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Her Story in Jewels: Queen Charlotte

Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), consort of George III, was said to have been a good-humored, faithful and lively queen whose legacy stretches far and wide even now.

State portrait of Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay, 1761-2. Writing in the early 19th century, Allan Cunningham recounted that the Crown Jewels and regalia were sent to painter Allan Ramsay's studio in Harley Street for him to paint from life, and that "sentinels were accordingly posted day and night in front and rear of his house." - (Via Diana Scarisbrick's Diamond Jewelry: 700 Years of Glory and Glamour)

Charlotte, North Carolina is named in her honor, and statues of her still stand there to this day. Historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom claims that the Queen was the first biracial or black royal, which is now a fairly popular theory. Queen Charlotte was also a close friend of Marie Antoinette’s. She birthed 15 children, including two future monarchs, George IV and William IV. She was said to have had an impact on a young Mozart’s career, as well as being avidly interested in botany and taking a great interest in Kew Gardens. The South African flower, bird of paradise, is even named in her honor, as strelitzia reginae.

So who was this remarkable woman, and more importantly, what was her jewelry like?

Queen Charlotte was born Sophia Charlotte of the duchy Mecklenburg-Strelitz in North Germany, in the Holy Roman Empire, in 1744. She was chosen to marry George III in 1761 at just 17 years old, whilst George III was 22 at the time. In 1762, she gave birth to her first of 15 children with George III. She remained her husband "Mad King George’s" guardian from the onset of his permanent madness in 1811 until her death in 1818.

Photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London. Studio of Allan Ramsay, c.1762.

Queen Charlotte in state robes, wearing a jeweled sprig in her hair, a diamond necklace, her great diamond stomacher (made in three sections for flexibility) and pearls on her wrists. These were all part of her marriage jewelry of 1761, presented to her by George III. Charlotte's left hand touches her crown, which was also included in her wedding jewelry.

(Via Clare Phillips' Jewels and Jewellery)

Surveyor of the Queen’s pictures Desmond Shaw-Taylor is quoted as saying "she was famously ugly," whilst Dickens described her as "a queen with a plain face" in A Tale of Two Cities. Personal beauty (or lack thereof) aside, however, throughout her life she wore and owned a number of beautiful and rare jewels.

These three portraits of Charlotte, all by Thomas Frye, are like a jewelry-lover's game of spot the difference. Left: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Thomas Frye. (Via Ginny Redington Dawes' Georgian Jewellery). Middle: © National Portrait Gallery, Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Thomas Frye, 1762. Right: © National Portrait Gallery, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III, wearing part of her marriage jewelry of 1761, including the 'family pearls'. Drawn from life and engraved by Frye; published on 24 May 1762. (Via Shirley Bury's Jewellery 1789-1910: The Industrial Era).

Both George III and his uncle, the Duke of York, gifted Charlotte a number of fine pearls. In 1765, Shah Alam, the Mogul Emperor, also gave George III a selection of jewelry including "an exceedingly fine string of pearls, with an awbray (a breast ornament in the form of a cluster of jewels) studded with diamonds" as well as a number of other diamond and gold articles (Michael L. Nash in Royal Wills).

Queen Charlotte probably by Johann Zoffany, 1771.

Here she wears a miniature of her husband, George III, as the centerpiece of her bracelet, which was a betrothal present. - (Via Diana Scarisbrick's Portrait Jewels: Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs)

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

This ring was given to Queen Charlotte by the King on their wedding day, 8 September 1761. Charlotte Papendiek records that part of the King’s "particular present" to his bride was "a diamond hoop ring of a size not to stand higher than the wedding ring, to which it was to serve as a guard." She added, "On that finger the Queen never allowed herself to wear any other in addition, although fashion at times almost demanded it." (Via RCT)

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Gold and Diamond ring belonging to Queen Charlotte, c. 1810.

(Via RCT)

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Gold and Opal ring belonging to Queen Charlotte, c. 1810.

(Via RCT)

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

1734 Jewel Casket with tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, gold, ivory, diamonds, ruby and enamel. This was bought by Queen Charlotte in 1763.

(Via RCT)

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Clasp containing the hair of King George III and Queen Charlotte, decorated with gold, enamel, hair, rubies and diamonds. The ouroboros surrounding the hair symbolizes eternity.

(Via RCT)

Despite her wide and rich collection of jewelry, Charlotte’s most famous jewels were undoubtedly the renowned Arcot diamonds. The two 33.7 and 23.65 carat pear-shaped diamonds were gifted to her by the Nawab of Arcot alongside 3 other smaller diamonds, as a declaration of his love and respect for the British monarchy.

As they were a gift given to her by another monarch, the diamonds were classified within her personal collection, meaning that she was free to do what she liked with them within her will. Indeed, they were given special attention in her will, as she detailed that she would like them to be sold to Rundell & Bridge, jewelers to the Crown, with their earnings divided between her four surviving daughters:

"Those (jewels) presented to me by the Nawab of Arcot, to my four remaining daughters, or to the survivors or survivor in case they or any of them should die before me, and I direct that these jewels should be sold and that the produce...shall be divided among them, my said remaining daughters or their survivors, share and share alike." Queen Charlotte quoted in Michael L. Nash's Royal Wills.

Photo: Keith Corrigan/Alamy Stock Photo

Portrait of Queen Charlotte, probably wearing the Arcot diamonds, by Esther Dennier, 1761.

(Via Christie's)

Queen Charlotte’s son, the Prince of Wales, later to become George IV, however, went against Charlotte’s will and appropriated the diamonds himself. He had them set into his coronation crown in 1821, as an attempt to create a new crown of England. The crown was dismantled two years later, however, after George IV failed to persuade parliament of the necessity of buying the hired jewels that constituted the rest of the crown. After George IV’s death, the diamonds were set on a coronation crown of Queen Adelaide in 1831, but again were dismounted soon after. At last in 1834, Queen Charlotte’s wishes were carried out and the Arcots were sold to Rundell & Bridge.

From there, the diamonds were bought by Robert Grosvenor, the first Marquess of Westminster, as a gift for his wife in 1837. They were used as drop earrings as a family heirloom in the Grosvenor family for almost a century before being set into the Westminster Tiara in 1930. The tiara featured the Arcot diamonds alongside 1,421 others in a halo shape.

Loelia, Duchess of Westminster in the Westminster tiara. Cecil Beaton, 1931.

Image: Royal Jewels of the World (Via Barneby's)

The diamonds have since been dismounted from the tiara. They have passed from owner to owner and have been recut more than once. Most recently, the Arcot II was sold by Christie's to a private buyer in 2019, fetching an astounding USD 3,375,000.

Arcot II, the smaller of the two diamonds, as photographed by Christie's.

So, Queen Charlotte: botany lover, possible black royal, mother to 15. But most importantly? A clear jewelry icon.

See Antique Animal Jewelry's beautiful Georgian and Victorian pieces here.

#WednesdayBlog #GeorgianJewelry #Diamonds #QueenCharlotte #HerStoryInJewels #WomanCrushWednesday #JewelryIcon


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