Sunday, January 3, 2010

Queen Victoria's Jewels

By on Sunday, January 03, 2010 4 Comments

The Young VictoriaI'm a sucker for historical biopics as most of you already suspect. For anglophiles like me, a wonderful treat is at hand - a new historical and romantic biopic, the Young Queen Victoria currently in limited release in North America.

Watch the trailer and see a little of why Debbie (my friend and co-instructor) and I enjoyed the movie - authentic sets including Westminster Abbey, jewelry, period costumes and excellent acting. BTW, the Duchess of York was a producer. Princess Beatrice had a small role as one of the ladies in the coronation procession early in the film.
It stars Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend (Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice) in the title roles. Miranda Richardson plays her mother the Duchess of Kent, Jim Broadbent as King William IV and Paul Bettany as Viscount Melbourne - the first Prime Minister to serve under her reign. The film covers the early part of her life from the time just before her coronation to the birth of her first child. The film has some  inaccuracies but it really does a great job at portraying Queen Victoria other than as an old widow dressed in black.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) inherited the British throne because King George IV and William IV , her father's older brothers had no surviving heirs. Her father, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, died not long after she was born. Her childhood was so restrictive Victoria herself described it as "rather melancholy". To say her mother, the Duchess of Kent (shown on the left with little Victoria), was overprotective is an understatement. This mother of all controlling mothers and her Comptroller of the household, the Sir John Conroy, devised the much hated Kensington System - onerous rules designed to completely control Victoria as she grew up. The Duchess wanted to make sure "nothing and no one should be able to tear the daughter away from her." She was never ever left alone and had to share her room with her mother - her governess, Baroness Lehzen, sat with her until the Duchess retired to bed. She even had to come downstairs holding someone's hand in case she fell. A prolific diarist since age 13, Victoria learned not to write down everything she felt because her mother and governess read every word.  But the young Victoria was no pushover. She was stubborn and  feisty despite her diminutive stature. Her mother complained, "She drives me at times to real desperation." Unfortunately, the Duchess, who feared losing her influence over her daughter, turned more and more to Conroy for help and emotional support. Conroy was rumored to be her lover and was not trustworthy. He was ambitious for power and attempted to browbeat Victoria into signing a document to make him her adviser and treasurer (not co-regent, as in the movie). Both the Duchess and Conroy tried to take advantage when she was sick with typhoid but as she said, "I resisted in spite of my illness and their harshness."  
Victoria receives the news she is Queen from
Lord Conyngham (left) and the Archbishop of Canterbury
King William IV, her uncle, also had a dim view of the Duchess and luckily managed to live just long enough for Victoria to turn 18. She was no longer a minor when she ascended the throne so she didn't need her mother as regent. One of her first acts as Queen was to request for an hour alone and to have her bed moved from her mother's room. Her mother was assigned to a distant room and Conroy was eventually pensioned off as a baronet. When Victoria married a few years later and no longer needed to live with her mother as custom dictated, the Duchess had to leave the palace. But later, with the urging of Prince Albert, mother and daughter were reconciled.
Victoria was inexperienced and unprepared to be Queen. So she leaned heavily on Lord Melbourne the first of a long line of Prime Ministers in her 63-year reign. He was the leader of the Whig party and in his fifties (not as young as depicted in the film). Despite a tragic private life, he was still charming and witty who delighted his young Queen. They became friends as he taught her the ins and outs of politics. But she had to learn the hard way she could not show favoritism to any one party as Queen. She refused to dismiss the Whig appointed ladies of her bedchamber and replace them with Tory party ones when Lord Melbourne was no longer Prime Minister. It led to the infamous Bedchamber Crisis in 1839 when the new Prime Minister, Robert Peel, resigned. She became very unpopular with her subjects. People heckled her as "Mrs Melbourne". After she married Prince Albert and he became her adviser, she learned to compromise and be impartial. She also turned to her uncle King Leopold I of Belgium (her mother's brother), a consummate politician and his right hand man, Baron Stockmar for advice. It was her much loved uncle who suggested she marry her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg - not only because he thought they would suit but because he needed a much stronger Britain as an ally and Albert would be in a position of influence. Victoria first met him when they were both 17. She found Albert "...extremely handsome; his hair is about the same color as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression, which is most delightful." She was to be very thankful to Uncle Leopold, adding, "He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy."  Totally smitten, she was.
