On the eve of her wedding to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria received a sapphire diamond-bordered brooch. It was an item of personal jewellery to which she would attach intense sentimental importance. It became in a way, a symbol of her marriage to Prince Albert and she valued it so highly that on her death, she willed it to the Crown to prevent its being given on further within the Royal Family. It is of English manufacture.
Brooches were deeply linked with the Queen’s engagement and marriage in terms of private gifts from Prince Albert. One of a pair of brooches from the so-called orange blossom parure, was sent to the Queen in a green box by the Prince from Germany. A happy foretaste of their approaching wedding and the Queen’s own orange blossom wreath and sprays, it was a brooch styled in the shape of a sprig of orange blossom, with white porcelain flowers and gold leaves. After the death of the Prince Consort, the Queen had all the pieces of her personal jewellery given to her by Prince Albert engraved accordingly. This orange blossom brooch duly received its own inscription: ‘Sent to me/ by dear Albert/ from Wiesbaden/ Novr. 1839.’ These brooches were reverently placed in the Blue Room at Windsor where the Prince had died in 1861, according to a list of her personal instructions for pieces of jewellery to be put in this room and not passed on with the Royal Family.
After the wedding, each of the Queen’s bridesmaids were given exquisite brooches in the shape of an eagle, designed by Prince Albert and made by Charles du Vé, the London jeweller. The Times wrote on 10 February that ‘the whole workmanship [of the brooches] is very superior and exactly in accordance with the directions of the Royal Bride’. The Queen wrote: ‘I gave all the Train-bearers as a brooch a small eagle of turquoise’.
The diamond and sapphire brooch however, was a deeply treasured memento. She was given it on Sunday, 9 February 1840. On that day, she had been given as a present, a prayer book from her mother, the Duchess of Kent, as well as various presents from her relations. Later that day, ‘my last unmarried evening’, the Queen was given the brooch. She describes it in her journal entry on the following day – her wedding day – 10 February 1840, allowing for the supposition that she was given it on that day as opposed to the previous evening, also because she wore it at her wedding: ‘I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch’.
When Lord Esher published his selections from the Queen’s diaries between 1832 and 1840, The Girlhood of Queen Victoria, from which I partly quote the above, Esher notes the interesting detail that the Turkish diamonds were left by Queen Victoria to her son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and confirms that the sapphire brooch was willed to the Crown. He additionally tells us that the Queen’s wedding lace was at his time of writing, in the possession of Queen Alexandra. Curiously, Esher did not include the sentence on 9 February 1840 in the Queen’s journal, where she mentions specifically being given this sapphire and diamond brooch by Prince Albert, although it is clearly to be found in the typescripts that he made of the journals (1 August 1832 – 16 February 1840). Princess Beatrice’s copies do not begin until 1837; she paraphrases her mother’s sentence describing the brooch on 9 February 1840 (in Esher’s original) and alters words, whilst conveying its general essence. Perhaps Esher considered the list of wedding gifts too personal because his published selection cuts off where these are mentioned, including Albert’s brooch.
Perhaps curiously, the large painting of her wedding made by Sir George Hayter, The Marriage of Queen Victoria 10 February 1840, does not show the Queen wearing this beloved sapphire and diamond brooch, an omission which is difficult to explain, given the Queen’s dogged commitment to honesty in detail. Hayter did not complete the picture until 1842, so he should have had good time to check this.
She does wear it in the painting she commissioned from Winterhalter, as a present for Prince Albert on their seventh wedding anniversary in 1847, prominently worn on her lace bodice, above her collar of the Order of the Garter. The Queen wrote that she had given ‘a very long sitting as a surprise [for Prince Albert]… I wearing my dear wedding veil’. (cit., Kay Staniland, In Royal Fashion,121). Perhaps this was Queen Victoria’s unspoken way of rectifying Hayter’s mistake, although she doesn’t appear to refer to it. This is unusual, because Queen Victoria was hardly shy about expressing artistic criticism when it came to paintings that concerned her and the Royal Family.
The brooch has acquired the byname of ‘Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch’, because she wore it on her wedding and it became inextricably linked with her marriage to Prince Albert. It can however be established, that she was given it the evening before her wedding, by the Prince. The brooch survives in the collection of HM The Queen’s jewels; it was displayed in the State Jewels exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery in 2010.
Brooches continued to be a feature of the Prince’s personal gifts to his wife. In 1845, Prince Albert gave the Queen another sapphire brooch, for her 26th birthday. The Queen wrote in her journal in that birthday entry 24 May 1845, that it was ‘a beautiful single sapphire brooch, set round in diamonds, much like the beauty he gave at our marriage but not quite so large’. (cit., Charlotte Gere, Victoria & Albert, Love and Art: Queen Victoria’s personal jewellery, 15).
Queen Victoria wore this most personal of brooches regularly during her married life, but only rarely after the death of Prince Albert (Ibid, 118) – a fitting indication if any was needed, to demonstrate that the brooch was for Queen Victoria, deeply linked with her period as a royal bride.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.