31 March 2015

Jewel History: Bottled Note Tells of Eugenie's Jewels (1913)

"Bottled Note Tells of Eugenie's Jewels"
(originally appeared in the New York Times, 30 Mar 1913)

PARIS, March 29 -- Historians are greatly puzzled over a remarkable document, found this week by a soldier at Mont Louis in the Eastern Pyrenees.

The paper, which was found in a bottle, was dated to the 4th of September, 1870, the memorable day on which the Third Republic was established, and Empress Eugenie fled from Paris. It purports to give a list of jewels brought to the Empress by Senor Manuel Perez of Madrid, to be handed over to her in Paris.

The Empress is referred to throughout by her maiden name of the Countess de Montijo [1].

The total value of the jewels and other articles enumerated is given as $1,350,000, and among the separate items mentioned are two pearl bracelets, given to the Empress by Queen Victoria and worth $130,000; a pearl and diamond necklace, presented by the Czar of Russia, and worth $100,000; and Bank of France bills for $400,000.

Careful search around the spot where the bottle was found revealed the presence of human bones, and the discovery, if genuine, has all the elements of a romantic mystery.

The identity of Manuel Perez, who is described as bringing the valuables from Madrid, has not yet been cleared up [2].

1. Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, was born María Eugenia de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick. She was the daughter of Don Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero, Count de Montijo and his wife, María Manuela Kirkpatrick de Grivegnée. Eugenie's elder sister married the Duke of Alba, and their descendants still hold that title today.
2. Stories about hidden royal treasure are almost always too good to be true, and this one is no exception. The hidden "Empress Eugenie jewel inventory" was apparently a fairly common scheme to dupe vulnerable "discoverers" in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Spain; an article published that April notes that the inventory "has within the last 40 years been found again and again." For even more, see Edward Legge's book on the Second Empire, which discusses the historical jewel swindle in detail. If you were planning on heading out to search the Pyrenees for the empress's missing jewels, unpack your bags, please! :-)