Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up

Just before the start of the first lockdown — and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago? — I spent an afternoon in the jewellery galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. What struck me was how much of the fabulous bling on display was royal, or had royal connections. At the beginning of the 19th century, a lot of money went on bling. And the ladies of consequence were happy to flaunt it.

Napoleonic bling

In 1806, Emperor Napoleon was intent on securing an alliance with the Prince-elector of Baden as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. To cement the alliance, Napoleon arranged a marriage between his adopted daughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais, and the elector’s heir. Napoleon presented the bride with this beautiful set of emerald and diamond jewellery.

These pieces came from Paris, in 1806, made by Nitot et Fils. Originally, the emeralds at the back of the necklace were removable, for use as earrings. Later, two new emerald drops replaced the originals and the earrings became a permanent part of the set.

This painting of Stéphanie, by François Gérard, dates from 1808, a couple of years after her marriage. The colours aren’t too clear, but I suspect that is the Emperor’s necklace that she is wearing. Given how powerful Napoleon was in Europe at the time, it would have been an astute political move on her part, don’t you think?

The Empress Joséphine, a distant cousin (by marriage) of Stéphanie, liked her bling, too. This beautiful diamond and ruby laurel spray probably formed part of a larger suite of jewels made in 1809 by Nitot et Fils of Paris. It was later converted into a brooch, as seen here, and was inherited by the Empress’s son, Eugène.

Both these early pieces look quite modern to my eyes. They are simple enough to be worn today, provided the surrounding security is good 😉

Regency bling

The Prince Regent in England was very fond of display, and jewels formed a big part of that. When his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was to be married to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, he sent this peridot parure to Miss Cotes, one of the ladies he had set to keep a close eye on his daughter. Princess Charlotte resented the ladies. She described the Dowager Countess of Rosslyn and her nieces, the two Misses Cotes, as Famine and the Consequences. But the Regent was clearly grateful to them. The jewels were accompanied by a note from the Regent’s sister, Princess Elizabeth, which said; “I write in great haste by command of the P. Regent to beg you to accept the set of Chrysolites [peridots] which I send with this note. He hopes You will wear it at the wedding as proof of his regard.”

This set was produced by the jewellers Rundell, Bridge & Rundell (a name familiar to Georgette Heyer fans) and cost the Regent the sum of £240: 9s. Clearly, he hadn’t heard the old tale that green is unlucky for weddings. Poor Charlotte’s marriage was happy but short. She died in childbirth the following year and was much mourned by court and people alike. The memorial pendant (shown below) probably belonged to a close friend, since it contains some of Princess Charlotte’s hair:

Russian bling

Tsar Alexander I of RussiaTsar Alexander, who ruled the Russian empire from 1801-1825, was enormously rich and often gave jewels to his mistresses. There were a lot of mistresses. Wikipedia lists nine illegitimate children by various of them. (I borrowed the mistress+jewels idea in His Reluctant Mistress, where Alexander gives my heroine, Sophie, some fabulous gems. If you want to know what she did to earn them, you’ll have to read her story. It may surprise you…)

Alexander was, apparently, enamoured of Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest, as soon as he saw the portrait (shown left) painted by Lawrence to celebrate her engagement. She was by far the richest heiress in England at the time. In 1819, aged 19, she married Lord Castlereagh’s half-brother, Charles, Baron Stewart, who had been the British ambassador in Vienna since 1814. Frances was required, under the terms of her father’s will, to keep her surname on marriage, so Charles had to change his family surname from Stewart to Vane. He probably thought it was a price worth paying to marry the Vane-Tempest fortune. And when Castlereagh (by then 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, but childless) committed suicide in 1822, Charles became the 3rd Marquess.

Londonderry Russian bling

Apparently infatuated, Alexander gave Frances some wonderful gems: a pink topaz of 140 carats, a yellow diamond of 17 carats, and a set of huge Siberian amethysts. She said that he knelt at her feet and covered her hands with kisses. She added that they “came out of the ordeal innocent of guilt”. Really? That would have been unusual for Alexander, but I suppose it could have happened.

We don’t have the original settings for the stones he gave her, but you can see two of them below, in their current settings, dating from the late 19th century.


The amethysts have been reset often. This image shows a tiara, dated 1916, created for the wife of the 7th Marquess. There is reputedly also a 1920s photo of her, wearing them as a chain running vertically down the front of her dress. Clearly eye-catching gems.

Oodles of Londonderry Bling

After her return from Vienna in 1823, Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, was one of London society’s foremost hostesses and was rich enough to indulge herself. It seems she enjoyed displaying her vast wealth on her person. She is known to have worn gowns (and jewels) to represent Elizabeth I, and Cleopatra, at costume balls. The huge portrait shown at the end of the blog, by Dubois-Drahonet, can be seen in the V&A on the wall outside the jewel gallery. It shows Frances Anne in her court dress for the coronation of William IV in 1831.
Her jewels are all real. All of them!

