Monday, February 27, 2012

A Diamond Jubilee

Victoria Regina, 1837

"To be a King and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it 
than it is pleasant to them that bear it."  Queen Elizabeth I

In the autumn of 2000, I volunteered in a local museum as head of their special programs, which was an attempt at community outreach.  My first programmed events celebrated the reign of Queen Victoria, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of her death in January, 2001.  I presented four weekly lectures dealing with her legacy, and launched the series with a talk on the private jewelry of the Queen—not the crown jewels, rather, the jewels which adorn the monarch and are her's to do with as she likes.  This is a private inheritance, which began with Victoria, and has grown into an enormous collection from the bequests of subsequent queens. These talks were an enormous success and led to several repeat performances with other interested groups.  Last April, as part of the excitement leading up to the marriage of Prince William of Wales to Kate Middleton, I repeated the presentation at our community library.

What is it about the relationship of jewelry and majesty?  Ask any youngster to draw a picture of a monarch and invariably they will produce a crown.  Is it the permanence of the material, its intrinsic value or its historical connections that intrigue us?

With only six weeks until I lead my Costume & Textile Tour to the U.K., my thoughts are turning to the upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebrations of our current Queen.  She is only the third monarch to reach this milestone and museums like Kensington Palace are preparing exhibitions to transport us back to Victoria's London of 1897.  This exhibit promises to be a fascinating look at the magic inherent in majesty and hopefully will offer insights into why 21st century people continue to care.

Today's blog is concerned with Victoria herself.  Her diaries, started before she became queen, have provided historians with a rich resource about the psychology of the girl, woman, mother, queen, and empress.  Assuming the throne against great odds and inheriting a discredited monarchy, Victoria came to define an age and restore an institution.

Inherited Jewels:  The Hanoverian Collection

As the grand-daughter of George III, Victoria inherited the throne in 1837.  She did so after the reign of her two uncles, George IV and William IV.  Neither of these men did much for the reputation of the British monarchy and, in fact, George IV has the dubious reputation of being the most despised monarch in recent memory.  An incredible spendthrift, his legacy to the royal collections of furnishings, paintings, and architectural renovations is more significant than any political contribution he made to the country.  In fact, not since Louis XIV of France, has a country been brought so close to financial ruin because of its monarch's selfishness.  Victoria's two predecessors, who were so financially strapped, were in the habit of renting jewels for their coronations, but Victoria had her's set permanently and symbolically into her state crown, to signify the permanence of her new reign.  While some early jewels were inherited through her Hanoverian relatives, few would remain in her possession due to revisions in Germanic inheritance laws that would rule in favor of her uncle. Coupled with that fact, her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, died intestate, meaning that few jewels ended up in the new queen's possession.

George IV Diadem
One of the most recognizable of the early jewels in the Queen's possession is the George IV diadem.  Designed for his coronation in 1820, it was rejected by the King as being unsuitable.  The circlet symbolically contains representations of thistles for Scotland, shamrocks for Ireland, and the Tudor rose and cross of St. George for England. It was worn for the first time at Victoria's coronation and has only been worn by subsequent queens—both monarchs and consorts.  It appeared on the first postage stamp in 1840, in numerous portraits, and has come to represent majesty more than any other jewel in the collection. In her will, Victoria would leave this piece to the Crown in her will for the use of future queens, as she did with all the pieces you will see in this posting.  It may very well be the same diadem referred to in the portrait above, but if you look closely, the painter has failed to accurately portray it.

William IV bar brooches
In many portraits, like the one above, and photographs of the Queen, you can see these bar brooches used to secure her garter sash.  Originally two separate pieces, she would have them reset as a double bar brooch.

Wheat ear brooches.
In 1830, King William IV ordered six brooches that could also be worn as hair ornaments.  Once again the source of these stones were his father's collection. Victoria can be seen wearing them along the neckline of her dresses in many official photographs, throughout the latter part of her reign.

William IV Brooch
Six large brilliants and a number of smaller stones were reclaimed by King William IV from a diamond studded Badge of the Order of Bath that had once belonged to his father George III.
William IV Tassel Brooch

The Early Days: Marriage & Acquisitions

Victoria's Prince Albert had been credited with assembling her pieces of jewelry into more impressive matching suites, or parures, and redesigning some of the old fashioned ornaments to make them more consistent with contemporary taste.  She loved heavy ornate styles which suited the ever-increasing width of the fashion silhouette; this can still be seen in examples that survive in the current collection.  As Victoria was particularly fond of diamonds, she even favored the colour pink for her evening gowns for she felt it set off the stones to their best advantage. Whatever the occasion, she was bedecked with jewels.  On her fingers and thumbs she wore numerous rings; brooches and pins decorated her corsage, veils, and hair. She also wore large pendant drops or chandelier style earrings. Entire suites, like the magnificent amethysts she inherited from her mother, the Duchess of Kent, presented a wealth of options.  A dummy head of the type used in a milliner's shop, was kept in her dressing room where she and her dresser would audition pieces to decorate her bonnets and veils.
Early lithograph of Victoria
Wedding day.  February 10, 1840
Aa an engagement gift from Prince Albert to his bride, this large oblong sapphire and diamond brooch has since been referred to in the family as "Albert's Brooch."  While Albert was alive, she would wear it consistently, along with an earlier bracelet that sported his painted portrait (See lithograph above). You can see it pinned to her breast in the painting below by Sully. After Albert's death in 1861, she would seldom wear it again.  Albert would have five copies made as gifts for each of their daughters. Queen Elizabeth would later purchase one of these for her daughter, Princess Anne, when it came up for auction.
Albert's Brooch
Emerald Tiara
The emerald and diamond tiara seen above is a piece that has stayed packed away for many generations, until recently placed on view at the Queen's Gallery, for an exhibition on royal jewelry. Below, Victoria wears it rather far back on her head, almost as a wreath around her chignon.  Albert's brooch can be seen pinned to her corsage and she wears her wedding dress.  This piece was obviously a favorite and can be seen in numerous images throughout the 1840's and 1850's.  Its origins are unknown to me.
Detail of Emerald Tiara

