The Royal Crown jewels of France, worn by Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, which disappeared during the Revolution, are unveiled after being hidden from the public’s eye for 200 years.
The French Royal Crown jewels disappeared from the Palace of Versailles during the historic revolutionary uprising of the fish market women and men who marched nearly six hours in a rain storm to protest the royalist Bourbon repressive rule at the palace gates. After slashing the throats of the guards and breaking through the barrier, the gates gave way and the angry mob stormed the Chateau of Versailles, looted the royal treasures, and left a path of bloodshed in their wake.
The Hope Diamond, worn by King Louis XVI during ceremonial events and known in the 1700s as the French Blue, was among the magnificent jewels of the Bourbon family that went missing. The unique 67 1/8-carat violet-blue Hope diamond possesses an intense steely-blue color, which earned the unparalleled stone the name of the “Blue Diamond of the Crown” and the “French Blue.” In 1749 King Louis XV had the stone reset by his court jeweler, Andre Jacquemin, and fashioned the priceless gem into a ceremonial jewelry piece for the Order of the Golden Fleece.
After disappearing during the siege of the palace, the Royal Crown jewels of France’s royal family later resurfaced (see blog titled A Life of Luxury or a Living Nightmare) in England in the possession of King George IV. Rumors purported that the Queen secretly gave the jewels to her personal stylist Léonard Autié to smuggle from the palace in hopes of stashing away her rubies, emeralds, and diamonds for the royal family’s personal expenses when they escaped to another country or even for the purpose of funding a royalist army to counter the revolution. Léonard Autié, known for his creation of the infamous French pouf hairstyle, had access to the Queen during the days and hours just before the family was moved to the Tuileries, which served as the Temple prison of the royal family until the execution of the King and Queen in 1793 by the guillotine within ten months of each other.
In reality, history reveals that Marie Antoinette stored this cache of jewels in a wooden chest when she was preparing to escape from being imprisoned at the Tuileries in March of 1791. The jewels traveled covertly to Vienna in the possession of Count Mercy Argentau, the queen’s privately retained courier, for safekeeping in the Queen’s home country and place of birth, Austria.
These magnificent Royal Crown jewels, unseen in public for 200 years, were unveiled and sold by the premier auction house of Sotheby’s in Geneva on November 14, 2018. The jewels, worn by King Louis XIV, belonged to the Bourbon family, whose bloodline can be traced to the most influential rulers of Europe including the Bourbons of France and the Habsburgs of Austria.
The Bourbon family’s historic rule spans from the Kings of France and Spain to the Emperors of Austria and the Dukes of Parma. The Royal Crown jewels are the pride of the House of Habsburg. The Habsburg family, one of the most influential royal dynasties of Europe, occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (pictured below) and produced emperors and kings whose rule spanned Germany, England, Spain, Holland and Italy.
The amazingly beautiful pieces of the collection adorned the most infamous member of this royal family, the French Queen Marie Antoinette, the Habsburg daughter of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Teresa and wife of King Louis XVI.
Daniela Mascetti, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and Senior International Specialist describes the collection as such, “It is one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history. Never before seen in public, this extraordinary group of jewels offers a captivating insight into the lives of its owners going back hundreds of years. What is also striking is the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves: the precious gems they are adorned with and the exceptional craftsmanship they display are stunning in their own right.”
The striking luminescent beauty of the Royal Crown jewels are a testament to the superior craftsmanship of the time. Although crafted during the 1700s and earlier, each stone shows brilliant cut facets and rich coloring. The large natural pearl ear drops are a rare breathtaking sight to behold.
The jewels of the Austrian empire are notably among the most exquisite. The beautifully refined ruby and diamond brooch hair ornament shown below and pictured at the top of this blog, which sold for an estimated 375,000 francs at auction in Geneva on November 14, 2018, was given by the Archduke of Austria to his daughter, the Archduchess Maria Anne of Austria, the Princess Elie deBourbon-Parme (born 1882, deceased 1940) in 1905 to commemorate the birth of her son Charles.
The fleur de lys diamond royal crown tiara shown below contains pear-shaped and rose cut diamonds. Each of the three fleur de lys motifs may be detached and worn separately as a brooch. The diamond fleur de lys tiara was originally created for Charles X, King of France (1757-1836) and was recently sold at auction in 2018 for 975,000 Swiss Francs or $967,000 (Conversion as of May 15, 2019 at 1 USD = 1.00833 CHF; 1 CHF = 0.991740 USD).
Interestingly, another famous crown tiara that can be dismantled to serve the dual purpose of a necklace is the English Queen Mary Fringe Tiara, also known as the Hanoverian Fringe Tiara or the King Georg III Fringe Tiara. The pillared tiara diamonds (shown in the forefront below) can be removed from the crown base, inverted, and worn as a stunning diamond fringe necklace. Originally crafted in 1919 for Queen Mary, the Queen Mary Fringe tiara was worn by both Queen Elizabeth and her daughter Princess Anne on their wedding days.
