The Duke of Brunswick and the Jewel Heist

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, also called the “Diamond Duke,” was an eccentric man. He was born in Brunswick in 1804 and was the eldest son of Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Princess Marie of Baden, whose brother, the Hereditary Prince of Baden, was an ally of Napoleon Bonaparte. She died in April 1808 when Charles was three after she gave birth to a stillborn daughter.

Duke of Brunswick - his father

Duke of Brunswick’s father, Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Courtesy of Wikipeida.

The Duke of Brunswick grew to be an unusual man. He dressed strangely, painted his face, and wore a black silk wig long after the fashion had long faded. Because he was unorthodox, he became the talk of Europe and in addition he sued several newspapers for libel that alleged he had solicited homosexual encounters.

The Duke of Brunswick became a resident of Paris after being exiled by his own brother, who took over his Duchy. When the Duke fled he took “his traveling case containing fifteen million francs worth of diamonds belonging rather more to the Crown than to him.”[1] The Duke then moved into the Beaujon quarter in an old mansion that he painted bright red, and it was there in this bright red mansion that he would occasionally pull out his jewels and gloat over them, particularly his diamonds, “for which he had an irrepressible mania.”[2] The jewels that the avarice Duke fawned over included “fifteen of the ninety known diamonds, weighing thirty-six carats.”[3] He also published a catalog of his diamonds that was said to number “not less than 268 quarto pages.”[4] The detailed list included the following:

“His white-transparent, first-white, second-white, steel-white, blue-white, light-blue, black-blue, light-yellow, bright-yellow, amber-yellow, straw, champagne, deep-rose, rosy, light-rose, opalescent, pomegranate, violent, greenish, green sea-green, brown, light-brown, deep-brown, dusk black, opaque-black, London-fog, sandy, frosty, black-spotted, cracked, split scratched, ill-cut, uncut, square round oval, oblong, octagon, pointed, pigeon-eyed, almond, Chinese-eyed diamonds.”[5]

Besides his costly jewels, everyone knew the Duke of Brunswick was wealthy and that his resident was stuffed full of costly treasures. For this reason, he believed thieves were constantly attempting to rob him, and he took extreme measures to prevent theft. For example, his house was “surrounded on every side by a high wall; the wall itself … surrounded by a lofty iron railing, defended by innumerable sharp spear-heads, which [were] so contrived that if any person touch[ed] any one of them, a chime of bells … instantly … [rang] an alarm.”[6]

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

His numerous jewels were also well protected. They were placed in a safe lined with granite and iron that was in his bedroom. The safe could only be reached through two doors, “one of which … opened by a spring ingeniously concealed in the wainscoting, and the other by a key.”[7] In addition, the Duke also devised several methods to deter robbery. One method involved wires attached to bells that warned of any unauthorized person approaching the safe, and the other involved wiring the triggers of several revolvers so that they would fire automatically if an intruder attempted to break into the safe.

The Duke of Brunswick saw plots everywhere. This meant he always ate out and it was also reported:

“At home … he kept no kitchen. A cook was necessarily a poisoner in his eyes. he mixed his morning chocolate himself; his milk was brought from suburban farms in a sealed silver can; and his body servant was compelled to drink and digest it before he himself touched it.”[8]

To further protect himself and his jewels, on 1 July 1863, the Duke hired a second valet de chambre, an Englishman by the name of Henry Shaw. The new valet was tall, thin, and well-proportioned. He was 26, spoke several languages “perfectly” and claimed to have been born at Newcastle upon Tyne. He appeared to be a humble man, and he quickly gained the confidence of the Duke of Brunswick because of his humility and because he never failed to “present himself before the Duke to receive his orders on his returning home at night.”[9] In addition, because of the Duke’s trust in Shaw, the valet become one of three or four individuals who knew about the safe’s two doors, the bells, and the revolvers.

Newcastle upon Tyne within England. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One afternoon, in December 1863, the Duke of Brunswick left for a soirée. Before he left, he informed Shaw that he expected a jeweler to arrive early the next morning. The jeweler was going to mount some of the diamonds from the iron safe, and in order to not wake the Duke, the Duke told Shaw he had left the second door of the safe open so that when the jeweler came, Shaw could give him immediate access by touching the spring.

