What’s going on in the world of royal jewels and royal research?
When I find out about auctions, exhibitions, new book releases, or anything interesting that relates to royal history, I’ll drop them here just for you. If you’re lucky enough to visit one of the exhibitions, send me pictures! Or if you have more information to add to this page, drop me a line.
Exhibition: Strong Women of Ludlow: From Castle to Street
DATE: Until March 30
LOCATION: Ludlow Museum
I love the whole idea behind this exhibition. There’s only one requirement: be a strong woman who lived in Ludlow. Luckily for us, that includes Katherine of Aragon. She and her first husband, Prince Arthur, spent their honeymoon in Castle Lodge. The exhibition will include “a garment” of Katherine’s – as of right now, I can’t find anything more specific on what that might be. (I found this info via RoyalCentral.co.uk and Shropshire Star.)
Other women included are Mary Edwards, who computed astronomical tables for the British Nautical Almanac (wow!), glove maker Mary Bottomley, milliner Jane Poyner, and, erm, “lady of the night” Elizabeth Charmer. Isn’t that the best name, hooker or not?
George III’s Map Collection Release
DATE: January 2020
Want to see the world as King George III saw it? The Royal Collection Trust made 3,000+ of George’s military maps available on a new website to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death.
George didn’t put this whole collection together himself. Part of it came from his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. George also bought a collection that had belonged to a 17th century Italian patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo.
You can browse the website by major war, by date, or in a catch-all Miscellaneous group.
The website is really well done. You can zoom in, download, or share each map. There’s also a bunch of information to sift through for each one: creator, materials, scale, notes, people involved, physical properties, measurements, transcriptions, provenance, places, and references.
Check out this nifty map of the Battle of Abukir Bay, where Nelson sank 13 of Napoleon’s 17 ships. Ouch.
Broadway Debut: Six the Musical
DATE: Opens February 13
LOCATION: Brooks Atkinson Theatre
I’ve always wondered why Henry VIII’s wives didn’t have their own musical. I mean, if they can make a musical out of Abba songs, why can’t they make one out of one of the craziest real life dramas, like, ever?
Well, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss did something about it.
Written in 2017, the musical got five Olivier Award noms in 2019 and was the second most-streamed musical album behind (you guessed it) Hamilton. In 2019, Six made it across the pond, opening in Chicago. Now it’s ready for the big time on Broadway.
Six turns Henry’s brides into pop stars a la Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Rhianna…or maybe the Spice Girls.
The gist of the opening number? You know who we are, you know what the history books say. But there’s more to the story than what you’ve been told. My favorite line from the song “Ex-Wives” is, “I’m more than one word in a stupid rhyme.” Referring, of course, to the “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” rhyme we all used to keep Henry’s wives straight in history class.
I listened to a few of the show’s songs on the website and definitely got a Spice Girls vibe. Just based on the playlist, it’s a very simplistic look at history – Anne Boleyn sings a song called “Don’t Lose Ur Head” and says “sorry not sorry for what I said” and “everybody chill…it’s totes God’s will.” And “Haus of Holbein” is a techno-polka Gaga-style ode to everybody’s favorite Tudor miniature painter.
I’d love to see this if I were in the area. Yes, it seems a bit cheesy but that’s kind of the point. I think the key is just going with it and having a good time. And if we’re lucky, a lot of excited musical-goers are going to become budding historians. I’m all for that.
TEFAF Maastricht Antiques Fair
DATE: March 7 - 15
LOCATION: Maastricht, Netherlands
This yearly fine art fair includes jewelry and - this year - a famous tiara.
If you’re in the neighborhood, you can go see the Anglesey tiara, worn by Marjorie Paget, the Marchioness of Anglesey, at King George VI’s coronation in 1937.
Who, you ask, was Marjorie Paget? She was born Lady Victoria Marjorie Manners, sister of the famous Lady Diana Manners and daughter of the Duke of Rutland. Her family is the one covered in the book The Secret Rooms, which I reviewed here.
The tiara dates back to 1890, when a different branch of the Paget family held the Anglesey title. I’ll do a little digging into this one and see if there’s anything interesting enough for a blog post. Stay tuned!
