A History of Mourning Bands, Weepers and Court Mourning


In many countries when the sovereign or another senior royal or high ranking official dies, an official period of mourning is declared. In the UK, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office may declare a defined period of Court Mourning after the death of a member of the Royal Family.

For hundreds of years, barristers and the judiciary in the UK have been required to wear different attire in court during a period of mourning. The correctly dressed barrister when the court goes into mourning would wear a black gown made of ‘stuff’, a fabric made from a mixture of wool and linen, with a small ‘mourning hood’ over their left shoulder. Barristers’ clerks would sew white fabric onto the cuffs of the court coat. These white cuffs were known as ‘weepers’, seemingly because they can be used to dry one’s eyes. In addition, the two strips of white material barristers wear tied around the neck were replaced with ‘mourning bands’. These were a similar size to standard bands but were folded over at each edge and had a pleat running down the centre of each band.

When King Charles II died in 1685, barristers observed Court Mourning in their usual way. However, this time, barristers never fully reverted to their old attire, despite the efforts of the Lord Chief Justice at the time. It would seem the mourning gowns were cheaper and lighter in weight than the fine black cloth ordinarily worn, and barristers didn’t really want to give them up. With the exception of Queen’s Counsel, who may wear silk gowns, barristers still wear black stuff mourning gowns as their standard garb.

The additional accoutrements of weepers and mourning bands still signify official Court Mourning for Queen’s Counsel and judges. Junior barristers may wear mourning bands but not weepers. Sir Henry Brooke recalls that as late as the second half of the twentieth century, Court Mourning would be declared every few years as the practice spread to embrace the death of more distant members of the Royal Family. However, it slowly became less common, with the last time he remembers mourning bands and weepers being worn in court being in 1991 to mark the death of King Olav V of Norway, the last surviving grandchild of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He recalls that by this time, the practice was so unfamiliar, one half of the judges were wearing their weepers the opposite way round to the other half, and the Lord Chief Justice’s office felt the need to issue an edict on the matter.

Although some barristers did wear mourning bands and weepers as an unofficial mark of respect following the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the court did not go into mourning. Similarly, periods of National Mourning and Royal Mourning were observed following the death of Prince Philip, but Court Mourning was not declared. It remains to be seen whether the practice of official Court Mourning has been abandoned entirely or if the wearing of mourning bands and weepers may become a matter of personal choice.

Ivy & Normanton mourning bands can be purchased here

Ivy & Normanton weepers can be purchased here

Ivy & Normanton mourning collarettes can be purchased here

Back to blog