Queen Marie Henriette’s Pearl Tiara

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Princess Clémentine of Belgium, Princess Napoléon, who was born on this day in 1872! The youngest daughter of King Leopold II and Queen Marie Henriette of Belgium, Princess Clémentine had a tumultuous childhood, before a secret romance with Prince Napoléon Victor Bonaparte, who she eventually married after her father’s death, Princess Clémentine inherited some splendid jewels from her mother, which included this spectacular Diamond and Pearl Tiara!

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But first lets learn about Princess Clémentine! The youngest daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium and Archduchess Marie Henriette of Austria, Princess Clémentine was born after a final reconciliation of her parents, spending a lonely childhood in Belgium, growing closer to her father than her mother, especially after her two sisters, Princess Louise of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Crown Princess Stéphanie of Austria, were ostracized from Belgium. After a few failed romances, Princess Clémentine fell in love with Prince Napoleon Victor Bonaparte, the Head of the Imperial House of Bonaparte, but was prevented from marrying by her father, who did not wish to strain relations with the French Republic. It was only after the King’s death in 1909, that Princess Clémentine married Prince Napoléon in Italy, and after a month-long honeymoon through Europe, settled in Brussels, where the Prince and Princess had two children; Princess Marie-Clotilde Bonaparte and Princess Marie-Clotilde Bonaparte. Eventually, the couple acquired the Château de Ronchinne, and maintained good relations with the Belgian Court and Government. Throughout the First World War, the family lived with the widowed Empress Eugénie in the United Kingdom, with the Princess representing both the Belgian Royal Family, and also the Bonapartist Cause in France, where her husband was barred from entering, later becoming the ‘Regent’ of the movement after the Prince’s death in 1926. The Princess remained quite active in the Belgian Royal Family and was warmly received by other royal courts, frequently travelling to the south of France and Italy after Prince Louis Napoleon gained his majority in 1935. Princess Clémentine was forced to stay in France during the Second World War, and received the Legion of Honour on her 80th birthday in 1952. With the Château de Ronchinne damaged during the war, the Princess rented the Clair-Vallon Villa in Cimiez on the Côte d’Azur, where she passed away in 1955, being buried in the Imperial Chapel of Ajaccio in Corsica.

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Composed of a diamond base with large pearls, with a series of pear-shaped pearls on top, this Tiara was likely among the wedding gifts that Archduchess Marie Henriette of Austria received when she married the future King Leopold II of Belgium in 1853, though its provenance and maker are unknown. The Tiara was pictured on Queen Marie Henriette during the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, after which she largely retired from public duties and left Belgium.

Princess Clémentine was the First Lady of the Belgian Court from the 1890s to 1909, but there are no reports of her wearing a Tiara in that time. When Queen Marie-Henriette died in 1902, she left several of her jewels to be made Crown Jewels, but the King ignored her wishes and later tried to put them in a family foundation, to disinherit their daughters, who sued their father and later the Belgian Government, and got the jewels but very little of their father’s fortune from colonizing Congo. Princess Clémentine inherited the Pearl Tiara and a large diamond riviere, wearing the Tiara for her wedding to Prince Napoléon at the Castello di Moncalieri, along with what seems to be the necklace of her mother-in-law, Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy, which remains with the family.

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In the years after her wedding, Princess Clémentine wore Queen Marie-Henriette’s Pearl Tiara for many official portraits taken in Brussels and at the Château de Ronchinne. The Prince and Princess Napoléon attended many royal events througout Europe, and the Princess no doubt wore Queen Marie-Henriette’s Pearl Tiara when she attended the Wedding of Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium and Princess Astrid of Sweden in 1926 or the Wedding of Crown Prince Umberto of Italy and Princess Marie Jose of Belgium in 1930.

At some point, like the Château de Ronchinne, it seems Queen Marie-Henriette’s Pearl Tiara was sold as the next Princess Napoléon wore two other tiaras and the current Princess has only worn a Tiara from her grandmother, Princess Margherita, Archduchess of Austria-Este. According to Vincent Meylan, Queen Marie-Henriette’s Diamond Riviere remains with the Family, though the fate of the Pearl Tiara is unknown.


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