24 May 2016

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Necklace

Queen Elizabeth II wears Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Necklace (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Happy birthday, Queen Victoria! Today, the iconic nineteenth-century monarch would have turned a spry 197 years old. To help her celebrate, here's a look at one of her jewels that is still worn regularly today: her Golden Jubilee Necklace. But although the piece has had an important, glittering royal history, its origins are muddled in political infighting and gossip. Scandalous!

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee procession (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Only two monarchs in British history -- Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II -- have celebrated Golden Jubilees. Queen Victoria's was an occasion full of suitably Victorian pomp and circumstance. The jubilee was celebrated in June of 1887; the royal banquet held at Buckingham Palace boasted a guest list of fifty foreign kings and princes.

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee portrait by Bassano, ca. 1887 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As you can probably imagine, the Queen was showered with presents. An committee calling themselves "the Women's Jubilee Offering" was formed by a group of aristocratic women in order to present the Queen with an especially grand present. They approached the Queen with a plan to sponsor a recreation of a Scottish equestrian statue of Prince Albert; the replica statue would be placed in Windsor Great Park. At this point, everything went swimmingly: the Queen approved, sufficient funds were raised, and the new statue was created by J.E. Boehm.

But the committee ended up raising too much money -- we're talking about 70,000 pounds too much! -- and that inevitably led to problems. The Queen wanted the excess funds to be donated to a charity of her choice, and the committee agreed. But some members within the Women's Jubilee Offering ranks had decided that some of this extra money should be used to give the Queen a piece of jewelry. The Queen also loved that idea, and the committee was split over whether to give all or some of the extra money to charity.

W.E. Lockhart's painting of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Finger pointing ensued. The Marquess of Salisbury -- who was the prime minister at the time, and whose wife was a key committee member -- blamed the Countess of Cork (the wife of a politician from the opposing party) for the fracas. If these names sound familiar, it's probably because the same people were involved in the contentious presentation of a diamond kokoshnik tiara to the Princess of Wales at virtually the same point in time.

And then, once the jewelry gift was essentially approved, the committee and the Queen couldn't agree upon exactly what kind of jewel should be presented. Initially, some committee members wanted to present her with a pearl necklace from Garrard, but that was vetoed because of the excessive cost. (The Marquess of Salisbury moaned that this "pearl necklace affair" was likely to be just as messy as the one that Marie Antoinette found herself involved in, which seems pretty hyperbolic, but what do I know?) The suggestion of a diamond badge that was connected to the Queen's chosen charitable fund (the St. Katherine's Fund for Nurses) was shot down by the Queen herself, who even said she'd trade in the badge for another piece of jewelry if it was given to her!

Queen Victoria photographed in the necklace by W.D. Downey, ca. 1897

The Queen's private secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby, entered into negotiations with the committee to settle the matter. They finally decided to set aside 5,000 pounds from the excess funds to commission a piece of jewelry. A diamond and pearl necklace was created by Carrington and Co.

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee necklace, worn by Queen Elizabeth II (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Carrington crafted the necklace out of diamonds and pearls set in gold. Hugh Roberts describes the necklace as having "eight graduated brilliant-set trefoil links, 12 smaller links and a snap, each centred by a graduated pearl, the crowned quatrefoil centre with pearl drop; the centre and six flanking links detachable for use as brooches or pins ... the necklace reduced by two small links at a later date."

Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

The necklace was presented to the Queen by the Duchess of Buccleuch on July 30, 1888, more than a full year after her actual Golden Jubilee celebrations. Roberts notes that Victoria "became very attached to the necklace." She designated it an heirloom of the crown, and it has passed through the royal generations to the present Queen, who wears it often at state occasions, especially the state opening of parliament.