Sunday, February 28, 2010

Queen Alexandra's Jewels

By on Sunday, February 28, 2010 9 Comments

Edwardian Beauties
Part 2 of 2
Princess Alexandra of Denmark, known as Alix, was just 16 when she was chosen as the bride for the future Edward VII of the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria (see my past bejeweled biography) was getting desperate as Bertie, as her eldest son and heir was known as, was sowing his wild oats rather too liberally. Indeed she blamed Bertie for the death of her beloved Albert. He therefore had to marry. Quickly.

Bertie had an eye for pretty women so Alix was an excellent choice in that regard.  She was lovely to behold, graceful, affectionate and charming. Alix was to become a popular Princess of Wales and Queen Consort. Those closest to her - her ladies-in-waiting and her household staff all adored her.

Although she was a member of the Danish royal family, Alix and her siblings were not spoiled. She and her favorite sister, Dagmar, called Minnie by the family (who became Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia) even sewed her wedding trousseau together.

She had a happy upbringing but was barely educated. Her own father described her as a "good child, not brilliant, but with a will of her own." Her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, was more to the point, "Clever, I don't think she is." But her personality and sense of style was to endear her to many. She charmed everyone when she first arrived in England wearing a dove-grey dress, purple mantle and her homemade bonnet.  She was to reuse that color palette of mauve or lavender and grey with the white of pearls and diamonds to great effect in later years.

18-year-old Alexandra had to spend several weeks with Queen Victoria before the wedding in 1863. The latter thoroughly approved of her when Alexandra burst into tears after a whole evening reliving Prince Albert`s death!  It was not clear whether it was with relief the evening was over or she was genuinely empathic!

While Princess Alexandra was deemed a success, the same could not be said for her intended as far as his mama was concerned. Bertie's parents continually despaired over the Prince of Wales all through his childhood and adolescence. Lazy and not as bright as his older sister, Vicky, he chaffed at the harsh attempts to mold him into a mini Prince Albert. Alas, he wasn't much like his father - he was more like his mother. He was at heart a sensitive soul. It is hard to understand how an intelligent man like Prince Albert could have so mishandled the education of his wife's heir.  But Bertie did grow up with impeccable manners and to be very good with people. He had a common touch - the ability to treat people alike no matter what station in life.

Prince Albert Edward and Princess Alexandra on their wedding day in 1863

Bertie was smitten with his young bride. He wrote to his mother, "I frankly avow to you, that I did not think it possible to love a person as I do her."  Alix on her part fell for him too - he was definitely a ladies' man. Bertie was very lucky because there were only 7 princesses at the time he could marry and Alix turned out to be the right princess for him. Alix wasn't perfect - she was notoriously unpunctual while he preferred meticulous timing. She was even late for her own wedding. She also regularly overspent as she lacked any understanding of money matters.

As Queen Victoria had withdrawn from public view, this royal couple became the social leaders, entertaining with lavish style. Apart from standing in for his mother at official occasions, Bertie was effectively barred from anything meaningful including  preparation for his future role as king. So he indulged - rich food, fine clothes, wine, cigars and women - as if in recompense for a childhood without play. Queen Victoria continued to mistrust him and thought him frivolous.  As for Alix, dealing with her difficult mother-in-law generally meant doing what she was told for a while before reverting to doing exactly what she liked.

Alix enjoyed socializing as much as Bertie likely because she had such a quiet and boring upbringing. But she had to cut back after she became seriously ill with a painful bout of rheumatic fever when she was in her twenties. It left her with an inflexible knee and made her limp. Due to a hereditary condition, she was also profoundly deaf by her thirties.


Many, many jewels were to come her way during her lifetime starting with the Dagmar necklace which was  given to her by Frederick VII, King of Denmark - her father's predecessor - as a wedding gift. A 118 pearl and 2000 diamond vision in  multiple swags! (picture source)

One of the first pieces of jewelry she received was from the Prince of Wales. The necklace was that typically Victorian sentimental jewelry style with the gems themselves spelling out his name Bertie - Beryl, Emerald, Ruby, Turquoise, Jacinth and Emerald. His wedding present to her was a delicate looped pearl and diamond necklace which, decades later, was to be a favorite piece of another Queen Consort, the late Queen mother.


Alix was a fashion trendsetter in her day.  She was very self-conscious of a small scar on her neck. When she was younger, her ringlets hid it. But when her hair was swept up, she started to wear multi-stranded choker necklaces (see picture below). The style remained popular for 50 years.  The 19th century fashionistas also copied her limping gait which must have looked bizarre en masse!


What is amazing is the amount of jewelry she managed to pile on.  Not just several necklaces but loads of brooches on her bodice! Of all her jewelry, perhaps the loveliest is her famous Cartier Collier Resille necklace which you can see in the picture below.  A personal favorite was her serpent bracelet which she often wore (see top picture). In private though, she wore little jewelry. She also had quite a vast paste (fake) jewelry collection probably because she disliked wearing heavy jewels. Notice her tiny waist? Women then had to wear corsets for that hour glass look. No wonder they had such regal postures!

Alix was Princess of Wales for an astonishing 38 years - from 1863 to 1901. So she had no access to the Royal Jewels until she became queen at 57 . However, she did receive many fabulous gemstones and bejeweled objects when her husband went on an Indian tour in 1875 with an all male entourage of his cronies.  Perhaps it was a fair compensation because she never forgave him for leaving her behind!

They weren't particularly close as a couple but the marriage was happy. There was rarely a cross word exchanged. They had 6 children and were affectionate and indulgent parents. Queen Victoria disapproved of their parenting style - as she did on a great many things. She deplored the lack of discipline.

