Last week, I wrote about the origins of the rare blue diamond now known as the Hope, and traced its adventures through the end of the eighteenth century, at which point it dropped out of sight. The large deep blue diamond had been discovered in India, purchased by the merchant Tavernier, who in turn sold it to Louis XIV. The king had it cut and faceted, resulting in the gem commonly known as the "French Blue." Louis XV had it set in his jeweled insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, where it remained part of the French Crown jewels, until it was stolen, four months before its next owner, Louis XVI, lost his head in the square outside the very building from which it had been taken.
One theory suggests it was taken to England by one of the men who stole it, another that it was part of a group of the stolen Crown jewels which was used to bribe the Duke of Brunswick to abandon his invasion of France and the rescue of Louis XVI and his family. After that, the trail of the French Blue goes cold, until a large blue diamond surfaces in Regency England …
Before I continue with this next chapter of the saga of the French Blue, I think it is important to clarify that there is now no doubt that the Hope Diamond, the centerpiece of the gem collection of the Smithsonian Institution, is all that remains of that royal jewel. Most of its owners were none too keen to have it proven as the erstwhile French Blue, since there would then be the legal question as to whether or not the French government had the right to reclaim it as stolen property. However, in November of 2008, it was announced that a previously unknown lead cast of the French Blue had been found in the collection of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, the French Museum of Natural History, in Paris. With the more accurate measurements provided by this exact model, it was possible, along with previous CAD analysis, to decisively determine that the diamond now owned by the Smithsonian is indeed all that remains of the stone once known as the Tavernier violet, and later as the Blue Diamond of the French Crown.
If one accepts the first theory of the diamond’s adventures after it was stolen, then, though there was no record of the French Blue after 1796, it remained in the possession of Cadet Guillot. It is possible that Guillot had hidden it, before he was betrayed by Lancry de la Loyelle and sent to debtor’s prison. Or, he may have left it with another, more trusted friend, before he was incarcerated. In any event, Cadet Guillot disappears from the historical record when he entered that debtor’s prison. It is unknown how long he was detained in the prison, when or if he was released, and where he went if he did eventually leave it. The most likely scenario is that Guillot found some way to secure the French Blue while he served his time in prison, and eventually found a buyer after he was released. Once he made the sale, more than likely he found someplace where he could quietly live out his days on the proceeds.
However, if one accepts the second theory, then the French Blue had become the property of the Duke of Brunswick in September of 1792, just days after it was stolen from the hôtel du Garde-Meuble in Paris. The stone would have then returned to the Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel with the duke. There it would have had to have been kept hidden, as he could not let it be known he had it or he would have betrayed the bribe which caused him to retreat at Valmy. But, neither the Golden Fleece insignia nor a diamond matching the description of the French Blue were found among the duke’s possessions when he died of wounds received in battle in 1806. What happened to it?
The most likely scenario is that at some point, probably in 1805, the Duke sent the diamond to his eldest surviving daughter for safe-keeping. By early 1805, the army of Napoleon was threatening the Duchy of Brunswick, and the Duke began sending a great many portable valuables away to family members living outside the duchy. A number of them went to his daughter, Caroline, who had married the English Prince of Wales in 1795. Regardless of her estranged relationship with her husband, Caroline would have been able to secure and protect the Brunswick treasure in England, ensuring it stayed out of the hands of Bonaparte. She would also have taken care to keep it out of the hands of her own husband, the Prince Regent, who was known to have a fondness for jewels, particularly rare ones.
If it had not been already, at some point prior to leaving Brunswick the diamond was removed from the Golden Fleece insignia setting. It is believed that before it was sent to England, it was cut down on the order of the Duke, altering its shape from a heart or drop shape to its current cushion shape which is more straight on one side than the other. The Duke had a large collection of diamonds and did business regularly with the diamond cutter de Lolme, so it would have been a simple matter to arrange for the work. Changing the shape of the diamond would have helped to disguise it, as it was known Bonaparte was eager to retrieve as many of the French Crown jewels as he could lay his hands on. And, Napoleon was one of those who believed that the Duke of Brunswick had been bribed with a number of the French Crown jewels to retreat from Valmy. He had made it very clear he would repossess any of the jewels he could find once he had invaded Brunswick.
