Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mastery of Design: Locket with Hair of Charles I

Locket with Hair of Charles I
Created 1620
with insert, 1813
Gold, Enamel, Rubies, Diamonds
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This stunning gold and enamel locket features twelve rubies and ten trillion-cut diamonds on the front. The reverse showcases an enamel-work floral scene. The locket was created in 1620, and centuries later, came into the collection of King George IV. George IV was endlessly fascinated by King Charles I—the martyr king—not only as a monarch, but also as a collector of great works of art.

In 1813, when a new grave was being prepared for King George III’s sister, Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick, in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the casket of Charles I was unearthed. George IV ordered that the casket be opened so that he might survey the remains (as one does). A lock of Charles I’s hair was cut from his long-dead corpse and encased in a red gold and glass case which was fitted into this locket.

Since 1813, the locket has been inscribed, “Hair of Charles the First Cut from his head April 1st 1813. Discovered on the Funeral of the Duchess of Brunswick and given to me by the Prince Regent” though it does not specify who “me” is. We do know that the locket at one point belonged to George IV and later to his daughter, Princess Charlotte. After that, the whereabouts of this piece are a little murky until it resurfaced in the private jewelry collection of Queen Victoria which was moved to Windsor Castle after her death in 1901. At least Charles’ hair and body were reunited after nearly a century—if only just nearby.

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