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Jane Austen and the State of the Nation: a Review by Laura Boyle

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51JD2T4PXxL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_Jane Austen is universally acknowledged as an excellent writer with a fine grasp of the human condition. Her ever increasing number of fans, her inclusion in nearly every list of worthy writers and English Literature syllabi, her marketability and timeless appeal have created what might be called an international mania. Many would attribute her success to her wit and way with words, others to the age old stories of love and romance that she tells. It seems, however, as if there was more, much more, just beneath the surface: undertones and even overt messages that Jane Austen’s readers would have seen, but which are, for the most part, lost to today’s readers. After all, as Jane herself (in the guise of omniscient narrator) explains in Northanger Abbey:

“Oh! It is only a novel!…It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”

I have, over the past few months, had the great privilege of first hearing and then reading the works of celebrated Austen scholar and international speaker, Dr. Sheryl Craig. The talk she addressed to our JASNA gathering in November, entitled “So Ended a Marriage”, looked at Mansfield Park in light of the divorce and custody laws current during Jane Austen’s day. Drawing from actual divorce transcripts, she carefully laid out a plausible defense for Austen’s use of the novel as political statement about the rights of women and their treatment as property. An abridged version of this talk can be found on Sarah Emsley’s Mansfield Park site, and the entirety has been printed in JASNA’s Persuasions #36.

Immediately following the talk, I eagerly began reading Dr. Craig’s newly published book, Jane Austen and the State of the Nation. I don’t know what I was anticipating, but what I found was truly fascinating. Dr. Craig has an easy, informed style, which makes even a subject like Georgian and Regency economics at once fascinating and accessible to the lay reader. Again, she brings her impressive knowledge of Austen’s life and times to bear with great effect. The book delves into Georgian social welfare and political response, and is rife with colorful anecdotes and period illustrations. It seems that even the counties chosen for Austen’s heroines to reside in held meaning for her period readers.

Now, of course, might be a good time to point out just how qualified Dr. Craig is. Her biography reads like a Janeite’s bucket list:

Sheryl Craig is an Austen scholar with a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British literature from the University of Kansas. She’s a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and editor of ‘JASNA News’. Sheryl has published articles in ‘Persuasions’, ‘Persuasions On-Line’, ‘The Explicator’ and ‘Jane Austen’s Regency World’, and on the websites of the Jane Austen Centre and Chawton House Library. In 2008, Sheryl was selected to be JASNA’s International Visitor, and in 2011-2012, she was JASNA’s Traveling Lecturer for the Central Region. She has presented at regional and national JASNA conferences and to Canadian and Scottish branches of the Jane Austen Society.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen wrote ironically,A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.” These words, from Henry Tilney, were meant to be taken in jest, but there may have been an element of truth to them as well. Jane, as we know, was quite clever—too clever, perhaps for her small social circle. As an avid reader of books and newspapers, a patron of the circulating library and an eager student of history and past masters, she peppered her personal correspondence with quotes both old and new, and innumerable references to current events.

Dr. Craig posits that one can not only trace the Georgian political and social climate through the chronological reading of Jane’s novels, but even more so Jane’s answer to the ever growing crisis around her. It’s easy to think that because war and poverty are hardly glimpsed in Jane Austen’s novels, that she is ignoring those unpleasant realities of life, focusing instead on the “three or four families in a country village” we are used to reading about. In reading Jane Austen and the State of the Nation, one begins to think that Austen’s novels are not at all what they seem upon first reading. Masking themselves as chick-lit romances, they find their way into the hands of men and women everywhere (including the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott) only to promote a rational, even-handed political agenda in the face of government corruption, national recession and widespread unemployment (not unlike that which is facing too many nations today.)

I feel quite foolish—as if I could not see what was right before my eyes, as though I had been duped by the pretty people, beautiful language and enduring story lines. There is so much more to Austen upon rereading through the lens provided by Dr. Craig. It’s as if, after intimately knowing the novels for more than twenty years, I’ve been given the opportunity to read them again for the first time. What I find are cleverly crafted lessons in statesmanship and stewardship which might as easily be applied to today’s foundering economy, working at such a basic level that anyone (landed gentry or not, Georgian or Generation Y) might be able to apply them to their own life.

England’s economy was falling apart at the seams, but rather than show the depravity and baseness of the human condition, rather than beat the reader over the head with everyday senseless tragedy, as Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens were wont to do, Austen’s fine hand gently paved the way for her understanding readers, and in such a way, through endless analogy, that her modern fan base can hardly see the “forest for the trees”, as it were.

As a historically interested Jane Austen fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be rereading chapters and taking my time perusing the generous bibliography before lending it out with my highest recommendations. That being said, I am feeling somewhat ignorant at the end of the day. After hearing Dr. Craig speak, I felt I had not really ever understood (my least favorite of the novels) Mansfield Park, as it was clearly a treatise on the rights of women. Now, however, I find that Mansfield Park is actually a political expose on the state of the British colonies and Parliament’s answer to it. This too, with the given facts, seems perfectly logical and reasonable. Clever, clever Jane. What else have I been missing? No doubt there are dozens of other subtexts to be found if only one will look just below the surface.

Jane Austen once compared her style of writing to that of her nephew, Edward Austen’s: “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?” (December 16, 1816) Those who have read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre are given a vivid picture of the difference of a charcoal sketch vs. an ivory portrait such as Austen describes, “An hour or two sufficed to sketch my own portrait in crayons; and in less than a fortnight I had completed an ivory miniature of an imaginary Blanche Ingram. It looked a lovely face enough, and when compared with the real head in chalk, the contrast was as great as self-control could desire.” One is harsh and realistic, the other stylized, beautified and dainty. One of the reasons we love Jane Austen’s novels so much is for the escapist feel they bring, as we enter a world of order, beauty and light. This is the very impression Jane is seeking to create with her “little bit of ivory” analogy, and yet, beneath, there lies layer after layer of depth, complexity and realism that I am only beginning to comprehend. I am so grateful to Dr. Craig for opening my eyes, and anxiously anticipate her next book (fingers crossed that it will be published soon!)

 

  • List Price: £55.00
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2015 edition (August 19, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137544544

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

 

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Simplifying Regency Style

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In her 1983 book, Period Design & Furnishing, Judith and Martin Miller present a wonderful overview of historical furniture design along with stunning photographs of both extant homes as well as contemporary recreations. This book is fascinating, not only to the Janeite hoping to better understand the nuances of fashion during the eras Jane lived through (Georgian, Regency, Empire and Biedermeier) but also to the author seeking to set her stage, the miniature artist attempting to capture a moment in time and the home decorator feathering her nest in a style reminiscent of days gone by.

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The Miller’s book, Period Design & Furnishing.

Quoting from the chapter, Regency, Empire and Biedermeier, we find a lovely description of Regency taste and how it differentiated from the preceding Georgian Era:

“Life in the English Regency period, which in its broadest sense stretched from the late 1790s  until the late 1830s, was more intimate and informal than previously. Rooms, often with a bay window, were smaller and had lower ceilings, and the arrangement of furniture was much more casual. Instead of being ranged around the room, pieces were grouped close to the fireplace. Family and friends would gather around a circular table to talk or play cards. Interiors were better lit than before: the new, efficient oil lamps enabled several people to share a table fore reading or writing.

