitated. She often wore high necklines and chokers, apparently to cover a small scar on her neck. Whatever the reason, it set the fashion for the next fifty years. She was one of the first women of the Edwardian era to openly wear powder and rouge, making it permissible for other women: Though actresses were already doing the same thing, Alexandra gave makeup the royal stamp of approval and a level of acceptability that no one else could. Makeup or not, she was also said to have looked extraordinarily young. An article in a 1907 edition of US Vogue (when Alexandra was sixty-three) stated, Queen Alexandra of England has long been the wonder of the world because of her remarkable appearance of youth . . . ,‚ though it also made clear that this freshness was not entirely without any effort on the queen’s part.
Alexandra was a very different figurehead from her austere predecessor, Queen Victoria. Not only did Alexandra wear makeup, but she was also a keen horsewoman and enjoyed hunting not the pursuits of a typical Victorian lady. She is said to have enameled her face painting it first with a white base, over which red or pink would be applied rather heavily during her later years, when her legendary youthfulness started to suffer (which would probably have set tongues wagging). Though she was not permitted to have any influence on diplomatic affairs, she was the first queen to sit in on a debate at the House of Commons in 1910, showing that she truly was a new woman of the Edwardian era.
Ill health and disease was rife throughout much of European medieval history. Pale, translucent skin was believed to be a sign of excellent health and fine breeding and, for women specifically, it was regarded as a mark of youth, fertility, and virtue.