Message in a Brooch

By Sara Abey

Powerful, forward-thinking women such as the first female US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, first female Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher and the first female President of the Supreme Court of the UK, Lady Hale, are known to have worn brooches to express their views and feelings. