domenica 6 dicembre 2015

Intriguing India - Part I: Where It All Began

On 13 November 2015, to coincide with a visit to the UK by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kensington Palace announced on Twitter that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will undertake a tour of India in the Spring of 2016:

I must admit I've always been rooting for a visit to the Subcontinent by the royal couple, even when most of the press was anticipating a tour of the Caribbean...Just think of it: the silks! The saris! The Taj Mahal...The diamonds! What's not to love? Exactly! So, as the tour is still months away and I need to channel my excitement, I thought it might be nice to have a look back at the strong ties that bind Britain and India, starting where it all began. way back in 1876 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.

Official portrait of Queen Victoria as Empress of India, sitting on the Travancore ivory throne, a gift from the Maharajah of Travancore in 1851. The magnificent throne, which shows off the carving skills of local artisans, is upholstered in moss green velvet and decorated with gemstones and Indian and European motifs. It was displayed at the Great Exhibition of the same year.
Links between the Crown and the Indian subcontinent can be traced all the way back to the reign of Elizabeth I, who in 1600 granted a royal charter to the East India Company, a monopolist joint-stock company which at one time accounted for half of the global world's trade, particularly in cotton, silk, tea and opium.
When the Company was dissolved in 1857, Britain's possessions and protectorates in India were formally incorporated into the British Empire. Queen Victoria was officially recognized as Empress of India some twenty years later, when the Royal Titles Act 1876 was passed. The Queen officially took her new title from 1 May 1876.

A cartoon from Punch magazine dated 15 April 1876, satirizing the creation of Victoria as Empress of India: an ornate, Eastern-looking crown is offered to the Queen by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli dressed in Oriental robes.
Although Queen Victoria never visited India, she had a great fondness for the customs and traditions of the region. In 1887, the year of her Golden Jubilee, she employed two Indian muslims as waiters, one of whom was Abdul Karim, who was soon promoted to munshi, or secretary, teaching her Hindustani and acting as a clerk, and generally becoming a fixture at the Queen's side. The pair often conversed in Urdu, to the chagrin of the Queen's courtiers, who were wary of the
The Royal Family were noticeably unenthusiastic about the increasingly prominent role Karim was granted in the Royal Household, but the Queen dismissed any complaints as racial prejuidice, and Karim remained in her employment until her death in 1901, whereby he was granted a pension and left Britain to return home.
Just after becoming Empress, in 1878, Victoria established the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, an order of chivalry open only to women and limited to British Princesses, wives or female relatives of Indian Princes and wives or female relatives of those who held some high-ranking Indian offices (Viceroy, Governor-General and some such). No new appointments have been made after the Partition in 1947. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were both companions of the Order, as is the Queen, who is the last surviving member, and now Sovereign, of the Order.
The badge of the Order, which included Queen Victoria's Imperial Cypher, VRI (Victoria Regina Imperatrix), with letters set in diamonds, pearls and turquoises surrounded by a border of pearls surmounted by a figure the Imperial Crown. The badge is worn attached to a light blue bow, edged in white, on the left shoulder:
The insignia of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India.

 Princess Alexandra and the Queen Mother, who was appointed in 1931, photographed wearing the badge in January 1937 by Dorothy Wilding.

Princess Margaret and the Queen (who is seen wearing the Order as a medal, first left).

After a bit of historical context, now on to the fun bits! Bring on the jewels!
There are a number of precious items in the Royal Collection with a connection with India, some, like this bejewelled Huma bird, or bird of paradise, pre-dating the reign of Queen Victoria:
However, the most fascinating piece is by far the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond. Also known as the Mountain of Light, it was mined in the 13th century at Vinukonda, in the state of Andhra Pradesh in present-day India. It was originally a mind-boggling 793 carat when uncut, and now weighs 105.6 carats, or 21.6 grammes.
The Koh-i-Noor was originally mounted in the red silk armlet you can see in the photos above, and which has now been re-set with a rock crystal replica of the diamond and preserved in the Royal Collection.

On 1 February 1850 the Governor-General of India, the Marquess of Dalhousie, informed Queen Victoria that he had personally carried the celebrated diamond from Lahore and deposited it that day in the treasury at Bombay, prior to its despatch to England. The great diamond, set in this armlet, was delivered to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace by the President of the Board of Control at the East India Company on 3 July 1850.