Christie’s Auction: Chieveley House, Berkshire and Five Private Collections
DATE: March 19
This auction didn’t catch my eye at first, until Christie’s emailed me with a couple selections that met my search criteria. Turns out, if you love oil paintings, you can scoop up two interesting pieces here.
Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria
This painting belonged to Professor Michael Jaffe. It’s attributed to Theodore Roussel, one of Van Dyck’s pupils. Look at that interesting tortoiseshell frame! The portrait can be yours for the estimated sale price of $1,956 - $3,260. It’s pretty small - just 15.5 inches x 12.25 inches. Maybe put this above a small console table in your entry or hallway?
Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Egerton
Look at this beautiful painting! Wow. I’d love to hang this in my formal dining room. Unfortunately, I don’t have the estimated sale prices of $7,824-$13,040. This is Elizabeth, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Yes, that’s the famous Sarah Churchill, Queen Anne’s famous favorite. Elizabeth married a dude named (unfortunately) Scroop Egerton, who became the first Duke of Bridgewater. The painter’s name is Charles Jervas. In a sick way, roughly ten grand seems like a small price to pay to own a painting of one of Sarah Churchill’s beautiful daughters. But that’s just me. I have a weird relationship with money.
Mellerio Exhibit & Sotheby’s Auction
DATE: April 1
When I first saw mention of this auction, I wasn’t interested - the jewelry for sale is from the late 20th century. If it was created when I was alive, it’s not gonna get my pulse racing.
Then I saw the accompanying exhibit and I said, “Oh, hello!” The exhibit’s full title is “Mellerio: Treasures from the Collection of France's Oldest Jeweler.” Seventeen of Mellerio’s historic pieces will be on display alongside the auction of their more modern pieces. Now you're talkin.’
So...what’s in the heritage collection? Here are two pieces with famous owners you’ll recognize.
Sotheby’s describes this ruby-and-cameo bracelet as “most likely sold to Marie Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste Mellerio (1765-1850) in 1780.” I know I’ve seen the receipt for this in one of my royal jewel books, so I’ll go dig that up and report back.
This piece is incredible, isn’t it? It’s described as “articulated and transformable,” but I’m not really sure what that means. I wish they’d shown a picture of it transformed alongside this one. Empress Eugénie bought this brooch in 1868, just two years before the Second Empire crumbled. If I owned this, I think I’d pin it on a hatband in place of an actual feather. How would you wear it?
Book Release: The Betrayal of the Duchess
Author: Maurice Samuels
DATE: April 14
Available at: Amazon
Good lord, isn’t that a beautiful cover? I stumbled across this on Twitter and instantly put it on my wish list.
This is the story of the Duchesse de Berry. The year is 1832, and she’s in exile in Scotland thanks to the recent July Revolution that booted the last Bourbon king, Charles X. But when you’re the mother of the heir to the throne - and that heir is an 11-year-old boy - it’s up to you to do the dirty work of getting his birthright back.
This book is the story of her plot to do just that, which was (spoiler alert) betrayed by a man she trusted, the son of France’s Chief Rabbi. Bourbon loyalists shared her indignation, which helped fan the flames of French anti-semitism.
I wouldn’t have guessed that the exiled Bourbons had enough cultural or political sway to make a dent in the way the entire nation felt about its Jewish population. I’ve also never really studied the post-1830 Bourbons, so that’s an impression based on literally no facts. I’ll be interested to see how Samuels makes his case!
Yep, sounds like a good read to me.
Hulu Premiere: The Great
DATE: May 15
What is it with Catherine the Great? We’re getting spoiled! First, we had the Helen Mirren HBO miniseries last year. Now, we get a quirky alt-history take on Hulu with Elle Fanning as Catherine.
As you can tell by the trailer, this isn’t going to be historically accurate. Like, at all. But that’s part of the fun...and if you’re going to have someone as hot as Nicholas Hoult playing Peter, you really have to turn Peter from a pathetic asshole into...well, a less pathetic and less asshole-y asshole.
It was written and created by Tony McNamara, who also wrote The Favourite. He wasn’t looking to write another historical, he said. But Catherine’s story struck him as quite modern. At its heart, he says in this interview, is a single question. A woman marries the wrong man (or, to be more accurate, is married to him), and asks herself, “Well, should I kill him?”
