13 May 2015

Jewel History: Queen Anne's Indifference to Jewels (1888)

"Queen Anne's Indifference to Jewels"
(originally appeared in the New York Times on 12 May 1888)

From the London Daily News -- The new volume of the reports of the Historical Manuscript Commission calendars the family papers of the Earl of Dartmouth [1]. Like most of its predecessors, it comprises many interesting historical anecdotes. One relating to Queen Anne [2], found in a manuscript volume in the handwriting of the first Earl, is highly characteristic of that sensible if somewhat prosaic sovereign.

Lord Dartmouth says that a little before she died, she told him that she had never bought any jewels for her own use in her life, looking upon them as "of all vanities the greatest," though she considered them proper for presents, because they comprise a great value in a small compass.

The same authority notes that when Governor Pitt [3] brought to this country from India the famous Regent Diamond [4], Harley, Earl of Oxford [5], brought this famous jewel to the Queen and told her that several gentlemen of the House of Commons thought it a pity it should go out of the kingdom, and had a mind to move the House to have it presented to Her Majesty.

Few ladies, probably, could have resisted so tempting an offer, but the homely Queen, according to this trustworthy authority, desired that her minister would stop the motion. She added that she "should be sorry to see the people's money thrown away upon such a bauble for her," and told the Earl of Dartmouth that it was "a much greater pity" that the Greenwich Hospital [6] was not finished.

About three years after the death of the Queen, Pitt's famous diamond was purchased by the Regent of France for the young King Louis XV, for the large sum of £135,000 [8].

1. Queen Anne created the Dartmouth earldom for William Legge, 2nd Baron Dartmouth, in 1711. The 1st Earl was Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and one of Queen Anne's confidants.
2. Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland (1665-1714) was the last monarch of the House of Stuart, reigning from 1702 to 1714. She had no living descendants, so when she died, the throne passed to her second cousin, King George I.
3. Thomas Pitt (1653-1726), was the Governor of Madras; he was also the grandfather of William Pitt, who served as Prime Minister under King George III.
4. The Regent Diamond was sold to Thomas Pitt by a merchant in India in 1701. There are several stories about where the merchant acquired the 410-carat diamond; one story says that it was found by a slave in a diamond mine and hidden until he could sell it, while another says that it was stolen from Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, ruler of Golconda. Pitt had the diamond recut into a 141-carat stone. He sold it to the Duke of Orléans, who was regent for the young Louis XV, and it became part of the French crown jewels, worn in coronation crowns by Louis XV and Louis XVI. Later, it was mounted in Napoleon's sword; today, it is in the Louvre, set in a tiara that was worn by Empress Eugenie.
5. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1661-1724) was one of Queen Anne's chief ministers.
6. Greenwich Hospital operated in London from 1692 until 1869. Its buildings are now part of the Old Royal Naval College.
7. In today's money, that would be somewhere in the ballpark of £17 million. The diamond is now said to be worth £48 million.