A sample Regency dining room from Ackermann's Repository, 1816.
A sample Regency dining room from Ackermann’s Repository, 1816.

Regency rooms were on the whole light and graceful with fairly plain walls in a clear pale color. There would be a narrow frieze, and the ceiling was usually plain or decorated with a small central garland with a chandelier hanging from it. Fabric was used in abundance– swathed and draped over valances and sometimes festooned between the legs of chairs. Continue reading Simplifying Regency Style

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2015 Jane Austen Festival in Bath

Attend The Jane Austen Festival...
Jane Austen Festival Promenade
Festival Promenaders taking a break.

The Jane Austen Festival starts on the 12th of September and looks like it will be the biggest and best ever.

Jackie Herring, Jane Austen Festival Director is happy with the arrangements and ticket sales. ‘Lots of events have already sold out but there are still a few tickets left. If you want to see something spectacular turn up on to the Regency Promenade on Saturday. Watch 600 spectacular promenaders in their Regency finery as they take to the streets of Bath.’

The event has been covered by The Bath Chronicle. Take a look at their article here

More Promenade information;

Each year the Jane Austen Festival officially opens with our world famous Grand Regency Costumed Promenade. The Promenade is a parade through the streets of this beautiful city and over 500 people all in 18th Century costume take part, making it a record breaking event. In 2014 the Jane Austen Festival achieved the Guinness World Record TM for ‘The largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes at 550′ All sorts of people take part from the very young to the young at heart plus red coats, dancers and our official town crier.

The Promenade stops the traffic in Gay Street, The Circus, George Street, Milsom Street and Orange Grove, making it difficult for drivers from 11am until 12.30pm on Saturday 12th September 2015.

ALL participants wear costume to take part in the Promenade and also purchase a ticket, the cost is £10 per adult, children 16 and under are free. £1 from every ticket sold is donated to the Festival’s charity, (2015 it is Whizz-Kidz) Tickets are in the form of a collectable wristband and on sale from the Online giftshop or by post from The Jane Austen Festival office c/o 40 Gay Street, Bath BA1 2NT from 2nd March 2015.

Don’t forget your festival souvenirs… Our Jane Austen Festival 2015 range is limited edition so once they’re gone, they’re gone!

Jane Austen Festival Mug Souvenir

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Create a Custom Hatpin

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While there is some debate over the date of the original hatpin (vs straight pin),we do know that women have been using pins to secure veils, wimples, hats and bonnets for hundreds of years.  Until 1820 hatpin making in England was a cottage industry in which demand far exceeded supply. One solution was to import crafted pins from France. In order to support Britain’s crafters, in 1820 a law was passed allowing pins to be imported ONLY on January 1 and 2! Some suggest the phrase “pin money” was so called because it was spent by the lady of the house on her hatpins, dress pins and brooch pins!


2008’s The Duchess featured exquisite costumes (and hatpins) by Michael O’Connor. Photo by Nick Wall

All pins were still handmade at this point, and remained so until 1832 when a machine was invented in the United States, which could mass-produce the pins. After this prices dropped considerably as machines made pins were crafted England and France, soon after.

When styles began favoring the hat over the bonnet in the 1880’s, hatpins became both more fashionable and more elaborate. They remained as essential accessory until the age of flapper style bobs and cloche hats made them unnecessary. Still the Edwardian hatpin was regarded as a thing of fear among lawmakers of the day, who passed legislation in 1908 (in the United States) mandating that pins  not exceed 10 inches in length (lest Suffragettes use them as weapons) and later ordering that the ends be capped lest someone be injured by a sharp tip.

Pictures of Regency style pins are in short supply, but I do love this image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807, showing a group of young ladies trying on hats and bonnets (Lydia Bennet, anyone?) A look at the woman on the far right shows what appears to be a beaded hatpin stuck safely in place waiting for the next hat or bonnet.

An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807
An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807

From the above illustrations, it appears that Georgian/Regency era pins were less elaborate than their Victorian cousins, featuring one or two beads, instead of the elaborate trimmings and jewels that were to come.

To create your own hatpins, you’ll need:

  • A long, straight pin or hatpin (20 cm is average.) These can be purchased from  Austentation on Etsy. Custom Pins are also available.
  • Metal glue (I like E6000)
  • An assortment of beads and bead caps.
"Blank" hatpins can be purchased from Austentation on Etsy.
“Blank” hatpins can be purchased from Austentation on Etsy.

To make your pin, first add a bead cap, then line up your beads in your chosen order and end with a small bead or cap. Once you have decided on your perfect combination, slide the beads down the pin and add some glue to the pin, where the beads will sit. Slide all but the last the bead back in place, being sure that each one is adhered. Add a small drop of glue to the bottom hole of the second to last bead, slide your final piece into place and allow the pin to dry.

A variety of hatpins can be purchased in our online shop
A variety of hatpins can be purchased in our online shop, while custom pieces can be ordered from Austentation.

Congratulations! A custom piece to complement your period ensemble!

This custom combination was created by Laura Boyle for Austentation: Regency Accessories.
This custom combination was created by Laura Boyle for Austentation: Regency Accessories.

Laura Boyle creates the hatpins available in the Jane Austen Centre shop as well as providing her customers with custom hatpins and supplies along with various other hats, bonnets, reticules and accessories from her shop Austentation: Regency Accessories.

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Banbury cakes

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Many food items are named according to their birthplace, such as Bath Buns or Yorkshire Pudding. Banbury was a market town which also gave it’s name to the phrase, “A Banbury story of a cock and a bull”. Made famous in Regency circles by Georgette Heyer, it dates to at least the 1600’s and is mentioned in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Gros. Its most common meaning is “A far-fetched and fanciful story or tale of highly dubious validity“. It is also sometimes shortened to “a Banbury tale” or simply “a Banbury” and most often “a cock and bull story”.

A Banbury cake is a spiced, currant-filled, flat pastry cake similar to an Eccles cake, although it is more oval in shape. Once made and sold exclusively in Banbury, England, Banbury cakes have been made in the region to secret recipes since 1586 or earlier and are still made there today, although not in such quantity. The cakes were once sent as far afield as Australia, India and America.

banbury

Banbury cakes were first made by Edward Welchman, whose shop was on Parsons Street. Documented recipes were published by Gervase Markham and others during the 17th century. These recipes generally differ largely to the modern idea of a Banbury cake, in terms of their size, the nature of the pastry, and how the cake is made. In the late 19th century, the notorious refreshment rooms at Swindon railway station sold “Banbury cakes and pork pies (obviously stale)”.

A drawing of the original bake shop from "A History of Banbury".
A drawing of the original bake shop from “A History of Banbury” by Alfred Beesley, 1841.

Besides currants, the filling typically includes mixed peel, brown sugar, rose water, rum, and nutmeg. Banbury cakes were traditionally enjoyed with afternoon tea.

