French Crown Jewels

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Image:French-crown-jewels.jpg
Crown Jewels of France, on display at the Louvre
The French Crown Jewels were the crowns, orbs, diadems and jewels that were the symbol of royalty and which were worn by many Kings and Queens of France. The set was finally broken up, with most of it sold off in 1885 by the Third French Republic. The surviving French Crown Jewels, principally a set of historic crowns now set with decorated glass, are on display in the Louvre, France's premier museum and former royal palace.

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[edit] Use of the French crown jewels

In contrast with English monarchs, French kings were less attached to the ritual use of crown jewels and coronations. Some monarchs either chose not to be crowned or delayed their coronations until well into their reign. Though not always used, a set of expensive crown jewels did exist and was added to by various monarchs.

[edit] Famous diamonds

Among the most famous diamonds in the collection were the Sancy Diamond, which once had been part of the pre-Commonwealth Crown Jewels of England, the Royal French Blue, and the Regent Diamond. The treatment of the Regent Diamond epitomised the attitude of the French Royal Family to the Crown Jewels. While the Regent Diamond was the centrepiece of the King Louis XV crown, and worn by him at his coronation in February 1723, Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, wore it in a black velvet hat.

[edit] Theft of the crown jewels during the revolution

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The Hope Diamond, which was cut from the Royal French Blue, part of the French Crown Jewels.

The Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792 when the Garde Meuble (Royal Treasury) was stormed by rioters. Most, though not all, of the Crown Jewels were recovered eventually. Neither the Sancy Diamond nor the French Blue Diamond were found in the years after, however. The Royal French Blue was cut and what remained is now known as the Hope Diamond.

The Hope is famously alleged to have been surrounded by bad luck. Marie Antoinette who wore it was beheaded. Later owners and their families experienced suicides, marriage break-ups, bankruptcy, deaths in car crashes, falls off cliffs, revolutions, mental breakdowns, and deaths through drugs overdoses. It was even tangentially associated with the case of the murdered Lindbergh baby, when its then owner pawned it to raise money that she ended up paying to a con-man unconnected with the actual kidnap. Since 1958 it has been in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, where it is the single most viewed object in the Smithsonian's collection.

The Crown Jewels were augmented by jewels added by Napoleon I and Napoleon III along with their empresses.
Image:Eugenecrown.jpg
Crown of Empress Eugenie of France

[edit] Last coronation

The last French coronation occurred in 1824 when King Charles X was crowned at Rheims. The scale of the coronation was seen by critics to indicate a return to the absolutism of the ancien regime that had been ended by the French Revolution. Some historians suggest that the very grandeur of the ceremony marked the beginning of the end for the Bourbon monarchy, with Charles's image as an old style monarch falling out of favour with the French public, who had much preferred the low-key monarchy of his brother, Louis XVIII. Louis Phillipe of France, the last King of France, was not crowned, and neither was Napoleon III, the last Emperor. Napoleon III's consort, Eugénie de Montijo, however, did have a Crown made for her, though it was never used in an official coronation.

[edit] Break-up and sale of the French crown jewels

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Notre-Dame de Reims, traditional location of the coronations of Kings of France

Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the jewels survived the First French Republic, the Directorate, the First Empire, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, the Second French Republic and the Second Empire. However, the decision of Henri, Comte de Chambord not to accept the French Crown in the early 1870s ended not just the prospect of a royal restoration. It also led to the break-up and partial sale of the Crown Jewels.

In 1875 the Third French Republic came into being with the passage of a series of Organic Laws (collectively forming a constitution). The interim presidency was replaced by a full "President of the Republic".

While few expected a royal restoration, certainly after the failure of the Seize Mai attempted royalist coup by President Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta, the continuing agitation of extreme right wing royalists, and the fear of a royalist coup d'etat, led radical deputies to propose the sale of the Crown Jewels, in the hope that their dispersal would undermine the royalist cause: "Without a crown, no need for a king" in the words of one member of the National Assembly. This controversial decision was implemented. All the jewels from the Crown Jewels were removed and sold, as were many of the crowns, diadems, rings and other items. Only a few of the crowns were kept for historic reasons, but with their original diamonds and gems replaced by coloured glass.

[edit] Last royal ceremony in France: The funeral of Louis XVII in 2004

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The funeral of King Louis XVII in 2004

One of the mysteries of the French Revolution was the question of what had happened to the Dauphin, the heir apparent of King Louis XVI, after the execution of the King and Queen. Though it was generally believed that he had died in prison, popular legend had spoken of the young prince being spirited away from his prison and living in exile.

In 2004, however it was finally confirmed that the legend was fictitious. In reality the young prince, called King Louis XVII of France by royalist supporters following his father's death, had died of tuberculosis in prison. The fact of his death was established using DNA evidence. The heart of the young man claimed by opponents to be the young Louis XVII had been secretly removed by a doctor just after his death. By comparing the DNA from the heart with DNA taken from strands of hair of Marie Antoinette that had been kept as a memento by royalists, it was possible to establish that the boy who died in prison was indeed the son of Louis and Marie Antoinette, the boy-king, Louis XVII.

The formal funeral for Louis XVII finally took place, albeit with his heart, not his body, in 2004. For the first time in over a century, and quite possibly the last time, a royal ceremony took place in France, complete with the fleur-de-lis standard and a royal crown.


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See also: Coronation | Crown Jewels | Heir Apparent | Heir Presumptive | King | Monarchy | Queen | Regalia | Royal Family


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French Crown Jewels

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