1885 Londonderry tiara     1820 Palffy turquoises bought by Frances Vane

If you enlarge the portrait [just click on the image], you should be able to pick out some of the amethysts down the centre of the gold panel beneath the diamond girdle. (The girdle’s diamonds were later reused in the Londonderry tiara, above left.) The lilac-blue stones on the panel are in fact a set of turquoises (above right) that Frances bought from Count Palffy in Vienna around 1820. The Tsar’s huge rose topaz is at the very bottom of the centre line of jewels on the gold panel; his yellow diamond is a little higher, on the right as we look at it.

1831 coronation portrait Frances Anne Vane Marchioness of Londonderry © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1831 coronation portrait Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

And we accuse modern celebs of flaunting ostentatious wealth? Not a patch on Frances Anne!

Joanna, not envious, honest

PS My latest release, The Mystery Mistletoe Bride, is out soon, and is available for preorder here for £1.99/$2.99

The Mystery Mistletoe Bride by Joanna Maitland

A woman with no name, no past, no memory—rescued by an earl with his own bitter secrets

On his return from the Peninsular War, Jonathan, Earl of Portbury, appears remote and forbidding, hiding his pain behind a wall of icy formality. Widowed, and childless, Jon needs a new wife, and an heir, but he knows himself to be incapable of love.
The obvious solution is a marriage of convenience with a woman of sense.
If he can find one.

On one of Jon’s minor estates, the woman he rescued from death, months before, still has no memory and no past, though she has acquired a name—Beth. She is no empty-headed debutante, fresh out of the schoolroom, but a lady of admirable sense and refinement, who devotes her energies to good works. She seems to fulfil all Jon’s requirements in a wife.

But Beth is a woman without a past. Is she fit to become Jon’s countess?
And how could a marriage be made to work when both of them have so many buried secrets?

8 thoughts on “Historical Costume : 1800-1831 Royal Jewellery to bling it up

  1. Liz Fielding

    Wow. Just wow. The jewellery collection is on my V&A list and I can’t wait to be bedazzled just as soon as we’ve back to a semblance of normality.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s definitely a dazzling business, Liz. Rather too much to take in on one visit. The V&A has done a great job with the explanatory material that goes with each piece, though, providing me with a lot of the stuff I included in the blog. I’m just grateful I got my visit in before the shutters came down.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Cripes! Gobsmacking stuff. That dress is unbelievable! Love the simpler pieces at the beginning. Those emeralds are exquisite. Would definitely wear those. As for Mystery Mistletoe Bride, I had to snap that up at once!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I’m with you on the simpler pieces at the beginning Liz. I love the Beauharnais emeralds. Such an elegant design. As for Marchioness Frances Anne, the mind boggles. She really did like her bling, and showing it off, didn’t she? However, in her defence, I should add that, after she was widowed, she took charge of her coal mines and interests in the north and became a very successful businesswoman.

  3. Rosemary Gemmell

    What an amazing collection, as are some of the stories attached to the jewels! I love the first set with emeralds and diamonds, though I hardly ever wear any jewellery myself unless for a special occasion.

    1. Joanna Post author

      The stories are good, aren’t they, Rosemary? I was surprised to discover, via Wikipedia, that image of Stéphanie de Beauharnais after her marriage, apparently wearing the emeralds I’d seen in the V&A. They’re my favourites, too, from this collection. I know that lots of women don’t wear jewellery much. I have pierced ears so I wear earrings almost every day, even when I’m sitting in front of the computer in my jim-jams. Can’t afford to have the holes close up, you see.

  4. Gail Mallin

    Great pics! I love those galleries though I haven’t visited in ages. That emerald necklace is one of my favourites too, it’s elegant but still got a fabulous wow factor. One thing that has always puzzled me though was how they managed to wear such large heavy-looking earrings. Like you, I have pierced ears and I wear earrings every day but I can’t manage anything too big because I find the weight uncomfortable.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Some of the bigger earrings can be quite lightweight, Gail. I have a fake pearl dangly set that are featherlight. OTOH I have a bead set, looking like Christmas-tree baubles, that are so heavy they regularly pull the earring out of its butterfly. I can only wear them at home, as a result. But have a look at some of the earring bling the Queen wears. Some are enormous and, since they’re real, they must be heavy. I read somewhere that she had her ears pierced early on so that she could wear the Royal bling. Heavy earrings with clips are a nightmare, in my opinion. I always ended up with sore ears until I had mine pierced.

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