Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Wandering Pearl

by | October 18, 2011

La Peregrina is one of the most famous pearls in the world.  Found by a slave in the Spanish colony of Panama, circa mid-sixteenth century, it was delivered to King Philip II of Spain.  At that time, the jewel was the largest pearl ever discovered, pear-shaped and weighing nearly fifty-six carats.  The king gave it to his affianced wife, Mary I of England, (shown above) sometimes called “Bloody Mary.”

Quite the blushing bride, isn’t she?

The pearl was eventually returned to Spain upon Mary’s death.  This is astonishing, given her sister-successor’s penchant for fine jewelry.  You may recall Elizabeth was to later bid against the Queen Mother of France, Catherine de Medici, over the spoils left behind by Mary Queen of Scots.  Some of those spoils included rare black muscades–pearls of a deep purple color.  La Peregrina, in contrast, went back to Phlip “The Prudent” and became part of the Spanish queen consorts’ collection, until she began the second leg of her eventful journey.

In 1808, Napoleon installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as king of Spain after a successful invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.  Throughout his reign, the elder Bonaparte accomplished little besides orchestrating his own abdication in an effort to return to the more salubrious throne of Naples.  Finally deposed, he took with him part of the Spanish crown jewels, among them La Peregrina.  Some of the jewels he sold while living in the United States.  La Peregrina he willed to his nephew, Bonaparte III.  The Emperor’s wife Eugenie was a known connoisseur of pearls but during the couple’s exile in England, they were forced to sell La Peregrina to James Hamilton, Duke of Abercorn, direct ancestor of both Diana, Princess of Wales and her sister-in-law Sarah, Duchess of York.

While in the duke’s possession, La Peregrina did not have to go far to become completely lost to the world, at least temporarily.  His wife Louisa Hamilton wore the pearl on a necklace.  It was too heavy for the setting and fell out twice.  Once in a sofa in Windsor Castle and the other at a ball in Buckingham Palace. 

Can’t you just imagine His Grace’s remonstrations:

“What the devil?  You’ve lost the blasted thing twice now.”
“But my love,” his wife replied with asperity, “it was you who insisted we buy it.  And all because you wanted to impress the French empress.”
“Fustian,” he stammered.  “The merest trumpery.”

The Hamilton family eventually sold La Peregrina to Richard Burton, a movie and stage actor.  I have it on very good authority that he was, and I’m quoting, “the best looking man that had come down the pike in a long time.”  $37,000 was the price the pearl fetched at Sotheby’s and soon found its way, via Valentine’s Day, into the possession of someone another authority has declared unequivocally to be the “most beautiful woman in the world.”  The pearl was as intrepid in Elizabeth Taylor’s possession as it had been in Her Grace of Abercorn’s.  The actress lost it in the Burtons’ suite at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  Miraculously, it was found unharmed in her Pekinese dog’s mouth.  He was chewing on it like a bone!

Here Ms. Taylor is wearing La Peregrina in the 1969 movie production, Anne of a Thousand Days.


Like history?  Fall in love with it!  Visit Angelyn’s blog at www.angelynschmid.com

for forays into the Regency era and historic buildings throughout the United Kingdom.





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