According to The History of Banbury by Alfred Beesley (1841),

“If the fame of Banbury Cheese has so nearly departed, that of Banbury Cakes, recorded from the days of Philemon Holland and Ben Jonson (in 1608 and 1614), has continued till the present time. Mr. Samuel Beesley, the proprietor of the cake shop which in the last century was conducted by the White family,8‘ sold, in 1840, no fewer than 139,500…

It is probable that the Banbury Cakes of the present day are made pretty nearly the same as those of the time of Holland and Ben J on son. The present Mr. Dumbleton (who was bom in 1765) remembers this sort of Cakes as being considered an antiquated production in the days of his youth; and he states that his father, who was born in the year 1700, spoke of them in the same way. The importation to this country of those small grapes which are the “currants” of commerce, and which are used in the manufacture of Banbury Cakes, was much earlier than this period. Ben Jonson (in his ” Bartholomew Fair **) writes of the Banbury Puritan, a baker and cake-maker, as having “undone a grocer here, in Newgate market, that broke with him, trusted him with currants, as arrant a zeal as he.”

The Cakes are of an oval, but rather diamond-shaped, figure: the outside is formed of rich paste, and the interior consists of fruit, &c, resembling the contents of a mince pie.

This 1615 recipe from Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman is probably quite close to the original recipe. For a modern version, though, try Dan Lepard’s “Jacobean Banbury Cakes“. Elena Greene offers a more modern (1825) version on her blog, Risky Regencies.

 recipe

 Historical information from Wikipedia.com

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The Hope Diamond-The most famous diamond in the world

The Hope Diamond on display at the Smithsonian museum.

The Hope Diamond, also known as “Le Bijou du Roi” (“the King’s Jewel”), “Le bleu de France” (“the Blue of France”), and the Tavernier Blue, is a large, 45.52-carat (9.104 g), deep-blue diamond, and now housed in the National Gem and Mineral collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. It is blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron within its crystal structure, and exhibits red phosphorescence after exposure to ultraviolet light. It is classified as a Type IIb diamond, and is notorious for supposedly being cursed. It has a long recorded history, with few gaps, in which it changed hands numerous times on its way from India to France to Britain and eventually to the United States, where it has been regularly on public display since. It has been described as the “most famous diamond in the world”.

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The Hope Diamond in 1974

Several accounts, based on remarks written by the gem’s first known owner, French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, suggest that the gemstone originated in India, in the Kollur mine in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh (which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom), in the seventeenth century. It is unclear who had initially owned the gemstone, where it had been found, by whom, and in what condition. But the first historical records suggest that a French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier obtained the stone in the mid-1600s, possibly by purchase or by theft. Tavernier brought to Paris a large uncut stone which was the first known precursor to the Hope Diamond. This large stone became known as the Tavernier Blue diamond. It was a crudely cut triangular shaped stone of 115 carats (23.0 g). Another estimate is that it weighed 112.23 carats (22.446 g) before it was cut. Tavernier’s book, the Six Voyages (French: Les Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier), contains sketches of several large diamonds that he sold to Louis XIV in possibly 1668 or 1669; while the blue diamond is shown among these, Tavernier mentions the mines at “Gani” Kollur as a source of colored diamonds, but made no direct mention of the stone. Historian Richard Kurin builds a highly speculative case for 1653 as the year of acquisition, but the most that can be said with certainty is that Tavernier obtained the blue diamond during one of his five voyages to India between the years 1640 and 1667. One report suggests he took 25 diamonds to Paris, including the large rock which became the Hope, and sold all of them to King Louis XIV. Another report suggested that in 1669, Tavernier sold this large blue diamond along with approximately one thousand other diamonds to King Louis XIV of France for 220,000 livres, the equivalent of 147 kilograms of pure gold. In a newly published historical novel, The French Blue, gemologist and historian Richard W. Wise proposed that the patent of nobility granted Tavernier by Louis XIV was a part of the payment for the Tavernier Blue. According to the theory, during that period Colbert, the King’s Finance Minister, regularly sold offices and noble titles for cash, and an outright patent of nobility, according to Wise, was worth approximately 500,000 livres making a total of 720,000 livres, a price about half Tavernier’s estimate of the gem’s true value. There has been some controversy regarding the actual weight of the stone; Morel believed that the 112316 carats stated in Tavernier’s invoice would be in old French carats, thus 115.28 metric carats.

Tavernier's original sketch of the Tavernier Blue
Tavernier’s original sketch of the Tavernier Blue

 

In 1678, Louis XIV commissioned the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, to recut the Tavernier Blue, resulting in a 67.125-carat (13.4250 g) stone which royal inventories thereafter listed as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France (French: diamant bleu de la Couronne de France). Later English-speaking historians have simply called it the French Blue. The king had the stone set on a cravat-pin. According to one report, Louis ordered Pitau to “make him a piece to remember”, and Pitau took two years on the piece, resulting in a “triangular-shaped 69-carat gem the size of a pigeon’s egg that took the breath away as it snared the light, reflecting it back in bluish-grey rays.” It was set in gold and was supported by a ribbon for the neck which was worn by the king during ceremonies.

At the diamond’s dazzling heart was a sun with seven facets – the sun being Louis’ emblem, and seven being a number rich in meaning in biblical cosmology, indicating divinity and spirituality.
—report in Agence France-Presse, 2008

Louis XV wearing the
Louis XV wearing the “Order of the Golden Fleece”

In 1749, Louis’ descendant, King Louis XV, had the French Blue set into a more elaborate jewelled pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece by court jeweler André Jacquemin. The assembled piece included a red spinel of 107 carats shaped as a dragon breathing “covetous flames”, as well as 83 red-painted diamonds and 112 yellow-painted diamonds to suggest a fleece shape. The piece fell into disuse after the death of Louis XV. The diamond became the property of his grandson King Louis XVI. During the reign of her husband, Marie Antoinette used many of the French Crown Jewels for personal adornment by having the individual gems placed in new settings and combinations, but the French Blue remained in this pendant except for a brief time in 1787, when the stone was removed for scientific study by Mathurin Jacques Brisson, and returned to its setting soon thereafter. On September 11, 1792, while Louis XVI and his family were confined in the Palais des Tuileries near the Place de la Concorde during the early stages of the French Revolution, a group of thieves broke into the Garde-Meuble (Royal Storehouse) and stole most of the Crown Jewels during a five-day looting spree. While many jewels were later recovered, including other pieces of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the French Blue was not among them and it disappeared temporarily from history. In 1793, Louis was guillotined in January and Marie was guillotined in October, and these beheadings are commonly cited as a result of the diamond’s “curse”, but the historical record suggests that Marie Antoinette had never worn the Golden Fleece pendant because it had been reserved for the exclusive use of the king.

Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.
Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.

A likely scenario is that the French Blue or sometimes also known as the Blue Diamond was “swiftly smuggled to London” after being seized in 1792 in Paris. But the exact rock known as the French Blue was never seen again, since it almost certainly was recut during this decades-long period of anonymity, probably into two pieces, and the larger one became the Hope Diamond. One report suggested that the cut was a “butchered job” because it sheared off 23.5 carats from the larger rock as well as hurting its “extraordinary lustre.” It had long been believed that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue until confirmation finally happened when a three-dimensional leaden model of the latter was rediscovered in the archives of the French Natural History Museum in Paris in 2005.

Historians suggested that one robber, Cadet Guillot, took several jewels, including the French Blue and the Côte-de-Bretagne spinel, to Le Havre and then to London, where the French Blue was cut in two pieces. Morel adds that in 1796, Guillot attempted to resell the Côte-de-Bretagne in France but was forced to relinquish it to fellow thief Lancry de la Loyelle, who put Guillot into debtors’ prison.

There is speculation that George's wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.
There is speculation that George’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.

In a contrasting report, historian Richard Kurin speculated that the “theft” of the French Crown Jewels was in fact engineered by the revolutionary leader Georges Danton as part of a plan to bribe an opposing military commander, Duke Karl Wilhelm of Brunswick. When under attack by Napoleon in 1805, Karl Wilhelm may have had the French Blue recut to disguise its identity; in this form, the stone could have come to Britain in 1806, when his family fled there to join his daughter Caroline of Brunswick. Although Caroline was the wife of the Prince Regent George (later George IV of the United Kingdom), she lived apart from her husband, and financial straits sometimes forced her to quietly sell her own jewels to support her household. Caroline’s nephew, Duke Karl Friedrich, was later known to possess a 13.75-carat (2.750 g) blue diamond which was widely thought to be another piece of the French Blue. This smaller diamond’s present whereabouts are unknown, and the recent CAD reconstruction of the French Blue fits too tightly around the Hope Diamond to allow for the existence of a sister stone of that size.

A blue diamond with the same shape, size, and color as the Hope Diamond was recorded by John Francillon in the possession of the London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in September 1812, the earliest point when the history of the Hope Diamond can be definitively fixed, although a second less definitive report claims that the Hope Diamond’s “authentic history” can only be traced back to 1830. The jewel was a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats” and weighed 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat). It is often pointed out that the 1812 date was almost exactly twenty years after the theft of the French Blue, just as the statute of limitations for the crime had taken effect. While the diamond had disappeared for two decades, there were questions whether this diamond now in Great Britain was exactly the same one as had belonged to the French kings, but scientific investigation in 2008 confirmed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Hope Diamond and that owned by the kings of France were, indeed, the same gemstone, in the sense that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue.

King George IV
King George IV

There are conflicting reports about what happened to the diamond during these years. Eliason’s diamond may have been acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom, possibly through Caroline of Brunswick; however, there is no record of the ownership in the Royal Archives at Windsor, although some secondary evidence exists in the form of contemporary writings and artwork, and George IV tended to mix up the Crown property of the Crown Jewels with family heirlooms and his own personal property. A source at the Smithsonian suggested there were “several references” suggesting that King George had, indeed, owned the diamond. After his death in 1830, it has been alleged that some of this mixed collection was stolen by George’s last mistress, Lady Conyngham, and some of his personal effects were discreetly liquidated to cover the many debts he had left behind him. Another report states that the king’s debts were “so enormous” that the diamond was probably sold through “private channels”. In either case, the blue diamond was not retained by the British royal family.

Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.
Thomas Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.

The stone was later reported to have been acquired by a rich London banker named Thomas Hope, for either $65,000 or $90,000. It has been suggested that Eliason may have been a “front” for Hope, acting not as a diamond merchant venturing money on his own account, but rather as an agent to acquire the diamond for the banker. In 1839, the Hope Diamond appeared in a published catalog of the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope, who was a member of the same Anglo-Dutch banking family. The stone was set in a fairly simple medallion surrounded by many smaller white diamonds, which he sometimes lent to Louisa de la Poer Beresford, the widow of his brother, Thomas Hope, for society balls. After falling into the ownership of the Hope family, the stone came to be known as the “Hope Diamond”.

Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, the same year as the publication of his collection catalog. His three nephews, the sons of Thomas and Louisa, fought in court for ten years over his inheritance, and ultimately the collection was split up. The oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight of the most valuable gems, including the Hope Diamond. It was displayed in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855, but was usually kept in a bank vault. In 1861, Henry Thomas Hope’s only child, Henrietta, married Henry Pelham-Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (and later Duke of Newcastle). When Hope died on December 4, 1862, his wife Anne Adele inherited the gem, but she feared that the profligate lifestyle of her son-in-law might cause him to sell the Hope properties. Upon Adele’s death in 1884, the entire Hope estate, including the Hope Diamond, was entrusted to Henrietta’s younger son, Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton, on the condition that he add the name of “Hope” to his own surnames when he reached the age of legal majority. As Lord Francis Hope, this grandson received his legacy in 1887. However, he had only a life interest in his inheritance, meaning that he could not sell any part of it without court permission.

Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.
Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.

In 1894, Lord Francis Hope met the American concert hall singer May Yohé, who has been described as “the sensation of two continents”, and they were married the same year; one account suggests that Yohé wore the Hope Diamond on at least one occasion. She later claimed that she had worn it at social gatherings and had an exact replica made for her performances, but her husband claimed otherwise. Lord Francis lived beyond his means, and this eventually caught up with him, leading to marriage troubles and financial reverses, and he found that he had to sell the diamond. In 1896, his bankruptcy was discharged, but, as he could not sell the Hope Diamond without the court’s permission, he was supported financially by his wife during these intervening years. In 1901, the financial situation had changed, and after a “long legal fight,” he was given permission to sell the Hope Diamond by an order of the Master in Chancery to “pay off debts”. But May Yohé ran off with a gentleman friend named Putnam Strong, who was a son of the former New York City mayor William L. Strong. Francis Hope and May Yohé were divorced in 1902.

Lord Francis sold the diamond for £29,000 (£2,641,880 as of 2015), to Adolph Weil, a London jewel merchant. Weil later sold the stone to the diamond dealer Simon Frankel, based in New York and/or London who took it to New York. One report stated that he had paid $250,000.[27] However, in New York it was evaluated to be worth $141,032 (equal to £28,206 at the time).

Accounts vary about what happened to the diamond during the years 1902–1907; one account suggested that it lay in the William & Theodore safe during these years while the jewelers took it out periodically to show it to wealthy Americans; a rival account, probably invented to help add “mystery” to the Hope Diamond story, suggested that some persons had bought it but apparently sold it back to Frankel. There were reports in one story in The New York Times of several owners of the gem, perhaps who had bought it from Frankel and owned it temporarily who met with ill-fortune, but this report conflicts with the more likely possibility that the gem remained in the hands of the Frankel jewelry firm during these years. Like many jewelry firms, the Frankel business ran into financial difficulties during the depression of 1907 and referred to the gem as the “hoodoo diamond.”

In 1908, Frankel sold the diamond for $400,000 to a Salomon or Selim Habib, a wealthy Turkish diamond collector, reportedly in behalf of Sultan Abdulhamid of Ottoman Empire; however, on June 24, 1909, the stone was included in an auction of Habib’s assets to settle his own debts, and the auction catalog explicitly stated that the Hope Diamond was one of only two gems in the collection which had never been owned by the Sultan. A contrary report, however, suggested that Sultan Abdul Hamid did own the gem but ordered Habib to sell it when his throne “began to totter.” Habib reportedly sold the stone in Paris in 1909 for $80,000. The Parisian jewel merchant Simon Rosenau bought the Hope Diamond for 400,000 francs and resold it in 1910 to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs. In 1910, it was offered for $150,000, according to one report.

Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.
Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.

