Empress Éugenie’s Magical Ring

Empress Éugenie's magical ring
The Empress Éugenie in the early 1850s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The wife of Napoleon III, Empress Éugenie, who was described as stunning in appearance, was noted to have many fine pieces of jewelry, but she was also reported to be extremely superstitious. For instance, one literary magazine noted that she possessed “unbound faith” in an amulet she wore and that she forced the Emperor to wear “a little flannel bag filled with camphor suspended round his neck”[1] to prevent him from “catching diseases,” such as cholera. There were also reports that she visited fortune tellers and that once when going incognito to a palm reader, she was told:

“Madame, your hand is so extraordinary that one of two things must be the truth; either my skill must be at fault for once, and I see impossible events, or you must be the Empress Eugenie, for no other hand could tell of such strange vicissitudes.”[2]

Her superstitious nature was likely why she was seen constantly wearing a weird-looking ring that was said to have magical powers. The ring was worn on her fourth finger on her right hand and attracted great attention by all who saw it. It was described as “a grim colourless stone, coarsely set in silver, which contrast[ed] sternly with the priceless jewels by which it was accompanied.”[3] As a comparison between the colorless stone and expensive jewels, one 1872 article provided a list of some of her jewelry pieces that sold in London for £80,000. These pieces included not only a couple of head ornaments but also the following:

“Bracelet — large fine ruby and diamonds; watch and chatelaine, the back jewelled in diamonds and coloured precious stones – a marvelous piece of setting; air of large single-stone diamond eardrops; bracelet — the centre a very large sapphire, of splendid quality and colour, set round with large brilliants on an elastic band of large diamonds; diamond brooch, representing the flower of an orchid, with long pendant leaves and drops; a pair of large diamond anchors; a sapphire and diamond necklace, of rare large sapphires, with large brilliants intervening; an aigrette of diamonds, emeralds, and pearls, arranged in Oriental fashion; head ornament – diamond rose-leaves, with full-size rose and buds in centre … emerald cross with pearl necklace — the emeralds are of the rarest tint, and of perfect quality, the pearls all matching each other in size, form, and whiteness; black pearl necklace; a very rare collection of large pearls, with black pearl and diamond snap; three pearl and diamond fringe pendants, composed of large stones.”[4]

Portrait of Paca de Alba by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1854. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite all her expensive jewelry, conjecture was rampant about her unusual looking ring. Russian women allegedly declared the stone to be a “Moscovy diamond” and claimed that it had been “submitted to the spell of some gipsy of Courlando, whose power none can doubt.”[5] Spanish women remembered Éugenie wearing the ring while a young girl, and they claimed she wore it before the cholera outbreak in 1834, which caused her to flee with her mother and her sister, María Francisca, who was informally known as Paca de Alba, to Paris. The Spanish women also claimed that some sort of gypsy spell was attached to the ring and that a young Éugenie was “compelled to bind the thick silver hoop with narrow ribbon, lest it should slip from her slender figure.”[6] Scottish women did not support such “high-flown suppositions.” They stated that the ring was nothing more than “a good, honest, cairn-gomm pebble, not overly brilliant either, and scarcely worth picking up — such as one as you might buy in any pretty shop in Edinburgh for a couple of shillings, setting and all!”[7] However, they believed it possessed magical powers that were much greater than any mere gypsy spell.

The Dundee Courier alleged in 1861 that whenever Éugenie was questioned about the ring, she found the topic “disagreeable.” Nonetheless, she “laughed, and declared that the ring was a talisman, and that to betray the secret of its power would be to render it powerless.”[8] The newspaper also published a story stating that Éugenie was a young girl when she acquired the ring and that it happened while she was with her mother in Scotland. The story begins when she was staying at an inn in a small village and went out for a walk. After a time, she grew tired and relaxed under some large shade trees.

“While she was thus seated alone — musing, perhaps, on the past, perhaps on the future — she was accosted by an old woman in Highland garb, who, handing her a little basket, requested her to purchase some of the baubles it contained. Eugenie, who, even at that time was already in possession of more articles of this kind than she required, at first declined, but, by degrees, growing more interested in the vendor than in her wares, she consented to examine some articles in her basket. Presently the old woman, who had been examining her countenance for some moments with the greatest attention, suddenly seized her hand, and looking in the palm, became greatly agitated. ‘Let me choose — let me choose!’ exclaimed she. ‘Let me fix the fate which I see written here!’ and, thereupon, drawing from her bosom a little linen bag, so tightly sewn up that she was compelled to use the scissors which hung at her side to open the seam, she disclosed several rings of different dimensions. Taking one of them from among the number she placed it on the young girl’s finger. ‘I see in your hand the prospects of a future greatness. With this ring may you secure it and wear a crown — with this ring no harm small betide, but all things prosper and turn to good. So long as you keep this jewel, so long shall good fortune follower wherever you lead — no ill-luck can come near you while the cairn-gomm, picked from the pebbles of the holy stream, protects you!’”[9]  

During this exchange, two women inside a home observed the scene from a distance. When the old woman left, Eugenie, being overcome and frightened by what had just happened, ran to the women. As they had only caught a word or two of the conversation, they had Éugenie relate the story word for word. Later, Eugenie’s mother also heard about the old woman and her predictions, and, supposedly, she encouraged her daughter to believe in the talisman, which from that day forward Éugenie took to heart and faithfully wore, even to her own wedding.

The Empress Éugenie circa 1856. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, despite Éugenie’s enduring faith in the magical powers of the ring, she somehow accidentally mislaid it. It happened around the same time she sent her yacht to Madrid to retrieve her sick sister, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis (but may have been suffering from leukemia instead). While aboard the yacht, the ring disappeared. The Empress offered a handsome reward for its return, but despite an extensive search, including tearing up some of the floor planks, it was never found. Thus, as predicted, bad luck soon followed. Éugenie transported her sister back to Paris, and it was there that Paca died on 16 September 1860.

A newspaper provided the end to the story of Éugenie’s magical ring by noting:

“This is the tale as told direct from the palace. Grief makes some people confidential. The story has got abroad since the return to the Tuileries — no one can answer for its truth; the circumstance we can affirm is, that the ring which was wont to excite such remark and criticism, as it gleamed with lurid light on the fourth finger of her Majesty’s right hand, is no longer there.”[10]

References:

  •  
  • [1] Gleason’s Literary Companion v. 7 (F. Gleason, 1866), p. 536.
  • [2] C.L.M. Daniels and C.M.C. Stevens, Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: A Comprehensive Library of Human Belief and Practice in the Mysteries of Life v. 2 (Chicago: J. H. Yewdale & sons Company, 1903), p. 1284.
  • [3] Dundee Courier, “The Empress Eugenie’s Magic Ring,” January 2, 1861, p. 4.
  • [4] Public Opinion v. 21 (London, 1872), p. 26.
  • [5] Dundee Courier, p. 4
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.

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