The stunning collection of the Crown Jewels of France are on display at the Louvre and shown below. The display showcases the royal diadem and Crown of Empress Eugenie on the left front. In the center is the jewelry parure set of Queen Marie Amélie. The crown of Louis XV is viewable on the right in the rear with the diadem of Marie Thérèse (Madame Royale), the daughter of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louix XVI, prominently displayed in forefront. Marie Thérèse (Madame Royale) upon marriage to Louis Antoine of France, Duke of Angoulême, became the Duchess of Angoulème.
Upon close examination visible below, the jewels embellishing the crown of King Louis XVI appear no less striking:
The French crown of King Louis XV is shown below in a painting along with the sword of Charlemagne, which is believed to have been used at the coronation of French kings since the 12th century. The sword is said to be that of Charles the Great/Charlemagne, who reunited and ruled over Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and became the most powerful ruler in Europe. His vast kingdom encompassed what is now France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and the Low Countries or the coastal region of northwestern Europe known as Belgium, the Netherlands, ad Luxembourg.
Notice how the royal jewels of King Louis XV’s crown appear to be more visually irregular in shape than the diamonds that make up the Queen’s parure or jewelry set, which are displayed in a close-up photo below:
We are able to trace the parure set pieces to see Marie Antoinette wearing the striking royal blue sapphire and diamond jewel brooch as an embellishment in the painting on the left (below). On the right, we see the Queen wearing a lovely pearl necklace dripping with natural pearl drops draped around her neck.
Source left photo: Musée Antoine-Lécuyer. By Unknown, possibly Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty (Musée Antoine-Lécuyer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3875679
Source right photo: Queen Marie Antoinette of France, daughter of Empress Maria Theresia of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor Franz I. Stephan of Austria, 1786, Istituto d’ arte, Detroit. By Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun http://www.ladyreading.net/marieantoinette/big/marie13.jpg, Public Domain
Yet all does not end well for the most ostentatious king and queen of France. A tragic ending befell Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, who were both sentenced to death and executed by the guillotine in a bloody public display in 1793 within 10 months of each other. The next in line to the royal throne and heir, the Queen and King’s 10-year-old son Louis XVII, also died isolated and alone in captivity from disease, abuse and neglect while imprisoned in the Temple Prison.
In 1795, the only surviving daughter, Marie-Thérèse, also known as Madame Royale, who had been of the tender young age of 13 when she was imprisoned, was finally released after lengthy negotiations by the Emperor of Austria of her mother’s home country. After three long years of imprisonment and solitary confinement in the Temple Prison, Madame Royal survived captivity and was released at the age of 17 then escorted out of France to the safe haven of Austria. Upon arrival in Vienna, Austria in January of 1796, Madame Royale was able to reclaim her family’s jewels that had been safely kept by her cousin, the Austrian Emperor; thereby gaining some financial security since both parents were dead. In Vienna, Madame Royal received a select few visitors but was known to be extremely generous toward royal sympathizers who had suffered as a result of the revolution, frequently giving away her excess funds to those in need.
The Royal Sapphire tiara of the French Royal Crown collection has periodically made its debut on various French queens and women of the Bourbon line as seen below. The Queen Marie-Amélie’s Sapphire and Diamond Parure worn by Queen Marie and Princess Isabelle is believed to be the original jewels of Empress Joséphine, wife of Emperor Napoléon I. Queen Marie-Amélie de Bourbon acquired the exquisite parure set when Empress Joséphine’s daughter sold the set to the Queen’s husband, King Louis-Philippe of France in 1821. The set remained with the royal French family until it was sold to the Louvre in 1985. The blue sapphire and diamond white gold tiara contains several large blue sapphires from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and can be dismantled so that several pieces can be worn separately as brooches. The tiara at one point was much larger but has been reduced in size.
In the next installment, we will begin to briefly explore the life of Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie Therese Charlotte of France, the dauphine of France. As the only surviving member of the family and daughter of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, her life of imprisonment, exile, and loss of both parents is a tragic story of suffering and a life-long struggle.
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Lorrie Anne is a historical author who loves palaces, balls with beautiful French gowns, eating tea and crumpets, and basically anything a royal princess would do. She is fascinated with Marie Antoinette, Queen Victoria, and the Empress Sissi of Austria. She loves traveling around Europe and writing about the many places she visits to share the fascinating stories of history with you.
More information about Lorrie Anne can be found on her website at LorrieAnne.com, Facebook, and Twitter. Lori is always glad to hear from readers and history enthusiasts.
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