Pierre Cartier tried to sell the Hope Diamond to Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband in 1910. Cartier was a consummate salesman who used an understated presentation to entice Mrs. McLean. He described the gem’s illustrious history to her while keeping it concealed underneath special wrapping paper. The suspense worked: McLean became impatient to the point where she suddenly requested to see the stone. She recalled later that Cartier “held before our eyes the Hope Diamond.” Nevertheless, she initially rejected the offer. Cartier had it reset. She found the stone much more appealing in this new modern style. There were conflicting reports about the sale in the New York Times; one account suggested that the young McLean couple had agreed to purchase the diamond, but after having learned about its unfortunate supposed history, the couple had wanted to back out of the deal since they knew nothing of the “history of misfortunes that have beset its various owners.”

Both Ned McLean and his pretty wife are quite young, and in a way unsophisticated, although they were born and reared in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. All their lives they have known more of jewelry, finery, banquets, automobiles, horses, and other articles of pleasure than they have of books, with their wealth of knowledge.
—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The brouhaha over the diamond’s supposed “ill luck” prompted a worried editor of The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly to write:

No mention of any ill luck having befalled Eliason, Hope, or any of their descendants was ever made. The Frankels surely were very prosperous while the stone was in their possession, as were the dealers who held it in Europe. Habib’s misfortune referred to in the newspaper accounts occurred long after he had sold the stone… As Francis Hope never had the stone and May Yohe probably never saw it … the newspaper accounts at the time mentioned were laughed at, but since then it has been the custom not only to revive these stories every time mention of the stone appears in the public press, but to add to them fictitious incidents of misfortune as to alleged possessors of the stone at various times.
—T. Edgar Willson, in an editorial in The New York Times, 1911

The tenuous deal involved wrangling among attorneys for both Cartier and the McLeans, but finally, in 1911, the couple bought the gem for over $300,000, although there are differing estimates of the sales price at $150,000 and $180,000. An alternative scenario is that the McLeans may have fabricated concern about the supposed “curse” to generate publicity to increase the value of their investment.

Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph “with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds” -Smithsonian (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph  (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

A description was that the gemstone “lay on a bed of white silk and surrounded by many small white diamonds cut pear shaped”. The new setting was the current platinum framework surrounded by a row of sixteen diamonds which alternated between Old Mine Cut and pear-shaped variants. Mrs. McLean wore it to a “brilliant reception” in February 1912 when it was reported that it was the first time it had been worn in public since it had “changed owners.” She would “sport the diamond at social events” and wore it numerous social occasions that she had organized.

The Hope Diamond in its original pendant must have looked fantastic at parties circa the 1920s, when it hung around the neck of owner Evalyn Walsh McLean’s Great Dane, Mike.
—report in The Wall Street Journal, 2010

There were reports that she misplaced it at parties, deliberately and frequently, and then make a children’s game out of “finding the Hope”, and times when she hid the diamond somewhere on her estate during the “lavish parties she threw and invite guests to find it.” The stone prompted elaborate security precautions:

William Schindele, a former Secret Service man, has been engaged to guard the stone. He in turn will be guarded by Leo Costello and Simeon Blake, private detectives. The stone will be kept at the McLean mansion during the day and each night will be deposited in a safe deposit vault. When Mrs. McLean wears the gem at balls and receptions arrangements have been made to keep the safe deposit building open until after the function that the stone may be safely stored away. A special automobile has been purchased to convey the guards to and from the house to the trust company’s building.
—report in The New York Times, 1911

But the stone was not stolen during their ownership. When Mrs. McLean died in 1947, she bequeathed the diamond to her grandchildren through a will which insisted that her former property would remain in the custody of trustees until the eldest child had reached 25 years of age. This requirement would have prevented any sale for the next two decades. However, the trustees gained permission to sell her jewels to settle her debts, and in 1949 sold them to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston. He purchased McLean’s “entire jewelry collection”. Over the next decade, Winston exhibited McLean’s necklace in his “Court of Jewels,” a tour of jewels around the United States, as well as various promotional events and charity balls. The diamond appeared on the television quiz show The Name’s the Same, in an episode which first aired on August 16, 1955, when a teenaged contestant with the actual name Hope Diamond was one of the mystery guests, as well as at the August 1958 Canadian National Exhibition. At some point, Winston also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet slightly recut to increase its brilliance.

Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.
Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian mineralogist George Switzer is credited with persuading jeweler Harry Winston to donate the Hope Diamond Institution for a proposed national gem collection to be housed at the National Museum of Natural History. On November 10, 1958, Winston acquiesced, sending it through U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper as simple registered mail insured for $1 million at a cost of $145.29, of which $2.44 was for postage and the balance insurance. Upon its arrival it became Specimen #217868.

Hope_Diamond_US_Mail_parcel-1958
Registered Mail package used to deliver the Hope Diamond to the National Museum of Natural History.

Winston had never believed in any of the tales about the curse; he donated the diamond with the hope that it would help the United States “establish a gem collection.” Winston died many years later, in 1978, of a heart attack. Winston’s gift, according to Smithsonian curator Dr. Jeffrey Post, indeed helped spur additional gifts to the museum.

For its first four decades in the National Museum of Natural History, the Hope Diamond lay in its necklace inside a glass-fronted safe as part of the gems and jewelry gallery, except for a few brief excursions: a 1962 exhibition to the Louvre; the 1965 Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, South Africa; and two visits back to Harry Winston’s premises in New York City, once in 1984, and once for a 50th anniversary celebration in 1996. To guard against theft during the diamond’s trip to the 1962 Louvre exhibition, Switzer traveled to Paris with the Hope Diamond tucked inside a velvet pouch sewn by his wife. The Hope Diamond was placed into the pouch, which was pinned inside Switzer’s pants pocket for the flight.

When the Smithsonian’s gallery was renovated in 1997, the necklace was moved onto a rotating pedestal inside a cylinder made of 3-inch (76 mm) thick bulletproof glass in its own display room, adjacent to the main exhibit of the National Gem Collection, in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The Hope Diamond is the most popular jewel on display and the collection’s centerpiece.

There is evidence of several newspaper accounts which helped spread the curse story. A New Zealand newspaper article in 1888 described the supposedly lurid history of the Hope Diamond, including a claim that it was “said once to have formed the single eye of a great idol”, as part of a confused description that also claimed that its namesake owner had personally “brought it from India”, and that the diamond’s true color was “white, [although] when held to the light, it emits the most superb and dazzling blue rays.” An article entitled “Hope Diamond Has Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It” appeared in the Washington Post in 1908. An additional account of the Hope Diamond’s “cursed origins” was a fanciful and anonymously written newspaper article in 1909. It was followed by another article in 1911 which detailed a rather lengthy list of supposed cases of ill-fortune but with few confirmations from other sources:

  • Jacques Colet bought the Hope Diamond from Simon Frankel and committed suicide.
  • Prince Ivan Kanitovski bought it from Colet but was killed by Russian revolutionists.
  • Kanitovski loaned it to Mlle Ladue who was “murdered by her sweetheart.”
  • Simon Mencharides, who had once sold it to the Turkish sultan, was thrown from a precipice along with his wife and young child.
  • Sultan Hamid gave it to Abu Sabir to “polish” but later Sabir was imprisoned and tortured.
  • Stone guardian Kulub Bey was hanged by a mob in Turkey.
  • A Turkish attendant named Hehver Agha was hanged for having it in his possession.
  • Tavernier, who brought the stone from India to Paris was “torn to pieces by wild dogs in Constantinople.”
  • King Louis gave it to Madame de Montespan whom later he abandoned.
  • Nicholas Fouquet, an “Intendant of France”, borrowed it temporarily to wear it but was “disgraced and died in prison.”
  • A temporary wearer, Princess de Lamballe, was “torn to pieces by a French mob.”
  • Jeweler William Fals who recut the stone “died a ruined man.”
  • William Fals’ son Hendrik stole the jewel from his father and later “committed suicide.”
  • Some years (after Hendrik) “it was sold to Francis Deaulieu, who died in misery and want.”
Source: The New York Times, January 29, 1911