The Queen and Prince Albert both felt that the Koh-i-Noor was badly cut and disappointingly lacking in brilliance. The diamond and two side stones were examined in detail by Sebastian Garrard on 9 April 1851, and a mould was taken so that a crystal facsimile could be cut. This work was carried out between July and September 1852.
The Koh-i-Noor as it appears now.

Since its arrival in England the Koh-i-Noor has only been worn by Queens regnant and consort due to a legend which states that it will bring bad luck if worn by a man. After Queen Victoria’s death the stone has been mounted successively in the crowns of Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Queen Victoria wore it frequently as a bodice brooch, as illustrated below:
For the coronation of Queen Alexandra in 1902, the first coronation of a Queen consort in more than 70 years (the last being that of Queen Adelaide in 1831), it was decided not to remodel an existing piece, but to create a brand new one, which became known as the crown of Queen Alexandra. Formed of eight detachable half arches, the front ones are joined into a jewelled cross, into which the Koh-i-Noor was set:

The crown, now set with a rock Crystal replica of the Koh-i-Noor, an official coronation portrait and a detail of the ceremony.

Queen Alexandra's daughter-in-law, Queen Mary, had her own crown (which is, incidentally, my all-time favourite crown in the British royal collection!) made for her coronation in 1911, again incorporating the Koh-i-Noor as the centrepiece of the central cross. Queen Mary also wore the diamond as a brooch, as seen in the bottom image depicting the Queen at the Opening of Parliament:

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had a new crown made for her at the time of her husband's coronation in 1937, incorporating the Koh-i-Noor. She wore that same crown as a circlet at the coronation of her daughter in 1953:

The Queen Mother's crown set with the Koh-i-Noor is now on display at the Tower of London. The last time it has been used was at the Queen's funeral on 9 April 2002. It had been worn by Queen Victoria, the first Empress of India, and now rested atop the casket of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the last Empress. The present Queen has never worn the diamond:

Together with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the British took possession of another impressive gem at the time of the annexation of Punjab in 1849: the so-called Timur Ruby. It is in fact a spinel, weighing an impressive 352 1/2 carats, inscribed in Arabic with the names and dates of six previous owners; it was gifted to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1851. The Koh-i-Noor and the Timur Ruby had been part of the same collection since 1612.
Victoria had it set in a necklace, flanked by two uncut rubies and diamond clusters. The necklace was lenghtened in 1911, at the time of the Delhi Durbar, and afterwards very rarely worn:

While we're discussing red stones, we must of course mention a striking Victorian piece with a strong Indian connection - what's better, one that's still in use to these days: the Oriental Circlet.

Designed by none other than Prince Albert in 1853, this graceful diadem was made by Garrard using diamonds from the royal family's private collection and was originally set with opal, a stone of which the Prince Consort was particularly fond. The piece includes Moghul arches and lotus flowers inspired by Eastern designs, and was dreamed up by Albert after seeing jewels featuring similar motifs at the Great Exhibition. The Royal Collection's website notes that Albert "had been greatly impressed by the Indian jewels presented to the Queen by the East India Company at the conclusion of the Great Exhibition".

The diadem was remounted in 1902 for Queen Alexndra, and the opals of the original setting replaced with 11 rubies from an Indian necklace given by Sir Jung Bahadore in 1876.
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was extremely fond of the Oriental Circlet, and wore it throughout her life:

At the Opera in Paris during the 1938 State visit to France.
In Ottawa, Canada, in May 1939. The Queen is standing next to Canadian Prime Minster William Lyon Mackenzie King.
The Oriental Circlet was, for a time, the only ruby diadem in the royal family's collection. As it had been inherited personally by the Queen Mother from Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth couldn't use it. It is reported that someone in the Queen's entourage once wondered why didn't she just ask for it from her mother. Apparently, the Queen, somewhat cinically, replied: "No worries, Mummy will give it back eventually". She never asked for it, but sidestepped the problem by having a new ruby tiara made for her own personal use, the Burmese ruby tiara (ah! To be able to solve problems like that...).
Since the death of her mother, the Queen has worn the Circlet only once, during a State banquet in Malta hosted by President Eddie Fenech Adami:
 Are your eyes sparkling after this recap of Victorian jewellery with an Indian connection? Mine certainly are! I'll see you very soon with more spectacular gems from the reign of Queen Mary! Stay tuned!


Nessun commento:

Posta un commento