During the days of the Second Empire, Queen Victoria visited France and became friends with Napoleon III, and particularly with his wife, the Empress Eugenie.
Although they came from very different backgrounds, cultures and traditions, the two sovereigns formed a close friendship.
After the fall of the Second Empire, and the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Napoleon III and Eugénie were welcomed to Great Britain as exiles.
The two women became even closer after the death of Napoleon III. It was only natural that Victoria’s youngest – and favourite – daughter, Princess Beatrice, should ask Eugenie to be her own daughter’s godmother. The Empress was pleased to agree, and the child was named Victoria, after her grandmother, and Eugenie, after her Godmother.
The child grew up to be a beauty, to the extent that she was courted by the most eligible of Europe’s bachelors, King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The wedding was held with great ceremony in Madrid, attended by members of most of Europe’s royal families. But it was tainted by a terrible tragedy… As the wedding procession returned to the palace from the cathedral, an anarchist threw a bomb at the royal carriage. The bride and groom miraculously escaped injury, but the explosion caused widespread carnage with fifteen dead and over fifty injured.
For poor Victoria Eugenie, it was a devastating introduction to her new kingdom, but she displayed an almost heroic courage and, with her white wedding-dress spattered in the victims’ blood, she arrived safely at the palace, where the guests awaited with their gifts.
Victoria Eugenie, known in the family as Ena, discovered a present from her godmother, Empress Eugenie. It was an oblong box, and inside was a fan. It seemed to be a rather derisory gift from such a famous godmother.
In her heart, Ena had hoped for something better, but, of course, she said nothing. She expressed her thanks, but did not even remove the fan from its box and merely stored the gift away in a drawer.
Many years later, as she was re-organising her affairs, she came across the box containing the Empress’s fan. She decided to open it and to finally take a closer look at the gift.
As she removed the fan from its place in the box, she saw that beneath it were about ten square-cut emeralds of an incomparable quality, purity and colour. The value of the gift was quite immeasurable.
It was by now too late to thank the Empress, as she had passed away. Ena was literrally dazzled by the emeralds and had them set into a necklace and matching in a necklace a broach and a ring by Cartier, who selected a mount that showed of the fabulous gems to their greatest advantage.
The necklace has since been sold and has today, unfortunately, disappeared.