The Tudor Society

Elizabeth’s Mysterious Black Pearls

In the Ermine Portrait, Elizabeth I is seen wearing a black pearl necklace. But how did this jewel from the Italian Medici family end up in the hands of the British Royal family? 

When 15 year old Catherine de' Medici left Florence to marry the French Dauphin Henry II in 1533, she left with a large dowry. The dowry included a pearl necklace gifted to her by her uncle Pope Clement VII. They were estimated to be worth ‘a kingdom’ at roughly £8.15 million (at today’s price).

Catherine de Medici, by Bronzino. She appears to be wearing the pearls around her waist. 

When Mary Queen of Scots married into the French Royal family, Catherine gave the pearls to her daughter-in-law as a wedding gift. 

Mary and Francis on their wedding. Mary is perhaps wearing the pearls in her hair and around her neck. 

After Mary was executed, the pearls went to her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. She was known to adore pearls and wore them as a tribute to her cousin Mary for the rest of her life. 

The Ermine Portrait, Elizabeth is wearing the pearls around her neck. 

After this, the necklace was passed down within the Royal family for generations. Queen Victoria decided to do things differently. She divided the pearls fairly amongst her five daughters, giving each two pearls every year until they came of age. 

Four pearls remained and they ended up in the Queen’s Imperial Crown, which can, to this day, be seen in the Tower of London amongst the Crown Jewels. 

The Imperial State Crown, with one of the pearls showing. (This is a digitally altered photograph to match the current crown.)

Information from Beyond The Yalla Dog. (Here you can also find a better picture of the Imperial Crown, which we can't show you due to copyright.)

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Elizabeth’s Mysterious Black Pearls

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