Her Story in Jewels: Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was and is an iconic Queen. With the longest reign of any ruling monarch until that of Elizabeth II’s, it is little wonder that her name has been lent to the Victorian era. During her reign, Britain saw enormous social, political, imperial, technological, and scientific changes. The monarchy underwent a transformation that secured its future in Britain but also redefined its role, focusing on civic duties. Her popularity wavered throughout her life, but by the end of it, she had become a beloved and respected figure. As a lover of the arts and beautiful things, Victoria's life and key rites of passage were punctuated with gifts and purchases of expensive, rare, and sentimental jewelry.
Queen Victoria photographed by Alexander Bassano, 1882.
Victoria is remembered as a stubborn Queen, rigid in her moral convictions, but open to reconsideration in her political tendencies. She was said to have a silvery, pleasant voice, and was only 4 foot 11 inches tall. She was influential in fashion, popularising the white wedding dress, and famously loved her husband ardently despite disliking pregnancy and motherhood.
In her early life, Victoria was raised according to the Kensington System, which was a strict disciplinary way of raising children. One of the tight rules of this system was that Victoria was never allowed to be in a room alone, without a governess. After her coronation, at 18 years old, her first royal request was for an hour alone.
1838: Coronation Jewelry
'I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again - which I at last did with great pain.' - Victoria
During coronation ceremonies, a coronation ring is placed on the new monarch's ring finger by the archbishop, as a symbol of 'Kingly dignity.' This part of the ceremony precedes the crowning. Each monarch has a newly made ring for their coronation; this one was made by the royal goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell with sapphire, rubies, and diamonds.
Unfortunately, the jewelers made a mistake and sized the ring for Victoria's little finger. The Archbishop had to force it to fit on her ring finger, and after the ceremony, Victoria's hand had to be submerged in ice water in order for the ring to be removed!
Photo and info via the RCT.
Brooch of emeralds surrounded by brilliant-cut diamonds. This was presented to Queen Victoria as a coronation gift by Mahmud II Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Via the RCT.
Although this coronation gift was given two months late, this Persian tiara more than made up for its belatedness. It was presented to Victoria by an envoy of Sayyid Sa’id, the ruler of Muscat. It is made of gold, diamonds, rubies, enamel, and pearls, with inner enameled illustrations. Photo and info via the RCT.
Engagement & Marriage Gifts, 1839-1840
One of Victoria's most famous qualities was that she was utterly enamored with her husband, Prince Albert. As Victoria was a Queen at the time of their relationship, Albert (who was her first cousin) could not propose to her. Instead, Victoria proposed to him on 15 October 1839. They married the following February and went on to have nine children together. Albert deeply influenced Victoria’s interests and convictions, and the couple both enjoyed patronizing the arts, often celebrating births, commemorating deaths, and marking occasions with gifts of lavish jewelry.
Victoria kept detailed diaries throughout her life, which reveal the extent of her love and admiration for Albert; ‘Albert really is quite charming,’ she wrote early in their relationship, ‘and so excessively handsome… a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist; my heart is quite going.’
Gold and Amethyst bracelet set into hearts, given by the Duchess of Kent to Queen Victoria on the day she announced her engagement to Prince Albert to the Privy Council, 23 November 1839. Photo and info via the RCT.
'Received to my inexpressible delight a dear, charming letter from dearest Albert, accompanied by a lovely little bracelet.' - Victoria
This bracelet was a Christmas present to Victoria, given by Albert, a few months after their engagement was announced. It includes stylized hearts and lovers' knots in gold, diamond, and emerald. The padlock represents the locking of the lovers' hearts. Engraved on the back reads 'From Albert / Decr 24 1839.' Photo and info via the RCT.
Victoria's choice to wear a white wedding dress was primarily to highlight the delicate lace of her gown. However, as the young Queen was an influential figure in fashion, white became a favored wedding dress color thereafter. In fact, this is the reason that white is now a ubiquitous choice for wedding dresses in the West.
Photo: Victoria and Prince Albert posing for a reenactment of their marriage in 1854. Via Vanity Fair.
On her wedding night, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal:
‘I never, never spent such an evening!!! My dearest dearest Albert… his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!’
Victoria opted to wear nothing but porcelain orange blossom decorations in her hair for her wedding day. The Times described her as wearing ‘rich white satin, trimmed with orange-flower-blossoms… Her Majesty wore no diamonds on her head, nothing but a simple wreath of orange blossom’. In the following years, Albert would gift Victoria a number of orange blossom accessories to form a parure, which she would wear every year on their wedding anniversary.
Photo and info via the RCT.
This diamond, sapphire and gold coronet was designed by Albert in 1840 and made by Joseph Kitching. It was able to be worn in a number of ways; Victoria wore it around her chignon at the back of her head for her first official portrait as Queen in 1842. Photo and info via the V&A.
Children & Jewellery
'What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul is very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments; when our poor nature becomes so very animal and unecstatic.' - Victoria, writing to her daughter
Victoria wrote that she hated being pregnant and giving birth; it made her feel like an animal. She once wrote 'I am no admirer of babies generally.' However, she and Albert went on to have 9 children. And whilst she may not have admired her babies until they grew a little older, she certainly admired the jewelry with which their births were commemorated.
This highly sentimental gold and enamel bracelet was given to Victoria by Albert in November 1840, three days after the birth of their first child, Victoria. Another enameled locket was added for each of the couple's children to come: pink for Princess Victoria, turquoise blue for Albert, red for Princess Alice, dark blue for Alfred, translucent white for Helena, dark green for Louise, mid-blue for Arthur, opaque white for Leopold and light green for Beatrice. Some of the lockets also contain the hair of the children. Photo and info via the RCT.
