The Hope Diamond, Its Curse, and the French

The deep sapphire blue Hope Diamond, also known as the “Tavernier Blue,” “Le Bijou du Roi” (the King’s Jewel), or “Le bleu de France” (“the Blue of France”), is an enormous 45.52 carats. This diamond, described in the 1900s as a “good sized horse chestnut,”[1] but shaped like a pear, was supposedly discovered in India in the seventeenth century. Exactly who discovered it, who owned it, and where it was found is unclear.

The diamond’s first known owner was a French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He obtained possession of the diamond in the mid-1660s, although no one knows whether he purchased it, stole it, or obtained it by deception. According to Tavernier, the diamond was discovered in the Kollur Mine in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom.

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, First Owner of the Hope Diamond, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sometime between 1640 and 1668, Tavernier appeared in Paris with 25 diamonds to sell. Among these 25 diamonds was a rock weighing in the rough 112 1/4 carats. It was this rock in the rough that would eventually become the Hope Diamond. Tavernier sold it and all his other diamonds to King Louis XIV, who paid over £100,000 (some historians say it was £200,000).

Louis XIV in 1673. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the years, the diamond went from the possession of Louis XIV to Louis XV to Louis XVI. After the insurrection of 10 August 1792, the diamond, along with the French regalia, was deposited in the royal storehouse known as the Garde-Meuble. To safeguard possessions in the Garde-Meuble, the door was sealed and guards were rotated daily. Unfortunately, there were problems with these safety measures: First, because of the seal on the door, guards could not patrol inside the room, and, second, guards often left the room unguarded.

A month later, in September, the Garde-Meuble was broken into and all the jewels stolen. Most of the jewels were recovered but not the future Hope Diamond. It remained missing until 1812 when it was discovered to be in the hands of a London diamond merchant named Daniel Eliason. He then sold it, but conflicting reports makes its ownership murky until it was purchased in the 1830s by a rich London banker who was a member of the Hope banking family, which thereby gave the diamond its name.

The Hope family sold the diamond in 1901 to pay off debts. After several owners it landed in the hands of the French jeweler, Pierre Cartier. In 1910, Cartier attempted to sell the diamond to a couple named McLean. Being a consummate salesman, he wove a tale about the diamond’s history based on stories that started to circulate in the late 1800s claiming the diamond was cursed and possessed evil qualities.

Unfortunately, Cartier’s deal fell through with the McLeans, and the editor of The New York Times reported on the failed sale and mentioned the curse. A brouhaha then erupted over whether or not there was a curse. Exactly why this happened is unclear but boils down to one of three reasons: 1) Newspapermen thought it would sell newspapers; 2) Cartier believed it would attract other buyers; 3) The McLeans, who eventually did buy it, hoped it would increase the value of their investment.

The Hope Diamond, Public Domain

The Hope Diamond. Public domain.

Whatever the motive for popularizing the Hope Diamond as cursed, the diamond soon took center stage and became the best known “cursed diamond” in the world. Since the 1900s, plenty of stories about the diamond and its supposed victims have circulated. Among the victims of the Hope Diamond curse are numerous people who lived in France between 1668 and 1793. Here is the list of those people and how they reputedly suffered from the curse:

  • Tavernier, who sold the diamond to Louis XIV, was destitute in his old age and died of a fever on a journey to the East hoping to recoup his fortune. 
  • Nicolas Fouquet was guardian of the French crown jewels. He supposedly borrowed the Hope Diamond from Louis XIV for a festive occasion. Later, Fouquet was disgraced, and Louis XIV had him imprisoned, where he died on 23 March 1680. 
  • Madame de Montespan was the celebrated maîtresse en titre (chief mistress) of Louis XIV and reputedly wore the diamond several times. Montespan was supplanted by Madame de Maintenon after suspicions fell on Montespan during the “Affair of the Poisons” — a scandal between 1677-1682 that implicated certain members of aristocracy as being associated with witchcraft and poisoning. Montespan was innocent, but suspicions forced Louis XIV and Montespan to separate. However, the King continued to visit her daily until 1691. At that time, Montespan fell completely out of favor with the King and was forced to retire to the Filles de Saint-Joseph Convent. 
  • Louis XIV died of gangrene and during his last days suffered excruciating pain. On 1 September 1715, Louis XIV finally “yielded up his soul without any effort, like a candle going out”[2] and, supposedly, did so while reciting the psalm “Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (O Lord, make haste to help me).”[3]
  • Maria Teresa of Savoy-Carignan married the Prince de Lamballe and became the Princesse de Lamballe. Although her marriage started off good, it fell apart with her husband’s cheat and then died of syphilis. The widowed princess went on to become good friends with Marie Antoinette. Supposedly the princesse borrowed the diamond and wore it and then in 1792, she became one of the first victims of the September Massacres.  
  • Louis XVI came into possession of the diamond after his grandfather, Louis XV died. Louis XVI’s inherited many problems with his reign and was deposed in 1792. On 21 January 1793, after being convicted of treason, he was executed by guillotine at the Place de la Révolution.
  • Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette, was also said to have worn the diamond. She was beheaded on 6 October 1793 after she was found guilty of various treasonous acts.

References:

  • [1] “Hope Diamond in New Hands,” in Portsmouth Daily Herald, 30 January 1911, p. 3.
  • [2] Breverton, Terry, Immortal Last Words, 2013.
  • [3] Ibid.

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2 Comments

  1. Hels on March 16, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    What an extraordinary story. I think we can ignore the curse angle and concentrate on the really big issues that you raised. Tavernier said the diamond was discovered in the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh, but was it bought, stolen or something else? If crime was originally involved, who would the lawful owner be now? How did it get to the London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason by 1812? What happened to the diamond until the Hope banking family got it in the 1830s etc etc

    I was fascinated by a similar story. The Koh-I-Noor diamond was probably mined in India and presented to Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in the 16th century. The diamond reached British hands through the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. As the de facto civil authority, the British East India Company came to own it. To mark its 250th anniversary, the Company decided to present the gem to Queen Victoria in July 1850. Very strange!

    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/crystal-palace-1851-and-worlds-greatest.html

    • Geri Walton on March 20, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      I too think it is interesting as to how it got into the hands of Tavernier and how it floated around mysteriously until Daniel Eliason acquired it. (I’d love to know the story around it.) It seems that once the Hope family got the diamond, there’s been no problem tracking its owner. Even though I don’t think there is any curse, I did it find fascinating how the idea of a curse developed. I also recently published another story about another French diamond, the Regent Diamond http://www.geriwalton.com/index.php/2016/02/the-regent-diamond/ (if you are interested). It was also found in the Kollur mine but seems to have been better tracked. I also just recently began looking at a third diamond owned by nobility in France but it doesn’t seem to have such an exciting background as either the Hope or the Regent diamond. Anyway, thanks for comments, it really is a fascinating story.

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