Alix and Bertie tragically lost 2 sons. Their youngest, Prince John, was born prematurely and died when he was only a day old.  Bertie and Alix were heartbroken. Bertie himself placed their infant into the tiny coffin with tears running down his face. When they lost their eldest son at 28 due to pneumonia, Bertie spoke for both of them, " To lose our eldest son is one of those calamities one can never really get over".  Alix took this loss very hard. The wayward brothel hopping Prince Albert Victor was her favorite.  She loved him unconditionally and after his death,  kept his room and his things just as he left them; rather like Queen Victoria did with Prince Albert's possessions.

Bertie himself nearly died a couple of times. Once from typhoid, the disease which felled his father. On the eve of his coronation, he contracted appendicitis and had to be operated on. They were anxious times for Alix, his mother and the nation.

Alix was remarkably tolerant of his many extramarital affairs throughout their marriage. Her initial shock gave way to acceptance as such relationships were common among their set. She even enjoyed the company of some of his paramours.   His many beautiful mistresses included Lillie Langtry, his first "official" one and Alice Keppel,  his last. Alice Keppel was the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall. Through it all she maintained her dignity by not making a fuss while Bertie was, in most part, discrete.


Portrait of Edward VII in coronation robesEdward VII in coronation robes via WikipediaAfter Queen Victoria died in 1901, Bertie and Alix were crowned King and Queen the following year. Even at the coronation, his "loose box of mistresses" were there! Alix was the picture of poise and composure as she knelt in prayer while the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury accidentally dripped anointing oil down her nose! After her crowning, all the Peeresses simultaneously placed their own coronets (small crowns) on their heads - graceful gestures with long white gloves and the rustling of silk dresses.


In her later years, she enjoyed the company of her grandchildren. She also did a lot of charity work for the London Hospital. She founded the Queen Alexandra Military Nursing Service. A testament to her generosity and kindness was her visit to see the Elephant Man, the unfortunate Joseph Merrick. She wanted to talk to him and cheer him up. She never failed to send him Christmas cards for years, each with a hand written message, until he died. Like a latter day Princess of Wales, she too was a people's Princess.

Alas, Bertie, a gargantuan eater (5 hearty meals a day) and a smoker succumbed to heart disease in 1910. He was king for less than a decade. The Edwardian era was indeed a very short one.

Alix went with her friend, Lord Esher, to view the king's body one last time before the funeral. He was surprised at her gaiety until it occurred to him that for the first time in her almost 50 year marriage, Bertie was all hers with nary a mistress in sight. She had the last word too, "After all, he loved me best. "

Alix was in very poor health towards the end of her life. But unlike her husband she ate like a bird. She maintained not just her figure but her looks. The photograph on the left shows her two years before she died at age 80 in 1925 of a heart attack.

References 
Suzy Menkes  The Royal Jewels
Eleanor Herman Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge
Richard Hough Victoria and Albert
 
For more tutorials check out my Jewelry Making Tips
Liked what you read? Don't miss a post!
Subscribe via RSS OR Via Email* It's FREE!
*Click on the link in the confirmation email to activate subscription

Be a Fan!

Share

9 comments:

  1. I love everything about the British Royal Family! This was a great write up. I read once that when Alix got married she pinned just about the entire royal jewelry collection on. She surely must have been a vision in her jewels.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Amy! Yes, I am astonished she got away with so much jewelry! Another one who did was her daughter-in-law, Queen Mary.

    ReplyDelete
  3. All this history and stuff you write about...I LOVE IT! I love looking at the jewelry pictures you post and reading about the people who wore them. I also enjoy reading about the British Royal Family. They are such an interesting lot of folks. And especially when you can date them forward to the Royal Family of present day. Keep up the good work. I never knew history would be a subject that I would one day enjoy reading about.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Another fabulous article, Pearl. I love reading about the history of the royal families and their jewels. The link to the Webshot's page was fantastic: the Iranian Crown Jewels are beyond stunning. I've never seen trays of emeralds and diamonds before! Quite a treat. Thank you so much.
    Sue W. (in Whitby)

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is a pleasure to research and then write these short bios. I am pleased so many of you enjoy them. History IS fascinating. Why read or watch something made up when real past lives are so much more riveting.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fabulous history lesson! Can you imagine the ornate jewelry back then, wow!
    -Stephanie

    ReplyDelete
  7. I absolutely love reading your blog every day; and on the occassion that you delve into history for a post, I adore it even more. I am currently working on a Ph.D. in history & museology, so suffice it to say, this sort of thing is right up my alley. I am in the early stages, & haven't yet decided where I want to specialize, but jewelry & gemology are on the short list. Gems & jewels & baubles have always been important auspices of wealth, social status, religious significance, and in other context - tokens of love, respect, and loyalty. It is because of the value conveyed to these items by association, beyond their inherent value, that they became objects of intrigue, inquest, allure, and scandal - spanning the entire history of modern man.
    You are absoltely right - real history is much more fascinating, and even entertaining, than fiction. With the added bonus that you get to learn something about the human experience & what makes us who we are today at the same time.
    Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Coming from a PhD in history, that is quite a compliment, Kathryn. Thank you.

    Yes, the rich history of gems and jewelry is long and utterly fascinating. I also include some archaeological posts because the jewelry hints at past lives we can but guess at.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Okay wait - she was 78 in that picture????? I didn't miss what the whole article was about but oh my gosh that floored me at the end!

    ReplyDelete

 

TUTORIALS

PEARL'S DESIGNS

DESIGN MAKEOVER

TIPS AND TRICKS

SUPPLIES

TOOLS