From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

King Charles II, the Duke of Richmond, & Frances Stewart

Sunday, March 28, 2010
King Charles II (1630-1685), left, of England loved women, and women in turn loved him. From high-born peeresses to humble orange-girls, literally hundreds of women enjoyed the royal person during his lifetime. Only one lady of his court is known to have refused him: a beautiful nineteen-year-old Maid of Honor named Frances Stewart (1647-1702), lower right. Although Charles pursued her for months, Frances clearly had other interests. This is an excerpt from the Memoirs of Philibert, Comte de Gramont, one of the greatest gossips of the 17th century.

It was near midnight: the king met [Frances's] chambermaids [at her bedchamber door], who respectfully opposed his entrance, and, in a very low voice, whispered to His Majesty that Miss Stewart had been very ill; but that, having gone to bed, she was God be thanked, in a very fine sleep.

"That I must see," said the king, pushing her back...He found Miss Stewart in bed, indeed, but far from being asleep: the Duke of Richmond was seated at her pillow, and in all probability was less inclined to sleep than herself. The perplexity of the one party, and the rage of the other, were such as may easily be imagined upon such a surprise. The king, who, of all men was one of the most mild and gentle, testified his resentment to the Duke of Richmond in such terms as he had never before used. The duke was speechless, and almost petrified...Miss Stewart's window was very convenient for a sudden revenge, the Thames flowing close beneath it..and seeing the king more incensed...than he thought his nature capable of, [the duke] made a profound bow, and retired, without a single word to the vast torrent of threats and menaces that were poured upon him.

Miss Stewart, having a little recovered from her first surprise, instead of justifying herself...said everything that was most capable to inflame the king's...resentment; that, if she were not allowed to receive visits from a man of the Duke of Richmond's rank, who came with honourable intentions, she was a slave in a free country;...if this was not permitted her...she did not believe that there was any power on earth that could hinder her from going over to France, and throwing herself into a convent, to enjoy there that tranquillity which was denied her in this court. The king, sometimes furious with anger, sometimes relenting at her tears...nearly was induced to throw himself upon his knees, and entreat pardon for the injury he had done her...when instead she desired him to retire, and leave her in repose, at least for the remainder of that night....This impertinent request provoked and irritated the king to the highest degree: he went out abruptly, vowing never to see her more.

Ladies who refuse kings, let alone berate them in their bedchambers, seldom fare well in history. But Frances won. Soon after this night in 1667, she eloped with her duke, and the pair were married – much to the displeasure and disappointment of the King.

Above: Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by James Michael Wright
Below: Frances Teresa Stewart, by Sir Peter Lely

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From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

The Queen(s) with the Pearl Earrings

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Last month I wrote about the large pearl that King Charles I wore in one ear. It seems only fair to write about an equally famous pair of pearl earrings worn by his queen, and several others besides. Many legendary jewels of the past have disappeared through wars and revolution, or have been broken up, re-cut, and reset until they bear no resemblance to their original design. But these magnificent earrings, left, have miraculously survived with both pearls and diamonds intact, and with a tantalizing history to match.

The earrings first appear as part of the dower jewels of Marie de' Medici (1575-1642), an Italian princess who left her native Florence to wed the French king, Henry IV (1552-1610). The de' Medici family was old, powerful, and very wealthy, and the jewels that Marie brought with her astonished the French court. At this time, pearls were the most valuable of precious gems, rare accidents of nature. The two almost perfectly matched droplet pearls in the new queen's favorite pair of pendant earrings were of a quality not been seen before in Paris. Other women at the court wore pearl drops (many ladies in 17th c. portraits are shown with them) but most of these pearls were coated glass. Marie's were real, and fit for a queen. She was painted wearing the earrings, right, in 1616 by Peter Paul Rubens.

When Marie's youngest daughter, the princess Henriette Marie (1609-1699), married the English King Charles I (1600-1649) in 1625, Marie gave the pearl earrings to her as a wedding gift. Henriette, too, was painted many times wearing the earrings, including this portrait of her as a young wife in 1632 by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Her marriage was a happy one, and blessed with many children. But the earrings brought Henriette no luck as the English queen. Her husband's unpopular politics eventually led to a disastrous civil war that cost him his life. Henriette was forced to flee the country in 1644 soon after giving birth to their last daughter, leaving the baby behind. In exile in France with her sons, she was forced to gradually sell all her jewels first to help support her husband's army, and then, as a widow, to keep herself from poverty. Mementos of happier times, the pearl earrings were among the last jewels to go, finally being purchased by her nephew, the French King Louis XIV (1638-1714) in 1657.

The nineteen-year-old Louis had fallen desperately in love with eighteen-year-old Marie Mancini (1639-1715), the Italian niece of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the king's primary minister. At first the match was approved both by the cardinal and Louis's widowed mother, and Louis presented the pearl earrings to Marie as his future queen. Marie's portrait, left, shows her wearing the pearls along with flowers in her hair. But politics intruded and the match was broken off, with Louis instead marrying the Spanish Infanta Maria Theresa, and Marie wed to a powerful (if mad) Italian nobleman. But Marie kept the king's pearls, and the earrings were by now so associated with her that they became known by her name, the Mancini Pearls.

No one is certain whether she left the earrings to one of her children, or sold them herself during her long and tumultuous life. In fact, there is no record of the pearls at all for nearly 250 years, until they appeared at Christie's auction house in New York in October, 1979. There they were sold to a private collector for $253,000, a price that almost seems reasonable considering all the history attached to them. They remain among the most famous jewels sold by Christie's, and are still featured on their website.

Now I know that pearls, however beautiful, are inanimate objects, and no more than the work of an irritated oyster. But don't you wish these earrings could tell their story, and repeat even a few of the confidences and endearments, promises and secrets once whispered into the ears that wore them?

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