Upon the Duke’s departure, Shaw began thinking and “at once conceived [an idea] … of forcing open the inner door, which he did without difficulty.”[10] Shaw quickly filled his pockets with gold, bank notes, and the diamonds. With his pockets full, he drew the tapestry in front of the safe closed and shut the Duke’s bedroom door. To ensure that he covered his tracks, Shaw told another servant he was unwell and left him in his place, all the while Shaw was hoping that his absence would not be immediately noticed.

The Duke of Brunswick returned home late that night, and as it was about one or two in the morning when he arrived, he was surprised to find Shaw absent and someone else waiting for him at the door. This raised the Duke’s suspicions. He went straight to his room where he observed on the bed “a number of bags in which he kept his diamonds. They had evidently been abstracted from the iron chest,”[11] and he also discovered a number of diamonds “scattered about as if they had been abandoned in a moment of flight.”[12]

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick by Eguene Giraud. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Realizing he had been robbed, the Duke of Brunswick raised the alarm. “Information of this great robbery was immediately given to the Police, and the electric telegraph was set to work in every direction.”[13] In the meantime, Shaw sent a letter to an English nobleman declaring that he would “undertake to return to the English lord the millions’ worth of diamonds which the duke had purloined from his family…[in exchange for] one hundred thousand francs.”[14] The nobleman who received the letter turned it over to police at Scotland Yard. They in turn immediately dispatched the information to the Paris police. Thus, it did not take long before Shaw was found and arrested.

Shaw’s arrest happened in Boulogne, “just as [Shaw] was stepping on board a Folkestone boat.”[15] Most of the diamonds were recovered. However, one valued at 1,400f. Shaw had gifted to a girl whom he spent the night with and whose name he claimed he did not know.

When the trial at the Court of Assizes was held, there several other interesting revelations. One revelation was that Shaw had led a “wandering life” This meant that he had been employed in a variety of different vocations in various countries. In addition, Shaw’s name was likely not Shaw. Several letters discovered on his person were from his father and addressed to him under the name of Sherck. Furthermore, a fellow-servant testified that Shaw had “robbed an uncle at Warsaw of 14,000f., and that his uncle had told him to go away and ‘get himself hung elsewhere’ — an observation Shaw did not deny.”[16]

At trial, the Duke of Brunswick with his whitened nose, rouged cheeks, and bewigged head, did not appear. Apparently, he was worried that a scandal would erupt. The Paris correspondent for the Daily News reported:

“Bitter was the disappointment when it became known that neither the duke nor the diamonds would show. His serene highness had been subpoenaed, but sent a note to the presiding judge to say that he was indisposed and could not appear.[18]

The Duke must have decided there was no real reason for him to appear because “having gained possession of his diamonds he merely brought … charges against Shaw through one of his friends.”[19] Yet, the Duke’s absence did not stop Shaw from being found guilty of theft: He was sentenced to “twenty years’ imprisonment with hard labour.”[20]

As for the Duke, he continued to gloat over a few of his precious jewels because most of them he thereafter stored in the Bank of England for safe keeping. When war broke out between France and Germany in 1870, he then moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and it was there at the Beau-Rivage Hotel in 1873, that he died at the age of 68. He left his wealth to the city of Geneva, but in exchange for his estate, the city agreed to construct the Brunswick Monument in his memory. In addition, the Duke stipulated that his mausoleum be an exact replica of a 14th century tomb of the Scaliger family in Verona, Italy.

Brunswick Monument, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Brunswick Monument. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


  • [1] Albany Medical Annals, 1909,p. 254.
  • [2] “The Brunswick Diamonds,” in Sacramento Daily Union, 3 September 1870, p. 8.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] “The Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Caledonian Mercury, 17 December 1863, p. 3.
  • [8] Littell, Eliakim, etal., Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 165, 1885, p. 180.
  • [9] “Robbery of the Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Kentish Chronicle, 26 December 1863, p. 5.
  • [10] “The Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Manchester Times, 6 February 1864, p. 2.
  • [11] “The Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Caledonian Mercury, p. 3.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Albany Medical Annals, p. 255.
  • [15] “The Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Manchester Times, p. 2.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Albany Medical Annals, p. 260-261.
  • [18] “The Duke of Brunswick’s Diamonds,” in Manchester Times, p. 2.
  • [19] Albany Medical Annals, p. 261.
  • [20] Ibid.

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