Today marks the 170th Anniversary of the death of Princess Marie Thérèse of France, Duchess of Angoulême, who died on this day in 1851! Madame Royale was the eldest daughter of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and the only one who survived the revolution and reached adulthood. In 1799, she married her first cousin, Louis Antoine, Duke de Angoulême and the couple served as King and Queen of France for approximately 20 minutes in 1830. To mark the anniversary, we are featuring Queen Marie Antoinette’s Diamond Bracelets, that will be auctioned at Christie’s next month.
In 1776, Queen Marie Antoinette bought a pair of rivière bracelets consisting of 110 diamonds from French jeweller Boehmer. The pieces were valued in 250.000 livres, that were paid partly in gemstones originating from the Queen’s own collection and partly with money given by the King to his wife, as revealed by the jewellery researcher and author Vincent Meylan, who will publish a book about Queen Marie Antoinette’s jewellery collection in the next year, in one of his Instagram posts stating that:
the Queen was very much in debt from time to time and in 1777, her husband had to make a down payment of 29 000 livres to Boehmer, out of a total of 162 660 that the queen still owed”.
According to Meylan, it is possible that Queen Marie Antoinette could have been depicted by Adolf Ulrich Wertmuller in 1785, wearing the bracelets, possibly joined together as a chatelaine, in the Gardens of the Petit Trianon with two of her children. Following the outset of the French Revolution, the Monarchs were put under house arrest at the Palais des Tuileries. In 1791, in a cautious gesture, the Queen secretly packed her jewellery collection in a wooden box, that she sent to Austrian ambassador and her faithful friend Count Mercy-Argenteau for safekeeping. The Count stored the box (unopened) with him in Brussels for the next couple of years, sending it to Vienna after the request made by Emperor Franz II.
On 13th of August 1792, King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, the Dauphim, the Madame Royale and Madame Élisabeth were arrested at the Prison du Temple. The King was beheaded at the guillotine on the 21st of January 1793 and the Queen followed several months later, on the 16th of October. Their daughter, Marie Thérèse was the only member of the family who left the prison alive. She was liberated on the 18th of December 1795.
In January 1796, all of Marie Antoinette’s jewels, including this pair of diamond bracelets, were given to Marie Thérèse, after she arrived in Austria, her mother’s homeland. She reportedly made some alterations to the bracelets’ clasps adding an extra diamond to each one of them. In 1816, Madame Royale was portrayed by painter Antoine-Jean Gros wearing a sumptuous diamond parure comprising a large tiara, two rivière necklaces, a pair of chandelier earrings, a belt buckle, a ring, and her mother’s pair of bracelets. Marie Thérèse died childless in 1851 and her jewellery collection was set to be divided among her nieces and nephews: the Count and Countess of Chambord and the Duchess of Parma. The later inherited “les Bracelet de la Reine Marie Antoinette”, as they are listed in Madame Royale’s will.
After the Duchess of Parma’s death in 1864, the bracelets were part of the lot of jewels left to her eldest son, Duke Robert I of Parma. Robert had 24 children from two marriages, the first to Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and the second to Infanta Maria Teresa of Portugal, which included Empress Zita of Austria, Prince Felix of Luxembourg, Elias, Duke of Parma, Prince Luigi, Prince Sixtus, and Prince Rene among many others. When the Duke died, he left almost all of the Parma fortune to Prince Elias, and nothing to his children from the second marriage. Prince Sixte and Prince Xavier ended up suing their older half-brother Elias for trying to obtain a greater share of their father’s fortune, although they lost in the case at court.
The Parma’s jewellery collection (bracelets included) also ended up with Prince Elias. His wife, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, wore Queen Marie Antoinette’s Bracelets as a choker at the Coronation of Emperor Charles of Austria as King of Hungary in 1916.
The couple’s daughter, Infanta Alicia of Spain, inherited the Diamond Bracelets, and the rest of her parents jewellery collection, since she outlived all her siblings and none of them ever had descendants. Although the Infanta lived a relatively calm social life, far from the public eye, she was seen wearing these bracelets on several occasions.
Now, more than 200 years after being commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette, the bracelets will left the family and will be sold at Christie’s on its upcoming auction. It is not the first time that pieces of the Infanta’s collection come into auction. In 2018, dozens of the Duchess of Calabria’s jewels were sold at Sothebys, including a pear shaped pearl also owned by Queen Marie Antoinette. UPDATE: The Diamond Bracelets sold for CHF 7,459,000, well over its CHF 2,000,000 – CHF 4,000,000 estimate, at Christie’s in Geneva.
This article was written by assistant editor, David Rato, who runs the Spanish Royal Jewels account on Instagram!