We all know how it really turned out. But after watching this trailer, I’m super excited to see how it all shakes down in this version. Accuracy, schmacuracy. This looks imaginative and fun.
Christie’s Auction: Old Master Paintings and Sculpture
Date: June 2-19
UPDATE: It looks like this got pulled from the auction. You can still see the listing in the online auction catalog (click or tap here and flip to item 79) - but it's not online anymore). BUMMER. Unless, of course, you bought it for me and had it pulled from the auction. In which case, I LOVE YOU.
Christie’s emailed me with a highlight of this auction that I couldn’t resist – two paintings thought to be Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria and her sister, Archduchess Maria Anna.
The paintings aren’t definitively labeled, but it’s believed the girl on the left is Maria Theresa and the girl on the right is her younger sister, Maria Anna. They were painted by someone in the circle of Antoine Pesne (1683-1757). The pre-sale estimate is $10,000-$15,000, which seems like kind of a steal. I bet it goes quite a bit higher than that. These paintings are luminous, and as a matched set, I could see them kicking ass in a dining room or hallway, or maybe framing a staircase, depending on how your house is set up.
The provenance here is interesting, too. They originally belonged to the Electors of Hanover, and then King Ernst August of Hanover (the Duke of Cumberland, Queen Victoria’s uncle). Both frames are stamped with a tag (EAFS) that signifies his ownership. The paintings were at Schloss Herrenhausen and then Schloss Marienburg. They were sold in an anonymous sale at Christie’s in 2008.
I love the way the light catches the girls’ faces and torsos – look how they seem to glow! I would be so inspired looking at these, knowing both of these little girls grew up to rule. Maria Theresa became Empress of Austria (her husband got the Holy Roman Emperor title, for whatever that’s worth) and Maria Anna married her brother-in-law’s brother (against her family’s wishes) and governed the Austrian Netherlands in her sister’s name (well, until she died young just after giving birth to a stillborn son).
These two girls were the only surviving children of Emperor Charles VI and Empress Elisabeth Christine. The parents figure prominently in Eleonora von Schwarzenberg’s story – I wrote about her here. It’s a good post – vampires, murder, a miracle, you know, that sort of thing.
Here’s what I want to know…what were the electors of Hanover doing with paintings of the little archduchesses? Did they commission the paintings, or just purchase them later? The electors of Hanover were Protestant and the Habsburgs were Catholic, so I’m guessing a marriage isn’t what brought these paintings into the family. Curious!
Christie’s Auction: Face Time: People in Art through the Ages
Date: June 2-23
Christie’s is on a roll! Check out this gorgeous marble relief depiction of Amalie of Baden (1754-1832). Created by Philipp Jakob Scheffauer in 1803, the estimated sale price is $25,000 - $37,800. That pretty frame is polychrome glass and giltwood. It’s larger than it looks – according to Christie’s, it’s 20 inches high!
Online bidding has already started, and ends in a couple weeks.
This portrait belonged to the collection of the Margravines and Grand Dukes of Baden until it was sold at auction in 1995. It’s only had one owner since then.
So what do we know about Amalie?
She was born a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt. Her mom was friends with Catherine the Great, and brought her two daughters, Amalie and Wilhelmina, to St. Petersburg as candidates for marriage with Catherine’s son and heir, Paul Petrovich. But Paul chose Wilhelmina, so Amalie went home with Mom and married her cousin, the prince of Baden.
It’s said that she was every bit as ambitious as her potential mother-in-law. She had a hand in the impressive marriages her daughters made. Caroline became queen of Bavaria, Louise became empress of Russia, and Frederica became queen of Sweden. Two other daughters became the duchesses of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Hesse and by Rhine.
Her son, Karl, was the one forcibly married to Napoleon’s adopted stepdaughter, Stéphanie de Beauharnais. Amalie was no Bonaparte fan – and after Napoleon’s fall, it was Amalie’s friendship with her son-in-law, Tsar Alexander I, that helped influence the Congress of Vienna to leave Baden as a Grand Duchy without taking any of its territory. Score!
Bidding ends on June 23 at 9 am. If you’re the buyer, I’d love to see a close-up picture or video!
