Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Princess Charlotte Pendant, 1817

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Had Princess Charlotte lived, the Royal Family and the history of the world would have been entirely different. Charlotte was the only daughter of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, and the granddaughter of King George III. Upon the death of George IV, Caroline would have been Queen of England. She married the ambitious Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If that name sounds familiar, it’s with good reason. Leopold was the uncle of Queen Victoria (on her mother’s side) who orchestrated the marriage of Victoria to his nephew (and, therefore, her cousin), Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Leopold, who had aspired to be Prince Consort to Charlotte’s Queen (and, he presumed, acting King), wasn’t going to give up when his chances were dashed. He wanted to ensure that Coburg blood remained in the Royal Family. And, so he did.

The handsome Leopold and the rather plain Charlotte’s marriage produced a pregnancy. Many advisors were gathered as the princess was about to give birth. But, it went wrong. Mistakes were made and both Princess and child died in a grisly scene of blood. And, so went the line of accession. George IV had no more children (legitimately). Who did that leave to succeed him? His brother, William IV. And after that? His niece—Victoria.

The nation mourned the passing of Princess Charlotte. Prince Leopold mourned his lost chances more than his bride. He went on to become King of the Belgians—nice, but not what he’d hoped for. And, so, he groomed his nephew to achieve what he had set out to do.

This necklace of gold with enamel, diamonds, rock crystal and hair under glass commemorated the death of Princess Charlotte. The hair—three locks from Charlotte’s head--is curled in the form of the Prince of Wales’s feathers. These are mounted in an urn shaped pendant below a miniature portrait of Princess Charlotte. On the reverse of the pendant, the Royal arms are presented in enamel and inscribed PC/ 1817.

The miniature is the work of Charlotte Jones who was appointed miniature painter to the Princess, and exhibited portraits of her at the Royal Academy in 1808, 1812, 1816 and 1819.

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