06 December 2017

Jewel History: Queens and Princesses Prize Their Engagement Rings (1934)

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, 1936 (Wikimedia Commons)

"Queens and Princesses Prize Their Engagement Rings"
(originally appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune, 15 Dec 1934)

The marriage of Princess Marina [1] has sent delvers back into history for comparisons. One such has taken up the subject of the engagement rings of royalty, for royal women are just as much attached to these marks of betrothal as are girls in shops and offices and mills.

Alexandra of Denmark as Princess of Wales, 1864 (Wikimedia Commons)

Queen Alexandra [2] had a large collection of magnificent jewels, among them some of the most valuable pearl necklaces and other ornaments in the world. But the jewel she prized above all was a gold ring set with a beryl, an emerald, a ruby, a topaz, a jacinth, and another emerald. The initial letters of the stones spelt out "Bertie" -- her name for her husband [3].

Queen Victoria [4] received from Prince Albert on her betrothal a ring set with the finest emeralds. It never left her finger, any more than her wedding ring, nor did a rather meagre-looking ring set with a small diamond, which her consort-to-be had given her while she was still a child [5]. The great Queen was buried still wearing these three rings.

Wedding of Princess Mary and Lord Lascelles, 1922 (Wikimedia Commons)

Emeralds appear in the engagement ring of the Princess Royal (Mary) [6] as well as that of her great-grandmother [7]. She received a huge, solitaire emerald, very valuable.

A queen who loved diamond rings was Anne of Denmark [8], the consort of James I. She had literally scores of these ornaments. An attendant about the court, called Margaret Hartsyde [9], evidently thought that one would not be missed out of so many, so she stole one and sold it to a jeweler. The theft was discovered; Margaret was tried and condemned to be banished to the Orkneys.

Queen Henrietta Maria by Sir Peter Lely, ca. 1660 (Wikimedia Commons)

Queen Henrietta Maria [10] had several rings made with her cipher in gold underneath a crystal cut like a diamond. These she gave to friends who lent her money to help the King's cause against the parliament. They were known as "the Queen's pledges" -- it being understood that when they were given back the money would be repaid.


1. Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-1968) married Prince George, Duke of Kent, son of King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom, on November 29, 1934.

2. Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925) was the queen consort of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

3. We discussed the Victorian fad for acrostic jewelry, including Alexandra's "Bertie" ring, in this previous post.

4. Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901) was queen regnant from 1837 until her death in 1901. In 1840, she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He gave her an engagement ring fashioned to look like a serpent, which we discussed in this post.

5. I don't know much about this "childhood" ring; other press reports from the time of Victoria's death also mention the ring, describing it as a gold and enamel ring set with a single, small diamond, stating that it was a present to -er from Albert during Albert's first visit to the United Kingdom in 1836. Victoria was definitely buried wearing the wedding ring Albert gave her; intriguingly, she was also buried with John Brown's mother's wedding ring. (John Brown was a servant who worked on the Balmoral estate; he and Victoria became very close during her widowhood, sparking rumors that they had a romance or even a secret marriage.) Mrs. Brown's wedding ring was wrapped in a paper package and hidden from view of the family beneath a bouquet of flowers, so they wouldn't see it while Victoria was lying in state.

6. Mary of the United Kingdom (1897-1965), daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, was made Princess Royal by her father in 1932. She was Countess of Harewood through her marriage to Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, in 1922.

7. The great-grandmother in question here was Queen Victoria; her serpent engagement ring (see note #4) was set with an emerald.

8. Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) was the queen consort of King James I of England (and VI of Scotland) and the mother of King Charles I.

9. The story of Margaret Hartsyde's alleged jewelry theft and subsequent trial in 1608 is true, but her sentence (banishment to the Orkney Islands in Scotland) was later overturned.

10. Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669) was the queen consort of King Charles I of England and the mother of King Charles II and King James II.