The mainstream academic view is that these accounts are specious and speculative since there are few, if any, independent confirmations or historical scholarship to back them up. A few months later, perhaps compounded by inaccurate reports in The New York Times on November 17, 1909, it was incorrectly reported that the diamond’s former owner, Selim Habib, had drowned in a shipwreck of the steamer Seyne near Singapore; in fact, it was a different person with the same name, not the owner of the diamond. There was also speculation that jeweler Pierre Cartier further embroidered the lurid tales to intrigue Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond in 1911.

The theme of greedy robbers stealing a valuable metal from the tomb or shrine of an ancient god or ruler, and then being punished by it, is one which repeats in many different forms of literature. A likely source of inspiration for the fabrications was the Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel The Moonstone, which created a coherent narrative from vague and largely disregarded legends which had been attached to other diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor and the Orloff diamond. The theme can be seen in the stories about the curse of Egyptian king Tutankhamun and in more recent films such as the Indiana Jones films. In keeping with these scripts, according to the legend, Tavernier did not buy the Hope diamond but stole it from a Hindu temple where it had been set as one of two matching eyes of an idol, and the temple priests then laid a curse on whoever might possess the missing stone. Largely because the other blue diamond “eye” never surfaced, historians dismissed the fantastical story. The stories generally do not bear up to more pointed examination; for example, the legend that Tavernier’s body was “torn apart by wolves” is inconsistent with historical evidence which shows that he lived to 84 and died of natural causes.

It is possible that the overblown story of the curse, possibly fueled by Cartier and others, may have caused some hesitation on the part of the prospective buyers, the McLeans, around 1911. When a lawsuit between buyer and seller erupted about the terms of the deal, newspapers kept alive reports of the diamond’s “malevolent influence” with reports like this one, which blamed the stone’s “curse” on having caused, of all things, the lawsuit itself:

The malevolent influence that has for centuries dogged with discord and disaster the owners of the famous Hope diamond has started again and without waste of time, despite special precautions against ill-luck taken at the time of its last sale, according to John S. Wise, Jr., of 20 Broad Street, attorney for Cartiers, the Fifth Avenue jewelers, who are suing Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. McLean for $180,000, its alleged purchase price.—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The Hope Diamond was also blamed for the unhappy fates of other historical figures vaguely linked to its ownership, such as the falls of Madame Athenais de Montespan and French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet during the reign of Louis XIV of France; the beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the rape and mutilation of the Princesse de Lamballe during the French Revolution; and the forced abdication of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid who had supposedly killed various members of his court for the stone (despite the annotation in Habib’s auction catalog). Even jewelers who may have handled the Hope Diamond were not spared from its reputed malice: the insanity and suicide of Jacques Colot, who supposedly bought it from Eliason, and the financial ruin of the jeweler Simon Frankel, who bought it from the Hope family, were linked to the stone. But although he is documented as a French diamond dealer of the correct era, Colot has no recorded connection with the stone, and Frankel’s misfortunes were in the midst of economic straits that also ruined many of his peers. The legend includes deaths of numerous other characters who had been previously unknown: Diamond cutter Wilhelm Fals, killed by his son Hendrik, who stole it and later committed suicide; Francois Beaulieu, who received the stone from Hendrik but starved to death after selling it to Daniel Eliason; a Russian prince named Kanitowski, who lent it to French actress Lorens Ladue and promptly shot her dead on the stage, and was himself stabbed to death by revolutionaries; Simon Montharides, hurled over a precipice with his family. However, the existence of only a few of these characters has been verified historically, leading researchers to conclude that most of these persons are fictitious.

Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery
Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery

The actress May Yohe made repeated attempts to capitalize on her identity as the former wife of the last Hope to own the diamond, and sometimes blamed the gemstone for her misfortunes. In July 1902, months after Lord Francis divorced her, she told police in Australia that her lover, Putnam Strong, had abandoned her and taken her jewels. In fact, the couple reconciled, married later that year, but divorced in 1910. On her third marriage in 1920, she persuaded film producer George Kleine to back a 15-episode serial The Hope Diamond Mystery, which added fictitious characters to the tale, but the project was not successful. In 1921, she hired Henry Leyford Gates to help her write The Mystery of the Hope Diamond, in which she starred as Lady Francis Hope. The film added more characters, including a fictionalized Tavernier, and added Marat among the diamond’s “victims”. She also wore her copy of the Hope, trying to generate more publicity to further her career.

Evalyn Walsh McLean added her own narrative to the story behind the blue jewel, including that one of the owners had been Catherine the Great, although there are no confirmations that the Russian ruler ever owned the diamond. McLean would bring the Diamond out for friends to try on, including Warren G. Harding and Florence Harding.

Since the Smithsonian acquired the gemstone, the “curse appears to have gone dormant.” Owning the diamond has brought “nothing but good luck” for the nonprofit national museum, according to a Smithsonian curator, and has helped it build a “world-class gem collection” with rising attendance levels.

Hope Diamond in the "Embracing Hope" setting.
The Hope Diamond displayed at the Smithsonian in the “Embracing Hope” setting, a temporary design created by jewelers at Harry Winston.

In 2007, an important discovery was made which enabled a slew of activity to help scientists, historians and gemologists further explore the history of the Hope Diamond, as well as create replicas of the larger pieces, from which it had been cut, believed to have been owned by eighteenth-century French monarchs. A lead cast of the French Blue diamond was discovered in the gemmological collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, reported in a bilingual French–English press release, and the unique finding triggered an investigation by an international team of researchers into the stone’s history.

The lead cast of the French Blue, itself, has a history. It had been catalogued at the French museum in 1850 and was provided by a prominent Parisian jeweler named Charles Archard who lived during the same generation as René Just Haüy, who died in 1822. Most likely, the lead cast was made near 1815, since that was the year that similar entries from the 1850 catalogue had been made. The model was accompanied by a label stating that the French Blue was in the possession of a person known as “Mr. Hope of London”. Other archives at the Muséum suggests that Achard had Mr. Hope as a good customer for many long years, particularly for blue gems.

Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney
Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney

These findings have helped investigators piece together what may have happened during the rock’s anonymous years during the several decades following 1792. According to one line of reasoning, the first “Hope” to have the “Hope Diamond”—Henry Phillip Hope—might have possessed the French Blue that he had acquired some time after the 1792 robbery in Paris, perhaps around 1794-1795, when the Hopes were believed to have left Holland for London to escape Napoleon’s armies. At about the same time, Cadet Guillot, who may have been one of the thieves to have stolen the Golden Fleece, arrived in London.This places Mr. Hope and Mr. Guillot in London at the same time. According to a late nineteenth century historian named Bapts, a contract was made between Cadet Guillot and a French aristocrat named Lancry de la Loyelle, in 1796, to sell the 107-carat (21.4 g) spinel-dragon of the Golden Fleece. According to this line of reasoning, in 1802 Hope sold his assets, and the continental blockade by Napoleon led the Hope’s bank into a serious financial crisis by 1808, and the crisis peaked during the winter of 1811–1812. This put Mr. Hope in a financial bind. There is a possibility that, given his financial predicament, Hope pawned the French Blue to jewel merchant Daniel Eliason to get much-needed cash when the British currency, sterling, was highly depreciated. This is consistent with the entry in Eliason’s records about having the stone in 1812. However, the diamond’s owners may have felt pressure to recut the stone quickly to disguise its identity, since if the French government had learned of its existence, it may have sued the owners for repossession. Regardless of whether Mr. Hope had lost possession or kept it during these years, by 1824 it was again in his possession. It was around this time that Eliason died; Hope’s financial situation has been restored thanks to efforts by the Barings, who saved the Hope bank in the difficult financial years of 1812-1820. Accordingly, if this is correct, then the lead cast of the French Blue and the “Hope” diamond are likely to have been created in the same workshop, possibly in London, and probably a little before 1812.

Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.
Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.

The lead cast had important ramifications since it gave enough information to curators at the French museum to commission the first exact replicas of both the Tavernier and French Blue diamonds using a material which simulates diamonds called cubic zirconia, with the help of artisans who work with gems known as lapidaries, led by Scott Sucher. These replicas have been completed and displayed with the French Crown Jewels and the Great Sapphire of Louis XIV, a Moghul-cut sapphire of 135.7 carats (27.14 g). Artisans recreated the elaborate parure of different-colored gems known as the Golden Fleece of King Louis XV of France, which is arguably the most fabulous work in the history of French jewelry; this happened from 2007–2010. The original parure, created in 1749 by royal jeweler Pierre-André Jacqumin, was stolen and broken in 1792. The reassembled jewel contained the French Blue and the Bazu diamonds, as well as the Côte de Bretagne spinel and hundreds of smaller diamonds. Three years of work were needed to recreate this jewel, and it required exacting and precise skill which revealed not only the skill of today’s lapidaries, but the skill of its original eighteenth-century designers. The reconstructed jewel was presented by Herbert Horovitz, with François Farges of the French museum in attendance, at the former Royal Storehouse in Paris on June 30, 2010, which was the same site where the original had been stolen 218 years before.

Information and images from Wikipedia.com

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The Swiss Garden: A Regency Gem

cottage

garden

‘…but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.’ (Jane Austen to Anne Sharpe , 22 May 1817)

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The Swiss Cottage, sitting atop one of Lord Ongley’s mounds (Photo: Darren Harbar)

Lord Robert Henley Ongley (1803-1877)inherited Old Warden Park in 1814 when he was just eleven years old. During his early twenties, newly in receipt of his fortune, he transformed a 9-acre section of boggy brickfield in north-east Bedfordshire intoan alpine scene such as one would expect to find in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. A great earth-moving feat moulded this level patch of land into an undulating landscape complete with mounds, ponds, serpentine paths and shrubberies, to which Lord Ongley added a Swiss Cottage, an aviary, huge trellis frames arching over sweeping lawns, and a thatched tree seat, complete with sentimental poem etched into a marble slab and the nearby melancholy walk and tiny chapel with its stained glass window. Small but beautifully ornate cast-iron bridges, an Indian Kiosk and a fine Grotto, later incorporated into a Fernery, were added to create a collection of features without which no Regency garden would be complete. At the same time, he remodelled the village of Old Warden, also in the ‘Swiss Picturesque’ style. Local legend has it that Lord Ongley supplied his tenants with red neck-ties, which they were expected to wear as he rode through the village. This was a set piece like no other; a little slice of Switzerland, just under fifty miles north of London!

A cottage in the village of Old Warden (Photo: C Price)
A cottage in the village of Old Warden (Photo: C Price)

The estate was sold to Joseph Shuttleworth in 1872, who embellished the garden with several impressive Pulhamite stone features, but despite some alterations to the buildings and structures, the garden escaped any significant changes, and the landscape and many of Ongley’s original features survive to this day. A contemporary account of the garden, written by Emily Shore, a visitor to the garden in 1835, described it as:

“A very curious place…full of little hills and mounds, covered with trees, shrubs and flowers. Here and there are arbours shaded by ivy and clematis; in some places are little hollows surrounded by artificial rocks; in others are subterranean paths, besides railing, hedges, ponds, white tents, enclosures for birds, etc. Over the whole are scattered white statues and painted lamps, some on stands, others hanging from lofty arches which join the mounts. The principal object is the Swiss cottage, … which is surmounted by a ‘gilded pill’, on which stands a dove of white stone. What I liked best was the conservatory. We entered a subterraneous passage, at the end of which is a little polygonal chamber, curtained all round with red and white, and carpeted with coloured sheepskin.”[1]

Cecilia Ridley, visiting in 1839, thought the Swiss Garden “the most extraordinary garden in the world made out of a bog; full of little old summer houses on little round hills, china vases, busts, coloured lamps – in short quite a fairyland…”[2] Other gardens of the time were also described as fairylands, notably Whiteknights in Reading, designed by Lord Blandford, later 5th Duke of Marlborough with the help of John Buonarotti Papworth and described in an 1818 book containing over thirty illustrations of the grounds, where ‘…all around is Fairy ground’. Between 1798 and 1819, Whiteknights was the scene of vast extravagance and wild entertainments, all at the Marquis’ expense; the splendid gardens, beautifully laid out with the rarest of plants, were its greatest attraction however. Sadly, the Whiteknights landscape has been wholly lost, consumed within the campus at Reading University, but it contained many features which would not have looked out of place in Ongley’s Swiss Garden. Illustrations in Papworth’s Rural Residences of 1832 and Peter Frederick Robinson’s Rural Architecture (1822) and Village Architecture (1833) demonstrate a tendency towards the rustic and the cottage ornée during this period, a trend which had been prevalent since the turn of the nineteenth century. Robert Ferrars, in Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (1811) is:

‘…excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy’.

Another example of this style of architecture can be found at Blaise Hamlet, near Bristol, designed by John Nash in 1811. This charming hamlet of nine picturesque cottages is laid out around an open, undulating green, and was built to accommodate retired staff from the Blaise Castle estate in Henbury.  Like the village of Old Warden, each cottage is unique, and the hamlet was one of the first examples of a planned community – there is a stone sundial and water pump on the green which commemorates its construction. The cottages, again like those in Old Warden, are lived in to this day. This style was later copied widely, helped along by books such as Robinson’s Village Architecture.

The Grotto Fernery – the ironwork dates back to Ongley’s time, while Shuttleworth’s Pulhamite rockwork additions were added in the 1870s, creating an unusual and atmospheric structure (Photos: Darren Harbar)
The Grotto Fernery – the ironwork dates back to Ongley’s time, while Shuttleworth’s rockwork additions were added in the 1870s, creating an unusual and atmospheric structure (Photos: Darren Harbar)
A Second view of the Fernery.
A Second view of the Fernery.

