Thursday, 17 December 2009
Royal jewels: The Norwegian emerald parure
The emerald parure is the grandest set of jewellery in the hands of the Norwegian royal family and is as such always worn by the Queen for the most important state occasions – the wedding of the Crown Prince and the Emperor of Japan’s state visit being two examples. It has also been worn for three British coronations.
An oft-repeated legend says that the jewels originally belonged to Empress Joséphine of the French – some even maintain that the tiara was worn by her to her and Napoléon’s coronation in Notre-Dame in December 1804. However, this seems likely to be a legend invented by the Swedish writer Sigyn Reimers in the 1950s.
In fact there is no parure in any of the relevant inventories of the Empress’s jewels whose description matches the Norwegian parure. According to an oral tradition in the royal family the emeralds themselves are from a Russian mine which is now extinct. As far as I know, emeralds were not found in Russia until the 1830s, while the Empress died in 1814.
But the emerald parure did certainly belong to Joséphine’s daughter-in-law, Duchess Auguste Amalie of Leuchtenberg. In her will she left it to her daughter, ex-Empress Amélie of Brazil, while her eldest daughter, Queen Josephina of Norway and Sweden, inherited a sapphire parure which to this day is frequently worn by Queen Silvia.
As the Brazilian Empress’s only child predeceased her, she left her jewels to her sister Josephina upon her death in 1873. The Swedish courtier Countess Mina Bonde apparently owned a portrait of Queen Josephina in old age wearing the emerald parure, but the current whereabouts of this painting are unknown.
After Josephina’s death in 1873, the emeralds passed to her daughter-in-law Queen Sophia. Upon her death in 1913, Sophia left them in her will to her youngest daughter-in-law, Princess Ingeborg. Ingeborg frequently wore the parure, but also made some rather unfortunate changes to it. She removed the drop-shaped emeralds on either side of the centre stone of the tiara and made earrings out of them and she also removed most of the seven pendants from the necklace and distributed them between her children.
It has often been said that Princess Ingeborg gave the emerald parure to her middle daughter, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, when she gave birth to a son, the present King of Norway, in 1937. This is however incorrect. Princess Ingeborg gave the parure to her daughter, wrapped in a scarf, at the Central Station in Stockholm in August 1940 when the Crown Princess embarked for the USA. With Norway occupied by Nazi Germany, Ingeborg was not sure if she would ever see her daughter again or if Märtha would ever be able to return to Norway. The emeralds were supposed to be her “life insurance” – the intention was to sell the emeralds one by one if they got in a desperate financial situation.
Luckily this was never necessary and Crown Princess Märtha was able to return to Norway in 1945. She died already in 1954 and her mother, who outlived her by four years, expressed the wish that the emeralds should be inherited by Märtha’s son and be part of the Norwegian “crown jewels”.
Märtha’s daughter, Princess Astrid, borrowed them on some occasions when she was first lady of Norway, but since 1968 they have been worn by her sister-in-law, Queen Sonja. (The portrait of the Queen is by Cathrine Wessel/the Royal Court).