Princess Caroline’s mother and her siblings all fled to England once it was clear that there was no hope of defending the Duchy of Brunswick against Napoleon’s oncoming force. After he invaded, Bonaparte ordered the Duke’s palace searched and stripped of all its important art work and valuables, but no Crown jewels were found. He took his revenge by obliterating the Duchy of Brunswick, absorbing it into the Kingdom of Westphalia which he created for his younger brother Jérôme. The royal Brunswickers who had fled to England could no longer count on support from their homeland, as they no longer had a homeland.
As Princess of Wales, Caroline received an income voted to her by Parliament, but it was not enough to provide adequate support both for her and her refugee family. Through close and trusted friends who acted as her agents, she began to occasionally sell off the jewels and other valuables her father had entrusted to her in order to supplement her finances. This had to be done in utmost secrecy, for should her husband become aware of the treasure she held, he would certainly have demanded control of it. He would have had double legal grounds to make such a demand, as, in addition to being Caroline’s husband, Prinny had also been appointed executor of the deceased Duke of Brunswick’s will and trustee of his property. Since Caroline had no reason to trust her husband, she was very careful to ensure he knew nothing of her cache of valuables, including the large blue diamond.
The very first written record of the cushion-shaped blue diamond which we know today as the Hope is dated 19 September 1812. It is a single sheet of paper on which John Françillon, a well-respected naturalist and London jeweler, drew the stone in full size, in both plan and elevation. He then colored the plan drawing with watercolor to match the color of the stone as closely as he could, leaving the elevation drawing uncolored. In his notes below the drawings he explained that he had been allowed to trace around this unset gem with a pencil by permission of its owner, Daniel Eliason. According to Françillon, the stone weighted 177 grains, equivalent to 44 1/4 carats at the time, and was " … a very curious superfine deep blue Diamond. Brilliant cut and equal to a fine deep blue Sapphire."
It is interesting that the very first written record of the erstwhile French Blue appeared on 19 September 1812, precisely twenty years and two days after the discovery of the theft of the French Crown jewels. In a sense, Napoleon Bonaparte himself is at least partially responsible for the reappearance of the French Blue in Regency London. Once he had control of France, he instituted a new code of laws known as the Code Napoléon or The Napoleonic Code. As part of that code, on 16 April 1804, a law was passed in France which granted amnesty for all war crimes after twenty years.
It is still unknown when or how this rare blue diamond was acquired by Daniel Eliason, another noted London jeweler and diamond dealer. If one accepts theory one of the diamond’s travels, Eliason might well have purchased it from Cadet Guillot after he was released from debtors prison, date unknown. In that case, either Guillot or Eliason were responsible for cutting down the diamond to disguise its past history as the French Blue. If one accepts theory two, the gem was sold to Eliason by one of Princess Caroline’s trusted agents, when she was in need of funds. At this point in the tale, theory two seems to be the more likely. If Eliason was aware that his stone was the missing French Blue, he would have touted that fact to prospective buyers to increase its price. In addition, he would not have cut it down, further reducing its price, when he had only to wait a few years to be able to sell it openly.
There is a caveat to be considered here. Napoleon Bonaparte had been an Eliason customer. In 1796, Napoleon had purchased an exquisite diamond of 34 carats from Eliason on the occasion of his marriage to Josephine. It is unknown if Bonaparte was still doing business with Eliason by the beginning of the Regency, though it is possible, as Eliason had connections and business interests all over the Continent. In that case, Eliason would not want to openly announce that he had the French Blue in his possession, since it would jeopardize his business relationship with the French Emperor. It might also jeopardize his well-being or even his life. Napoleon was known to send ruthless agents to recover any of the French Crown jewels in foreign hands which came to his notice. However, Eliason was a tough, shrewd businessman, and was more than capable of protecting himself and his property until he was able to quietly sell the French Blue to a wealthy customer. Or, to return it to France for a substantial reward. Therefore, it seems most likely that he was unaware of its true origins. That would also indicate that he had purchased it from Princess Caroline, who might very well not have known the history of the stone. It is unlikely her father would have revealed to her how he acquired it. However, if Cadet Guillot had sold the gem to Eliason, he would have been unlikely to keep its origins secret as its value was increased as a part of the missing French Crown jewels.