So…why Switzerland? The influences for Lord Ongley’s unusual landscape were probably fairly eclectic, and it is also quite probable that he visited Switzerland at some point. Garden historian Mavis Batey, in an article for Country Life magazine in 1977[3], points out that the vogue for Alpine scenery, Swiss cottages and peasant costume that seized England in the 1820s was essentially a by-product of Romanticism. The craving for the sublime and the primitive had made mountain scenery desirable, and a trip to Switzerland became as necessary to the Man of Feeling as the Grand Tour had been to the Man of Taste a century before. The exodus began once peace resumed in Europe following the retreat of Napoleon’s troops in 1815, and two years later, Jane Austen referred to an absent friend as having ‘frisked off like half England, into Switzerland’.[4] The timing also coincided with the publication of the Prisoner of Chillon, offering a new Byronic emphasis to the Tour by showing those who sought to escape the bondage of society’s conventions how to achieve liberation of the spirit through an encounter with the Swiss sublime.

Jane’s interest in garden design, mentioned several times in her novels and the correspondence, starts with William Gilpin and the Picturesque and then moves into an ambivalence about Humphrey Repton, but she does embrace the idea of decorative shrubberies, which feature frequently as the stage on which many of the romantic events in her novels are played out. The key novel for the pre-Swiss Garden period is Mansfield Park, where a discussion takes place about improving one’s landscape, and Repton’s ideas are debated in some detail. Lady Bertram, listening to the proposed improvements, offers her own opinion on the matter: “If I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.”[5] This, perhaps, can be interpreted as Jane’s personal view being expressed through the debate about Mr Rushworth’s landscape. Although she appears to be criticising Repton in the text, it is very likely that she would have enjoyed walking through the type of flowering shrubberies which he favoured. At Chawton Cottage, where she settled with her mother and sister after the death of her father in Bath, an airy gravel walk was planted up with trees, flowering shrubs and colourful under-planting, a pleasant addition to the productive garden. Scented plants were a vital ingredient, as Jane describes in a letter to Cassandra in 1811:

“Our young Piony at the foot of the Fir tree has just blown & looks very handsome; & the whole of the Shrubbery Border will soon be very gay with Pinks & Sweet Williams, in addition to the Columbines already in bloom. The Syringas too are coming out.”[6]

The tiny chapel, reminiscent of the roadside chapels found in Europe, with its stained glass window, Contains a marble tablet inscribed with biblical verses (Photo: Darren Harbar)
The tiny chapel, reminiscent of the roadside chapels found in Europe, with its stained glass window,
Contains a marble tablet inscribed with biblical verses (Photo: Darren Harbar)

Jane, with her rather more refined tastes, may not have been particularly fond of the extravagant excesses of the Swiss Garden described by Emily Shore, but Lord Ongley’s gentle undulations, serpentine paths and tasteful planting are very likely to have delighted her if she had ever seen them. Island beds and shrubberies were popular features of many gardens at the time, as were the Alpine structures seen in the Swiss Garden today. Jane is very likely to have heard of Whiteknights too, and there were plenty of examples to be found of buildings in the rustic style, but what makes the Swiss Garden rather special is that it is believed to be the only surviving example of a ‘complete’ Regency garden, with all its features intact, known in the UK today. Whiteknights, and many other gardens of this period have disappeared altogether, or survive only in part. This makes the recent restoration, funded by a £2.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, all the more significant to the current custodians of the garden, the Shuttleworth Trust and Central Bedfordshire Council, particularly as it has been on English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register since 2009.

Detail of the North Bridge, designed by Cato & Sons (Photo: Darren Harbar)
Detail of the North Bridge, designed by Cato & Sons
(Photo: Darren Harbar)

Previously hidden behind the hangars of The Shuttleworth Collection aviation museum, the Swiss Garden is now set to take equal billing and prominence as a visitor attraction. The garden’s 13 listed buildings and structures – including six listed at Grade II* – have undergone careful conservation using traditional materials and techniques where possible. Its two-storey centrepiece, the Swiss Cottage, has been re-thatched using water reed from Norfolk, its finials re-gilded with 23 carat gold leaf and missing or broken rustic decoration replaced using slices of Monterey Pine cones and hazel and willow twigs. Almost 4,300 panes of glass in the Grotto and Fernery have been replaced with hand-cut handmade cylinder glass and rosette detailing replaced on the Pond Cascade Bridge.

Over 25,600 shrubs and 8,400 bulbs have been planted in 53 beds and 340 metres of path laid using 300 tonnes of gravel. Lost vistas have been reinstated recreating the scenic windows which opened onto very deliberate stage-set views of buildings, bridges, urns, arches and other garden features as originally intended by Lord Ongley.

An ‘augmented reality’ shot depicting the possible design of Lord Ongley’s Aviary – now available on the Swiss Garden’s new (and free) Smartphone app.
An ‘augmented reality’ shot depicting the possible design of Lord Ongley’s Aviary – now available on the Swiss Garden’s new (and free) Smartphone app.

Corinne Price is the manager of the Swiss Garden, which reopened to the public in July 2014, and is open all year round. The garden has been on English Heritage’s ‘At Risk’ register for some time, and is hugely important in the world of garden history as it’s the only completely intact garden of this period in the UK. Please check the Shuttleworth website for current opening times and events, and follow us on Facebook  for up-to-date news and seasonal images of the garden.

A Regency Garden Party will take place on Sunday 19th July 2015 to celebrate a year of the garden being open again. Please check the website for details nearer the time.

The Swiss Garden, Old Warden Aerodrome, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire SG18 9EP.

[1] Journal of Emily Shore, edited by Barbara Timm Gates, 1991, University Press of Virginia, p.113-114

[2] The Life and Letters of Cecilia Ridley 1819-1845, edited by Viscountess Ridley, 1958, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, p.32, 37-8.

[3] ‘An English View of Switzerland’, Mavis Batey, Country Life, February 17, 1977

[4] Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 2003, The Folio Society, London, p.341

[5] Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, Collector’s Library Edition (2004), p.73

[6] In the Garden with Jane Austen, Kim Wilson, Frances Lincoln (2008), p.7

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Regency Petticoats

A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place.

A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing for women; specifically an undergarment to be worn under a skirt or a dress. The petticoat is a separate garment hanging from the waist (unlike the chemise which is more shirt like in nature, and hangs from the shoulders.) In historical contexts (sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries), petticoat refers to any separate skirt worn with a gown, bedgown, bodice or jacket; these petticoats are not, strictly speaking, underwear as they were made to be seen. In both historical and modern contexts, petticoat refers to skirt-like undergarments worn for warmth or to give the skirt or dress the desired fashionable shape.*

A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place.
A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place. Note the plain front and gathered back. From the Oregon Regency Society

Prior to the Regency, any number of petticoats might be worn under a gown, with the outermost layer often meant for display, like the elaborate underskirt worn in this portrait:

Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1864, by Drouais.
Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1764, by Drouais.

Naturally, these petticoats would fasten at the waist, however, the connical shape of Regency gowns, not only meant a reduced number of petticoats (one to five) mostly meant to stay hidden, they also had to fasten as high as the bust to accommodate the raised waistline. Some petticoats were even “bodiced”, including a bust support, which could even be worn in lieu of stays. As in any era, having the correct underpinnings was paramount to carrying off the fashion of the day.

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