Lithograph 1850
The Hanoverian George III Diamond Fringe tiara, another inherited piece from Uncle William, can be seen in the portrait by Winterhalter below.  This piece can be worn as both a tiara and a necklace.  It was first worn by Victoria on an official visit to an opera in 1839.  This particular painting commemorates the Duke of Wellington presenting a gift to his godson Prince Arthur. Albert's portrait bracelet can be seen on her wrist.
"The First of May" 1851, Winterhalter

Throughout the 1840's and '50's, Victoria amassed some of her greatest pieces.  While other monarchies were disappearing across Europe, she demonstrated a confidence in her ability to continue to acquire fine jewels.  Made in 1858 and containing 28 collet stones, this set of necklace and earrings has been much admired by subsequent Queens. The source of the stones is said to be from a Garter Badge and ceremonial sword. Like so many pieces created by Victoria in the collection, the source of the gemstones is often repurposed from older or irrelevant pieces.  It demonstrates a frugality that was not apparent in her uncles' dealings. The necklace totals 161 carats, with the largest stones weighing between 8.25 and 11.25 carats apiece.  The pendant stone, known as the Lahore diamond, as well as the stones for the earrings, came from the Timur ruby necklace, taken from the Indian treasury in 1851.  These were then presented to the Queen by the Honourable East India Company.

Queen Victoria's Collet Necklace & Earrings

Queen Victoria's Bow Brooches, 1858
In May 1858, Garrad was commissioned to make a set of three bow brooches, two large and one small, out of 506 diamonds.  These brooches were worn by both Queens Alexandra and Mary at their coronations.
Queen Victoria's Stud Earrings

India and Imperial Majesty

As early as 1850, a wealth of gemstones came into the royal collection through Victoria's empire.  Lord Dalhousie, on behalf of the East India Company, presented her with the Koh-I-Noor diamond, also known as the Mountain of Light.  The presentation was to commemorate the 250th anniversary of its founding by Queen Elizabeth I.  The stone has since been set into the state crown of the late Queen mother, the last English monarch to have been crowned Empress of India.  It has remained there and probably will always.  It is also considered bad luck for a male to wear it.  The first record of it is in 1112CE and was reported to weigh 793 carats in the rough.  It once belonged to Shah Jahan, the man who built the Taj Mahal to honour his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Victoria wore this stone in a brooch setting to the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851.  

Victoria received many gifts of gemstones during her reign, but none so magnificent as those from India in 1876 when she was proclaimed "Empress." Bags of unset stones came to the queen, along with jeweled harnesses and other trappings more suitable to the stables of the Shah's, than to the carriage of a queen.  These later would provide another mined source for the future Queens Alexandra and Mary. Once set with opals and later replaced with rubies by Queen Alexandra—who considered the former unlucky—, the regal Indian tiara was made for Victoria in 1853.  It contains 2,678 diamonds and 17 replacement rubies from a necklace presented by Sir Jung Bahadore of Nepal to the Prince of Wales, in 1875/6.  It was a particular favorite of the late Queen Mother and has been associated with her ever since. The more delicate settings favored in the 1880's and '90's can be attributed to the interest generated in the bounty from Indian potentates.

Regal Indian Tiara, 1853
352 carat Timur Ruby known as, "Tribute to the World"

More delicate Indian settings 

The Jubilees:  50 & 60 years on the Throne

With the death of her beloved Prince Albert, Victoria retired from society and closed the lid on the cases of her many jewels. These would be brought out for official portraits only; in private, she preferred more sentimental pieces.  She continued to mark significant events in her family with gifts of jewels, some rather macabre: mounted stags horn, baby teeth or even a glass representation of Prince Albert's eye would be given to children and grandchildren from their dear grandmama. 
The Golden Jubilee, 1887
Victoria's Golden Jubilee Necklace
"In for a penny, in for a pound."  It became the rallying cry for the "Women of the British Empire."  A campaign designed to allow all women of varying economical backgrounds to contribute to a suitable gift for their sovereign. Enough money was collected to pay for the commission of an equestrian statue of Victoria's beloved Prince Consort, with the remainder used to pay for this remarkable necklace which was presented to the Queen on June 24, 1887. The design is of graduated diamond trefoils around a pearl center. The centerpiece with drop pendant is removable and can be worn as a separate brooch.
Diamond Jubilee, 1897

Diamond Jubilee Brooch

A Royal Legacy
Victoria's collection continues to be worn and enjoyed by subsequent generations. Inheritances and gifts continue to enlarge the private Royal Collection which is now of incalculable value, from an intrinsic, stylistic, and historical perspectives. While the current Queen Elizabeth II professes to take little pleasure in acquiring gemstones, she does concede to the value they provide in the trappings of monarchy.  She sees herself as a custodian of these jewels for future generations and will probably, like her foremothers, enlarge the Royal Collection through bequests. 
Queen Elizabeth, 1937/8
Indian Tiara and William IV Tassel brooch
Princess Elizabeth in borrowed Hanoverian Fringe Tiara
The Queen, in Albert's brooch