Christie’s Auction: Gloria: Property from the late Dowager Countess Bathurst
Date: July 22
This July, we have a ton of interesting stuff up for sale that comes from the Bathurst family collection. Gloria, Dowager Countess Bathurst died in 2018, and it looks like the family is deciding to part with quite a bit of their historic artwork, furniture, dinnerware, and more. This was so much fun to browse online.
But we have two royal portraits that I want to call your attention to...you know, in case you have spare tens of thousands of dollars gettin' real bored in quarantine.
The first is Sir Peter Lely’s painting of Mary of Modena (1658-1718). Mary was the second wife King James II, who lost his throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Mary’s son with James became known as the Old Pretender, and it’s his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who instigated a revolt to try and win the Stuarts back their throne in 1745 (a very familiar subject for Outlander viewers).
If you want to put Mary and her gorgeous sienna dress on your wall, be prepared to shell out $25,000 - $37,500, the pre-sale estimate. I bet the colors of this one look even better in person. I can see this looking AH-MAH-ZING in a study full of mahogany bookcases.
The other very interesting portrait up for auction is also a Peter Lely. This Charles II’s famous mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734).
The pre-sale estimate on this one is a bit higher, $37,500 - $62,500.
Which one do you like better? I like Mary’s dress better, but the color of Louise's gorgeous blue wrap is hard to resist.
Damn, I need to make more money.
Christie’s Auction: Magnificent Jewels
Date: July 22
On the same day Lady Bathurst’s stuff is being auctioned off in London, we also have a jewel auction in Geneva.
There’s a tiara up for grabs in this one, the property of a private collector. In other words, there’s no stated royal or noble provenance. But because the estimated sale price is relatively high, this must either be a fantastic specimen or there's more to the story than we know. That estimate price? $95,764 - $138,326. Too rich for my blood!
It was created in the 1890s, according to the details posted online. The pearls are all natural, and there are eight detachable elements that can all be worn as brooches. I love that versatility.
Ships to: UK (no US shipping - boo)
Made by: The Portsmouth Distillery
I like gin. I like history. I like the Tudors. Lo and behold, I saw on Twitter that The Portsmouth Distillery released Tudor Gin, made with a blend of herbs found in the wreck of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship.
According to the distillery, those botanicals include: “Dandelion, Hazelnut, Hemp seeds and Cherry which combine to give a smooth, rich, dry gin complete with a burst of cherry.”
I REALLY REALLY WISH they shipped to the U.S. I put a bottle in my cart and entered my shipping address in Georgia, and got a message that they don’t ship there. Maybe in the future? I would love to have this just for the label - also, the distillery contributes to the Mary Rose Trust for every bottle purchased. I know museums and historical centers are insanely challenged right now because of the pandemic, so I’ll look into donating directly. But it sure would have been nice to have a nip of gin while doing so.
The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favorite ship, created as part of his quest to build a standing navy rather than rely on a ragtag assortment of merchant vessels. The ship was built in Portsmouth in 1510 and launched in 1511. Katherine of Aragon used it as a transport ship during her regency, to get troops up north to take on the Scots at the Battle of Flodden.
The ship was decommissioned, recommissioned, and retrofitted over the next few decades. In 1545, however, France sent a fleet of 200 ships to engage Henry’s fleet. They met in the Solent. The Mary Rose fired, turned, and listed dangerously. A strong wind pushed the ship over so far that it began to take on water, and it sank.
Divers discovered the wreck in 1836, and brought up a few artifacts. But as it wasn’t possible to bring up the whole ship, people soon lost interest and forgot it was there. It was rediscovered in 1971, and raised in 1982. Today, you can see the ship’s remains at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Christie’s Auction: Important Jewels
Date: July 30
Lady Bathurst’s jewels are the subject of this auction - they’re separate from the art, furniture, etc. The star of the show is this early 20th century tiara, attributed to Cartier. Pre-sale estimates are £200,000-300,000. I don’t know how to think about this kind of money what with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing. But diamonds are liquid currency, so maybe this will hit the high end of that estimate.
Check out the blog for fascinating stories about royal women and their tiaras. And don’t forget to join my mailing list to get Grand Duchess Louise of Baden’s meatloaf recipe! It’s finger-lickin’ good.