Françillon’s memorandum proves that the cut-down French Blue was in London in the autumn of 1812, in the possession of Daniel Eliason. Where did this rare blue gem spend the rest of the Regency? At this point, there are three theories about its next round of adventures. The first theory is that Eliason sought out the most discerning connoisseur of rare large gemstones in England, a man who was also extremely self-indulgent and profligate in his spending on fine things, the Prince of Wales. Though there is no extant bill of sale for such a transaction, Prinny was known to purchase many jewels and objets d’art for himself. He then haphazardly mixed them in with state property, so that it was difficult to keep track of which items where owned by him personally and which were owned by the government.
The second theory is that in order to curry favor with Prinny, Eliason loaned him the use of the blue diamond from time to time over the course of his Regency. Later, once he had become king in his own right, George IV finally purchased the stone. This would seem to be the most likely scenario, as all of the evidence for George IV’s ownership of the blue diamond dates from after he assumed the British throne. It is also more than likely that by the time he purchased the blue diamond, George IV had a good idea it was the missing French Blue. In 1813, John Mawe published A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones, which he dedicated, with permission, to the Prince Regent. In the second edition, published in 1815, also dedicated to the Prince Regent, in a footnote on page 16, Mawe makes note of a rare blue diamond of just over 44 carats which was " … in the possession of an individual in London …" and can only be the erstwhile French Blue. In later writings, Mawe goes to great lengths to make a case that the blue diamond owned by George IV is not the French Blue. The king was his patron, and ownership of that particular gem would have caused a serious problem for the English king, as it was quite likely that Louis XVIII would certainly have demanded its return. Thus, it would appear that Mawe was fairly certain George IV’s stone was the French Blue and was trying to keep that fact secret, though probably not from the king himself.
While Prince Regent, the Prince of Wales had been made a double Knight of the Golden Fleece, being awarded a knighthood in both the Spanish and the Austrian orders during the victory celebrations of 1814, when everyone believed Napoleon had been vanquished. Prinny was very proud of these awards, and wore them often. But, in his usual way, he researched the history and design of the insignias of the orders before he had his own version crafted. This may well have occurred about the same time that the British crown jewels were refurbished for his coronation. After the death of George III, it was discovered that many of the crown jewels of Britain were in reality just paste and glass. Naturally, the new king had no intention of using such dross for his coronation and the royal jewelers were put to work creating regalia worthy of his inflated opinion of himself. It is not recorded if George IV wore his new jeweled insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece at his coronation ceremonies, However, he is shown wearing it in his official portrait in his coronation robes painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Later that same year, Lawrence painted him wearing it again, in a portrait commissioned for the king’s mistress, Lady Conyngham. In all probability, George IV knew his blue diamond was the French Blue and it had once been set in the insignia of the Golden Fleece used by the French kings. Though he could not reveal it publicly, he must have been secretly pleased to have the same stone set in his own Golden Fleece insignia.
The third theory of the whereabouts of the French Blue during the Regency still has it in the hands of the Prince Regent. But according to this theory, proposed by Scott Sucher, the stone had been purchased from Eliason soon after he had acquired it, by the wealthy Henry Phillip Hope, a member of the famous banking family, and brother to Thomas Hope, author of Anastasius. The Hopes were eager to curry favor in royal circles and according to this theory, Henry Hope loaned the diamond to the Prince Regent for as long as he wished to keep it. And George kept it for the rest of his life.
Regardless of which theory you choose to accept for the whereabouts of the French Blue during the Regency, there is no doubt that it was in the possession of George IV when he died on 26 June 1830. In his written will, he left all his worldly goods to Mrs. Fitzherbert. But there was a claim by the king’s mistress, Lady Conyngham, that he had also made a verbal will in which he left all of his jewels to her. It is at this point that the Duke of Wellington enters the story. He had been appointed executor of George IV’s will, and was also the current Prime Minister of England. Initially, Lady Conyngham refused the bequest, but she soon changed her mind, saying her conscience demanded she comply with the king’s wishes. Wellington, who thought her a vain and selfish woman, confronted her, reminding her of what had happened to Madame Du Barry. Du Barry had been Louis XV’s last mistress and had reportedly helped herself to everything she could when the king died. She ended up on the guillotine.
It turned out that the greedy Lord and Lady Conyngham had already helped themselves to a great many of the dead king’s jewels, very soon after his death. She claimed that some of them had been gifts when George IV was still alive, the others were those he had bequeathed to her in his verbal will. After an inventory of George IV’s jewels by a representative of Rundell and Bridge in September, it became clear a great many gems were missing, including the insignia of the Golden Fleece containing the large blue diamond. Wellington aggressively pursued the return of the jewels and in November the Conynghams provided the duke with a list of what they had taken and returned them. If not for Wellington’s perseverance, the rare blue diamond would have once more disappeared from the pages of history.
King George IV died very deeply in debt. Most of his jewels, including those recovered from the Conynghams, were sold quietly through Rundell and Bridge so as not to bring too much public attention to those enormous debts. The insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece was dismantled and the blue diamond removed from its setting. If one accepts the third theory of the stone’s Regency ownership, it was the rightful property of Henry Phillip Hope and was returned to him. But if one accepts either of the other two theories, it was the property of George IV and needed to be sold quickly, quietly, at a good price, to help defray the dead king’s massive debts. Again, Henry Phillip Hope is a key figure. He was a friend of the Duke of Wellington, he was a very wealthy man, he was discreet, and he was a collector of large, rare gemstones. Henry Phillip Hope purchased George IV’s large blue diamond, eventually conferring upon it the name it bears to this day.
Should you ever chance to visit the Hall of Gems at the Smithsonian Institution and stand before the special case which houses the Hope Diamond, you will be gazing upon the very stone which George IV had set in his most ostentatious insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece. A stone which also may have been for a time in the possession of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline. The French Blue, one of the French Crown jewels for which Napoleon determinedly searched for as long as he held power in France. One of the purloined jewels which the Duke of Wellington forced Lady Conyngham to return when he acted as executor of George IV’s will. It is fairly certain that this rare blue diamond spent the Regency in England, but the mystery of who actually possessed the gem during that time has yet to be solved. One can only wonder what a creative Regency author might do with this precious gemstone in a novel set in our favorite historical period.
Author’s Note: There is an interesting connection between the Hope Diamond and the Mona Lisa, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago. In 1962, the French requested the loan of the Hope for an exhibition which would reunite all the then known French Crown jewels. Officials at the Smithsonian were not keen on the idea, as the exhibition was in the spring, one of their busiest times, and the Hope is one of their most popular exhibits. They did not want to disappoint the many visitors who would come to the museum while the Hope was in France. However, at the intercession of the then First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, the Hope was loaned for the exhibit in France, and in return, the French sent the Mona Lisa to the United States the following year.
To read more about diamonds, including the complete adventures of the Hope Diamond:
Balfour, Ian, Famous Diamonds. London: William Collins Sons & Company, 1987.
Dickinson, Joan Younger, The Books of Diamonds: Their History and Romance from Ancient India to Modern Times. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1965.
Finlay, Victoria, Jewels: A Secret History. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.
Fowler, Marian, Hope: Adventures of a Diamond. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002.
Hart, Matthew, Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2001.
Kurin, Richard, Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2006.
Patch, Susan Steinem, Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Diamond. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Publishers, 1999.
Post, Jeffrey E., The National Gem Collection. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Publishers, 1997.