Gemstones are among the most lasting of treasures – what's more "forever" than a diamond? – but they also disappear through history with maddening regularity, stolen, smuggled, and sold, recut and reset beyond recognition.
All of which makes this set of peridot gems set in gold, recently acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, even more noteworthy. Not only is it a complete set of necklace, pendant, earrings, brooch, and bracelets in the original case from Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, the most important jewellers of the era, but it's also accompanied by a royal letter that links it irrefutably to history.
In 1814, Princess Charlotte of Wales was a strong-willed 18-year-old determined to resist marrying her father's choice. Her father was George, Prince of Wales and Prince Regent, and he was equally determined that his only child wed William, Prince of Orange. Princess Charlotte dramatically made her point by running off one night, although she returned the following morning. Her father was not amused, and placed her under what amounted to house arrest. Watching over the princess were the Dowager Countess of Rosslyn, and her two nieces, Miss Charlotte Cotes and Miss Lucy Cotes.
In the battle of wills, the princess finally won, and married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saafeld instead in 1816. In gratitude and likely some relief, the Prince Regent rewarded the two Cotes sisters with sets of jewels – this set of peridots, and another of amethysts – to be worn at the wedding. Tragically, the joy of the wedding and the happy marriage between the two young newlyweds would not last; Princess Charlotte died in 1817, giving birth to a stillborn son.
The letter that still accompanies the set is from Princess Elizabeth, the Prince Regent's sister, asking Miss Cotes to accept the jewels as a gift. The original bill from Rundell, Bridge & Rundell for £240 9s (a sizable amount in 1816) also still exists in the Royal Archives.
The peridot set will go on display at the V&A later this summer. See here for more information.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.