Have you ever woken up and realised that the one thing you need to finally make your life complete is a collection of mourning brooches worn by Queen Victoria? Well boy are you in luck…
Next month Sotheby’s London auction off the collection of Patricia Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, great niece of Russia’s last Tsarina, first cousin to Prince Philip and the daughter of Britain’s last Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten. But you can call her Pat.
Among almost 400 lots, the sale will offer four mourning brooches worn by Queen Victoria, appearing at auction for the first time having been passed down in the family for generations.
Mourning jewellery was all the rage back then. The custom dates to the 16th century, where macabre pieces would serve as a tangible reminder of death – a physical embodiment of the concept of memento mori. But it was during the 19th century that mourning took on a different tone, inspired by the monarch herself, whose name became synonymous mourning after she famously wore black every day for forty years following the death of her husband Albert.
Overlooking the grief at the heart of Victoria’s protracted period of mourning, memento moris in the form of jewellery became fashionable among high society Brits.
Three of the brooches going on sale are to commemorate the death of Victoria’s third child Alice, who died of diphtheria at the age of 35 on the anniversary of Prince Albert’s death. Princess Alice’s youngest daughter, Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, had also died of the same disease at the age of four.
The brooches include an onyx and seed pearl button commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1879 with a portrait miniature of Princess Alice, which carries an estimate of £1,000-1,500; an agate and pearl pendant with a lock of hair inscribed ‘from Grandmama VR’ as gift from the Queen to Alice’s daughter, Princess Victoria, also estimated to bring in £1,000-1,500; and a hardstone, enamel and diamond cross centring on an onyx heart with Alice beneath a coronet, with an estimate of £2,000-3,000.
The fourth was commissioned by Prince Albert around 1861 for Queen Victoria to mark the death of her mother. An agate and diamond pendant, it opens to reveal a miniature photograph of the Queen’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Duchess of Kent, with an inscription by the Prince Consort. It has an estimate of £1,000-1,500.
• Prior to the auction, the lots will be exhibited in Sotheby’s New Bond Street from 20-23 March.