Queen Elizabeth I and the Hanover Pearls
Do you love pearls? You’re not alone! The pearl has been one of the most beloved of gems for longer than we can trace. It seems likely that pearls were first discovered by someone more interested in supper. But even during that distant era, the prestige of owning a fine object such as a pearl would have elevated the possessor’s status.
The Tower of London at night
Today we’re going to start exploring the history of the pearl. Our first stop is medieval England, a place and time full of upheaval and scheming.
Even young, Princess Elizabeth begins to build her image
Queen Elizabeth I understood that trappings make the man or woman. She created an image of herself as untouchable; the Virgin Queen, building a cult around her virgin status. She utilized pearls to solidify this image, using them to represent her virtue and chastity, saying she was married to her people.
Right: Mary, Queen of Scots wearing a strand of the Hanover pearls, a gift from her mother-in-law; Left: Mary, Queen of Scots after the loss of her throne
Mary, Queen of Scots, also used jewels to try to solidify her power base, but she didn't have her cousin's flair for the dramatic. Instead, she used her jewels as gifts and to purchase what she needed. In the end, her image problems were what brought her down.
When she was forced off her throne, her successors took her jewels and used them the same way she did; selling them at discount to finance the new monarchy. Amongst them were several exceptional pearl strands and loose pearls that became known collectively as the Hanover Pearls. Queen Elizabeth I gleefully scooped them up as soon as they were made available.
Left: Detail of Queen Elizbeth I in The Rainbow Portrait, depicting her as Astaea. The pearls she wears are strikingly similar to those seen in Mary, Queen of Scot's portrait, above.
Queen Elizabeth I did keep her cousin in safety in England, but she also deprived Mary of her freedom and any possibility of regaining her throne. In the end, Elizabeth also ordered her cousin’s death, though it is reported that she instantly regretted it.
Queen Elizabeth I in The Armada Portrait. Here she wears all the Hanover Pearls plus several from her own collection.
However, regret or not, she did enjoy wearing the pearls that used to belong to her cousin!
Though Queen Elizabeth II wears two short strands referred to as the Hanover pearls, the majority have not been positively identified amongst the modern crown jewels of England. It is thought that they have become separated through the ensuing years. The pearls on the British Coronation Crown are believed to be some of the remaining identified Hanover pearls.
The British Coronation Crown, front and back