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The Saga of how Angela Burdett Coutts lost a sapphire brooch
Posted by Beth on March 16, 2023, 12:36 pm
According to contemporary Court conventions, a lady was re-presented formally at Court before the Queen (or a deputy) after she married. This was regardless of age or status or whether the lady was a new bride or a widow who had remarried.
After Angela Burdett Coutts married she, like others, was re-presented at a formal Drawing Room in early May 1881, which Queen Victoria attended. (Frequently, the Queen had the Princess of Wales or one of her daughters represent her)
Typically, the ladies wore their finest jewels.
For the occasion Angela Burdett Coutts wore a grey silk dress & train, a veil, Court feathers & her finest jewels, including the 3 much lauded sapphires as her stomacher.
She also had the distinction of being able to alight from her carriage at the carriage entry to the Palace. The ladies then walked through a corridor to a cloak room where wraps/furs could be left.
When Angela Burdett Coutts realised that one of the sapphires had fallen from her gown a reward was offered for its safe return.
A week later (so the story goes) a housemaid sweeping the corridor found the sapphire beneath a water pipe which ran the length of the corridor. The assumption was that the brooch, having been dislodged from her gown, was then swept aside by her long train & rolled under the pipe.
All in all the afternoon must have been a trial for Angela Burdett Coutts. Queen Victoria strongly disapproved of the marriage & everyone knew it. It was therefore no surprise to see that the press wrote of the cold reception Queen Victoria gave to the newly married woman, who had previously been on the warmest of terms with the Queen.
Re: The Saga of how Angela Burdett Coutts lost a sapphire brooch
Considering how famous the Burdett-Coutts sapphires were, I'm surprised there aren't better descriptions of them in the print media. They are consistently described as being unique, magnificent, unmatched, very large, the finest in England, etc. but no real descriptions of their color or settings besides diamonds. Whatever they looked like, they clearly stood out from the crowd.
I've seen them described as a set, but I'm wondering how many were in the set. In the 1855 Paris Exhibition, only two large sapphires belonging to Angela Burdett-Coutts were shown. In a few accounts of the sapphire brooch briefly lost in 1881, the lost brooch was considered the second in size of a set of three.
Just playing here. The Russian sapphire cluster brooch and the sapphire oblong brooch that sold at Christie's in 2011 have very strong similarities in terms of setting and color. They are both thought by jewelry sleuths to be of Russian Imperial origin, maybe created in the 1840's, but like you Beth, I haven't found anything to support that. If the 2011 brooch was Russian and/or owned by Maria Feodorovna, wouldn't that be highlighted in the auction catalog? Everything with an Imperial Russian connection seems to command an extra premium, especially with the rich Russian oligarchs.
Could it be that these two brooches were part of the Burdett-Coutts set? Angela Burdett-Coutts would have inherited them after her step grandmother's death in 1837 and could have had them reset around that time if the settings were actually created in the 1840's.
Anyway, I hope the Baroness Burdett-Coutts had a fabulous and happy marriage. Aside from some public disapproval, she had to a give up a large portion of her income as her inheritance had a clause about marrying someone foreign born. I saw one writer of the time call out people who were upset about the marriage because no one says a thing when a rich older man marries a less financially secure younger woman, but make a fuss when a rich, older woman does it. I haven't heard anything bad about her husband, so she appears to have known what she was doing.