From the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, ex-travagance in jewellery was carried to an unlimited extent at the courts in Europe; and from the reign of Francis I. to that of Louis XIII., the greater part of the jewels worn were set with pearls, and these latter were worn in preference to all other ornaments until the death of Maria Theresa of Austria.‡
The French call irregular-shaped pearls, Perles barroques, and these malformations were ingeniously utilized by the fanciful taste of the cinque-cento period.*
* The Venetian "saggio" a weight for precious substances, was one-sixth of an ounce, and corresponded with the weight of the Roman gold "solidus," which was one-sixth of a Roman ounce. Appendix K. vol. ii. p. 472. Marco Polo.
† 'The Book of Ser Marco Polo,' translated and edited by Colonel H. Yule, bk. iii. chap. xvii. vol. ii.
‡ 'Gems ana Jewels,' p. 27, by Madame de Barrera.
No doubt many of my readers will remember the specimens exhibited in the loan collection at the South Kensington Museum. One was a cinque-cento pendant in the form of a siren; the head, neck, and arms, of white enamel, the body made of a very large pearl barroque, and a fish-tail enamelled, and set with rubies. It belonged to Colonel Guthrie, and is of fine Italian work of the sixteenth century. Another, in the possession of Messrs. Farrer, was a gold pendant jewel in the form of a ship with three masts, a large pearl barroque forming the hull, etc. The wedding dress of Anne of Cleves was "a gown of rich cloth of gold, embroidered with great flowers of large orient pearls". The unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, possessed pearls which were considered the finest in Europe, and these were purchased, in a most iniquitous manner, by Queen Elizabeth, from the Earl of Moray, for a third part of their value. Miss Strickland states (in her 'Lives of the Queens of Scotland,' pages 82 and 83, vol. vi)., that if anything further than the letters of Drury and Throckmorton be required to prove the confederacy between the English government and the Earl of Moray, it will only be necessary to expose the disgraceful fact of the traffic for Queen Mary's costly parure of pearls, her own personal property, which she had brought from France. A few days before she effected her escape from Lochleven Castle, the Regent sent these, with a choice selection of her jewels, very secretly, to London, by his trusty agent, Sir Nicholas Elphinstone, who undertook to negotiate their sale with the assistance of Throckmorton. Queen Elizabeth had the first offer of them, and the French Ambassador thus describes them : - "There are six cordons of large pearls strung as paternosters, but there are five and twenty separate from the rest, much finer and larger than those which are strung. These are, for the most part, like black muscades" (a very rare and valuable variety of pearl, with the deep purple colour and bloom of the muscatel grape).*
* 'Precious Stones,' etc, by the Rev. C. W. King.
They were appraised by various merchants, but Queen Elizabeth was determined to have them at the sum named by the jeweller, though he would have made his profit by selling them again. Others valued them at three thousand pounds sterling; some Italian merchants at twelve thousand crowns; but twelve thousand was the price Queen Elizabeth was allowed to have them for, and Catherine de Medicis was quite as eager to purchase these pearls as her good cousin of England, knowing they were worth nearly double the sum at which they had been valued in London, having presented some of them herself to Mary. She therefore used every endeavour to recover them, but the French Ambassador wrote to inform her that it was impossible to accomplish her desire of obtaining the Queen of Scots' pearls, "for, as he had told her from the first, they were intended for the gratification of the Queen of England, who had been allowed to purchase them at her own price, and they were now in her hands". The possession of wealth and jewels is not always a source of happiness or benefit to their possessors, if we may judge from the above mentioned fact in history, and indeed it is even more clearly exemplified in the case of the eminent Mogul, who died of hunger during a grievous famine, which depopulated part of Guzerat. A large mausoleum or Mahometan tomb was erected to his memory in the suburbs of Cambay, with an inscription, telling us that during this terrible scarcity, the deceased had offered a measure of pearls for an equal quantity of grain, but not being able to procure it, he died of hunger.*
* See note, 'Lives of the Queens of Scotland,' vol. ii. p. 83.
In 'History and Mystery of Precious Stones,' reviewed in the 'Morning Post,' Feb. 4th, 1884, we read, that pearls have for ages been significant of tears. Queen Margaret Tudor, cousin of James IV. of Scotland, previous to the battle of Flodden Field, had strong presentiments of the disastrous issue of that conflict. She had fearful dreams, and in one vision she beheld abundant pearls, the emblems of widowhood and mourning. A few nights before the assassination of Henry IV. of France, his consort, Marie de Medicis, dreamed that all the jewels in her crown were changed into pearls, and she was told that it signified she would weep greatly.
A pearl is described by Madame de Barrera as nearly the size of a pigeon's egg and pear-shaped; it weighed 250 carats, and was known as " La Pere-grina," and belonged to the crown of Spain. It was brought from Panama in 1560 by Don Diego de Temes, who presented it to Philip IT. "It was then valued at fourteen thousand ducats, but Freco, the kind's jeweller, having seen it, said it might be worth £14,000, £30,000, £50,000, £100,000, as such a pearl was priceless". In 1779 a pearl, which from its shape was called the "Sleeping Lion," was offered for sale at St. Petersburg, by a Dutchman; it weighed 578 carats, and was bought in India for £4500.
* Forbes' 'Oriental Memoirs,' vol. ii p. 18.