Victoria proposed (the royal prerogative) when they met again at 20. "Oh! To feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel. He is perfection." was what she wrote in her diary. He gave her a magnificent brooch as a wedding present - a large sapphire surrounded by 12 diamonds - a facsimile is in the movie scene of their wedding. She wore it on the front of her wedding dress and it became one of her favorite jewels. In turn, she gave him a diamond star, a badge and the diamond garter. It started as a politically motivated alliance but the marriage proved to be a happy one. Victoria was very lucky in her choice of husband.  Albert was devoted to her and never strayed. Perhaps something of his own past made him an exemplary husband and father. His father was a libertine. His mother abandoned the unhappy marriage for another man when Albert was only 4. He never saw her again.
Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Marrying a queen was not easy. Albert was a remarkable man who explained his unique position very well - "I am very happy and contented; but the difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house." But with time and with his wife`s encouragement, this intelligent, progressive and scientifically minded man took on public roles leading educational, technological, welfare and anti-slavery reforms. The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 was his shining glory. He also counseled and helped his wife with her duties and reorganized the royal household and finances. They both redeemed the royal family image because Albert emphasized strong moral and family values unlike the previous two scandal ridden reigns.
Victoria had an enormous collection of jewelry - impressive state jewels and as well as sentimental trinkets. One of her favorites was this lovely  Emerald and Diamond Tiara. It was designed by Albert himself in the Gothic revival style early in their marriage. He was clearly a man of many talents. He designed most of her tiaras, a number of the jewelry pieces for his daughters and even upon occasion, their dresses.This particular tiara is apparently not amongst the British Crown Jewels and is currently owned by a descendant. Victoria treasured every jewelry piece he designed. She wrote in 1846, "My beloved one gave me such a lovely unexpected present - a wreath, going right around the head, made to match the brooch and earrings he gave me at Christmas." Albert also played a role in the re-cutting of the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond in 1852 by organizing the scientific and professional lapidary consultations. The end result was a great disappointment to him and to others. The stone is now set in the Maltese cross of one of the British Royal crowns. Had he lived longer, he would likely have played a pivotal role in the resetting of later gems which were given as Imperial tributes from the British Empire.
Victorian jewelry styles can be divided into 3 major periods - romantic, grand and aesthetic. The romantic jewelry of the early years (1837-1860) when Victoria was so happily married were the sentimental sort - love tokens, souvenirs, lockets bearing hair or small photos and other mementos. Real hair jewelry was very popular (see my past post, Hair Jewelry: Past and Present) - Victoria herself made a number from her own hair as gifts including a bracelet for her beloved governess. She was such a passionate and emotional woman - she was so taken with Scotland after a holiday, she even had the beach pebbles Albert picked up set in silver and deer teeth from his hunts mounted in jewelry pieces!
Both Victoria and Albert were doting parents. Albert in particular took a great interest in the upbringing of their children. He was a kind and patient father who enjoyed boisterous games and did his best for his kids. In the first 10 years of marriage, Victoria delivered 7 of their 9 children! There was an assassination attempt (one of many) on her life during her first pregnancy. Albert was credited with considerable courage and coolness during this attack. Unlike the movie, where Albert was wounded, neither were hurt.
Family portrait picture source
Victoria found the strain of being wife, mother and Queen exhausting. Her frequent pregnancies made her cantankerous. She called him "her Angel" and he had to be one to put up with her volatility.  One awful period was when he bore the brunt of her extreme irritability caused by worry over baby Leopold, their sickly son, who turned out to be a hemophiliac. When he was 42, already unwell, he first took on many of her duties when she grieved at her mother's passing. Then he went to see their second born and eldest son, the future King Edward VII, in Cambridge to talk some sense into the young man. Edward was seeing an Irish actress and was being totally indiscreet. Albert died of typhoid fever after that trip which threw Victoria into deep mourning for the rest of her life. In one stroke, she had lost someone who understood her completely and was her other half in the true sense of the word. She enshrined Albert's memory in many ways like including a bust of him in family portraits. She also wore his portrait miniature as jewelry (see her bracelet below). Her unremitting black attire spawned a whole new jewelry line - mourning jewelry (see my past post on Victorian Jet jewelry). From the young queen who loved color, all her jewels changed to black. Onyx, Whitby jet, black glass became proper for the first year of mourning. Second mourning jewelry for the court and family were "white necklaces and earrings" - pearls and diamonds.    References ______________________________ Original Post by THE BEADING GEM Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 



  1. Oh...I LOVED this post Pearl...I'm also a huge sucker for these these types of movies...I can't wait to see this movie!!!!!!
    Thanks for making me aware...I'm not one for going to the movies...


  2. Wonderful article. Thank you so much! Your blog is one of the first I read every day and I enjoy it tremendously.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to tell me you enjoyed this bejeweled biography!

  4. Utterly fascinating story! LOVED IT!