A brooch of the princess royal clutching a diamond and ruby crucifix. Prince Albert designed this piece himself, as a Christmas present for the queen in 1841. He was inspired by Raphael's depictions of cherubs in his paintings. Of the brooch, Victoria wrote that 'the workmanship & design are quite exquisite, & dear Albert was so pleased at my delight over it, its having been entirely his own idea and taste'.
Photo and info via The RCT.
This brooch takes the form of the Prince of Wales' feathers and is made of enamel set on gold with pearls, emeralds and rubies. It was given to Victoria by Albert to commemorate the birth of their son, the Prince of Wales. Although he was born in 1841, this gift was given in 1842. Photo and info via the RCT.
A Queen Showered with Gifts
Throughout her life, Victoria was given many gifts of jewelry, not only by her husband Albert but from royals, friends and political connections all over the world.
This bracelet was given to Victoria by Albert, who is depicted on it. Victoria recorded on the 24 December 1844 that, '[Albert] took me to his room, where he gave me a most lovely bracelet, with his dear picture, also after Thorburn beautifully enameled, set with a replica in small of the Collar of the Order of the Garter, in enamel work. It is his own exquisite taste & one of the loveliest things I ever saw. How I shall value it, & what extreme pleasure it gives. I put it on at once, & it was much admired.' Photo and info via the RCT.
Albert also designed this diamond and emerald tiara for Victoria in 1845. Victoria wrote that she received 'a lovely Diadem of diamonds and emeralds designed by my beloved Albert.' It was given alongside a matching emerald parure, below.
The Koh-i-nûr armlet. In 1850, this famously large diamond was sent from Bombay to Buckingham Palace, delivered by President of the Board of Control at the East India Company. Both Victoria and Albert agreed that the appearance of the diamond was rather disappointing and lacking in brilliance. It was then recut and worn by Victoria as a bodice brooch that was also able to be worn as a necklace. Since then, it has only been worn by the Queen's consort, due to a superstition that it brings bad luck if worn by a man. Photo and info via the RCT.
This brooch, the 'Alliance Flag' brooch, celebrates the British alliance with France and Turkey in the Crimea war. It was given to Victoria by Albert in 1855, and is set with rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. Photo and info via the RCT.
A south Indian bangle representing the heads of makara, a mythological creature. This was given to Queen Victoria as a 57th birthday gift by the Prince of Wales after he purchased it on his tour of India. Victoria wrote: 'I received a number of lovely things. Arthur gave me a charming old Spanish fan from Seville & Bertie 2 beautiful Indian bracelets from Trinchinopoli & Jeypore.' Via the RCT.
Gold, diamond, pearl, ruby, and emerald necklace. The original piece was presented to Queen Victoria by Jayaji Rao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior, during the Prince of Wales's tour of India in 1875-76. The necklace was then reset by Phillips Brothers and Sons c. 1878. Photo and info via the RCT.
Gold, enamel, diamond and ruby dragon bracelets from India. Probably presented by Dr. J.Tyler, superintendent of the Agra Jail, to Queen Victoria in 1886. Tyler was responsible for choosing and bringing over Indian artisans to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition at South Kensington in 1886. Photo and info via the RCT.
Victoria was devastated by Albert's death in 1861. She entered a deep depression of three years and mourned so devotedly that she drew criticism for her excessive grief. She withdrew for a time to Balmoral castle, where she felt most comfortable, however, she was difficult to reach from London where she was needed for parliamentary and governmental proceedings. In a letter to her daughter, she wrote:
“How will I, who leant on him for all and everything – without whom I did nothing, moved not a finger, arranged not a print or photograph, didn’t put on a gown or bonnet if he didn’t approve it, shall go on, to live, to move, to help myself in difficult moments?”
Four years after Albert's death, Victoria attended the first Opening of Parliament she felt able to go to since her loss. For the event, she wore the sapphire coronet that he designed for her in 1840.
1896 portrait of Queen Victoria by Gunn & Stuart via The NPG, London ©.
After Albert's death, Victoria preferred to wear less color and bought and commissioned a number of mourning jewelry piece to memorialize him.
This memorial ring was made for Queen Victoria in 1861. It contains a microphotograph of Albert, and a cypher linking the initials 'V' and 'A' in white enamel on either side of the bezel. Attributed to J.J.E. Mayall. Via the RCT.
A locket containing a photograph of Albert on the left, and a lock of hair on the right. On the front of the locket is a design reading 'A' beneath a crown. The inscription reads 'Dec. 14/1861,' which was the day of Albert's death. Via the RCT.
Queen Victoria's small diamond crown: the crown most people are familiar with when imagining Queen Victoria. It has a silver frame, set with 1187 brilliant and rose-cut diamonds. The design of the crown was specifically made so it could be worn by Victoria over her widow's cap. It was made for the queen in 1870 by the Crown Jewelers, R.S. Garrard & co. Photo and info via the RCT.
Victoria stayed in mourning until the time of her death in 1901. At the end of her reign, her full title was ‘Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.’ She had 37 living grandchildren at her time of death and was often referred to as 'The Grandmother of Europe.'
With her long reign during an ever-changing period of history, and so many descendants to her name, her legacy reaches wide even now.
See the gallery below for even more jewelry commissioned, worn, and owned by and gifted to Queen Victoria. All photos via the RCT.