The French want the Queen to give them her crown jewels as compensation for killing the last Plantagenet in 1499. Well I can understand that -those jewels are more than something- especially the tiaras. Oh, for a tiara – some people are born to wear them, and some are not. Alas, I was not.
The nearest I’ve got to it was on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding day. I was in a sewing shop looking for buttons that morning, and just by the door was a stand draped with fairy clothes, wands and jewels for children’s parties. I seized the amethyst and diamond tiara, knowing I would need it that evening.
I wore it with a purple top and all my pearls and amethysts. Mostly faux, just the odd decent pearl winking under the load of beads and baubles. I looked like the late Queen Mary actually – laden with jewels – and as the evening wore on, and the champagne flowed while we watched the Wedding, I wondered how Queen Mary had managed all those years, with her bosom bedizened with strings of diamonds, ropes of pearls and layers of diamond brooches. My strings and strings of beads and brooches, earrings and bracelets were all fake, and therefore comparatively light. But as time went by I wilted under the weight of wearing all this stuff. Queen Mary’s glittering jewels were the real thing – two large chips off the fabulous Cullinan diamond for starters – the biggest stone ever found – frequently adorned her bosom. They were known as Grannie’s chips to the present Queen, who wears them quite often. Then there were those lustrous pearls, giant rubies, heaps of emeralds, gorgeous sapphires…
Queen Mary, who married Queen Victoria’s grandson, George, who became the Fifth, did rather well in the jewellery line. Queen Victoria had lost most of her family jewels in a family wrangle which went to court, and the judges – English – found against her, and let the King of Hanover keep all the crown jewels. This left only a string of pearls which had once belonged to Queen Anne, who died in 1714, and another string which had belonged to Queen Caroline, wife of George 11. Queen Victoria later amassed plenty of jewels in her sixty-two year reign, not because she was particularly impressed by jewellery, but as symbols of the royal status. But Queen Mary, who’d always been an impecunious princess, adored jewels, and was showered with diamonds when she became engaged to the heir, including the diamond tiara the Queen often wears, known as Grannie’s tiara, and given by the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland.
Then there were the diamond brooches from the inhabitants of Kensington, another tiara from the county of Surrey, a large diamond bow from the county of Dorset, a diamond and ruby bracelet from the County of Cornwall, and this incomplete list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the collection of treasure she received, including precious gifts from all the royal families of Europe (they were all family anyway). Queen Mary was famous for her acquisitiveness, and managed to snaffle many fabulous jewels, tiaras and bracelets from the desperate Russian Royals when they had escaped the Revolution, and needed money in the thirties.
Her mother in law, Queen Alexandra, had also done rather well, receiving hoards of priceless tribute from the Indian princes at various durbars – ropes of pearls, ruby and diamond chokers, an emerald girdle, to mention only a few of these princely gifts . So by the time the present Queen inherited all these generations of jewellery, she had a choice of over a dozen tiaras, diamond necklaces for Africa ( and many were African gifts and from African diamond mines) not to mention ruby, emerald, amethyst and sapphire tiaras, with their matching earrings, necklaces and bracelets. They all have names, like the Russian fringe tiara, the Brazilian aquamarine, the Greek key, the Vladimir circle tiara.
But the favourite jewels in every generation of Royals seem to have been the ones with historic or sentimental value, like Albert’s brooch, the Prince Consort’s wedding gift to his bride Victoria. A huge sapphire ringed with diamonds, all the succeeding queens have worn it regularly, and Albert had a copy made for his eldest daughter, which Princess Anne now owns. The historic Crown pearls, rescued from the Hanoverian raid, were worn by the Queen on her wedding day, and she still often wears them. The Cambridge emeralds, large cabochon emeralds set with diamonds inherited from Queen Mary’s family, were given to Diana, who wore them as a head-band on a trip to Australia- dancing at a ball in a matching green dress.
Diana also wore the bow knot tiara, another of Queen Mary’s family heirlooms. But Kate, as yet, has only been seen in a very modest, and entirely appropriate diamond tiara lent to her by the Queen on her wedding day. Meanwhile Camilla, Prince Charles’ second wife, flashes the dazzling jewels owned by the Queen Mother who left them to Prince Charles. The Queen Mother wore them with some restraint, but Camilla wears as much as possible at the same time! Sporting the huge modern diamond tiara, she adds a necklace of five rows of enormous diamonds, even managing to make the Queen’s exquisite jewellery look less impressive if big is what you like.
The history of all these jewels is recorded, and this is what makes jewellery so fascinating to me, that all the great pieces have a history behind them. Elizabeth Taylor possessed a famous necklace known as La Peregrina, dating from the sixteenth century, when Philip 11 of Spain gave this huge symmetrically perfect pearl to Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) of England on their marriage in 1554. When she died, the necklace went back to Spain, and two hundred years later, Napoleon captured it, which was when it earned the name of La Peregrina (the wanderer). Later Napoleon 111 sold it to the Marquess of Abercorn while in exile in England, and Richard Burton bought it from the Abercorns. Elizabeth Taylor also owned another famous jewel, a heart shaped diamond which had once belonged to Shah Jehan, who built the Taj Mahal.
A scroll through Google, studying the jewels of the reigning and deposed royal houses of Europe is mouth-watering if jewels are your thing. One of the best things about the wedding of the Danish Crown Prince, a few years ago, was that everyone was asked to wear a tiara, and for the first time in years, all these wonderful jewels came out of hiding and bank vaults to dazzle and enchant.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
My granddaughter came today, to give me another session wrestling with the intricacies of computers. Not a big eater, so rather than proper lunch I gave her things to pick at… shredded ham sandwiches made with brown bread one side, and white the other, with a touch of mustard. Crusts off, and cut into dainty squares to tempt her appetite. The grand-children call the Danish slightly salted butter I always use, Grannie’s butter, so that was de rigueur on the bread. I also made some maple syrup and date muffins, but another time wouldn’t waste expensive maple syrup , brown sugar would taste just as good. And we had celery soup to sip in a cup for those who wanted it, a fragrant gentle soup, made with just celery, a potato, chicken stock, (stock cube actually), nutmeg and a dollop of cream. Gently sauted, then boiled till soft and whizzed in the blender with salt and pepper and nutmeg to taste – quick and easy.
The muffins – two cups of self raising flour, a cup of dates, chopped and softened in hot water, pinch of salt, 125 g of butter and of brown sugar, melted together, one egg, half a cup of milk and half a teasp of cinnamon. Beat the egg lightly with the milk, and stir all the ingredients together. Spoon into greased pattie tins, two thirds full, sprinkle with castor sugar and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the muffins spring back when lightly touched. I did a dozen miniature ones, and eight big ones with this amount. Eat as soon as possible, while warm – with butter if waist-lines are no object!
Food for Thought
The centre of human nature is rooted in ten thousand ordinary acts of kindness that define our days.
Stephen Jay Gould, 1941 – 2002 Popular science writer, American palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist.