Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Royal jewels: Queen Josephina’s diamond tiara

This diamond tiara which is frequently worn by Queen Sonja of Norway is often referred to as “Désirée’s diamonds”, a name which is almost certainly erroneous. Some have even claimed that the tiara was a wedding present from Désirée Clary’s parents when she married General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in 1798, despite the fact that Désirée’s father, a wealthy Marseilles tradesman, was by then already dead and it is beyond me why a merchant’s widow should give such a grand tiara to her daughter when marrying a revolutionary general.
In fact it seems the tiara has never belonged to Désirée at all. When she died as Dowager Queen of Sweden and Norway in 1860 her jewels were inherited by her widowed daughter-in-law, Queen Josephina. Yet Queen Josephina is painted with this tiara many years before her mother-in-law’s death – Friedrich Dürck’s state portrait from 1849 being one example – while there are no known pictures showing Queen Désirée with the tiara. Furthermore it is not mentioned in the inventory of Queen Désirée’s jewels drawn up after her death.
If one takes a closer look at Per Krafft the Younger’s monumental painting of the wedding of the future King Oscar I and Queen Josephina on 19 June 1823 (now in the Bernadotte Gallery at Stockholm’s Royal Palace) it seems that this is actually the tiara worn by the bride. It might thus have been a wedding present to her, but who gave it is of course hard to tell – the groom, his parents or the bride’s parents?
From Queen Josephina the tiara passed to her granddaughter, Queen Louise of Denmark, who wore it frequently – as in the detail of Laurits Tuxen’s 1911-1912 state portrait above. At her death in 1926 it was inherited by her youngest son, Prince Gustav, who was unmarried and occasionally lent it to his sister Princess Thyra and some of his nieces. When Prince Gustav died in 1944 it was inherited by one of these nieces, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who also wore it frequently until her premature death in 1954. It was then inherited by her son, the present King Harald V. His sister Princess Astrid borrowed it when she was the first lady of Norway, and since her brother’s wedding in 1968 it has been one of the tiaras his wife, now Queen Sonja, has worn most frequently.


  1. Could you post some article on Desiree Clary
    Bernadotte, I am totally fascinated with her.

    Naomi Doudera, Patchogue, NY USA

  2. You asked the same question a couple of days ago and then I replied: "Maybe I will write something about her when the 150th anniversary of her death occurs this December. Annemarie Selinko's novel and the film based on it seems to be what most people connect with Queen Désirée, but it must be said that nothing of what happened in the film actually happened in reality."


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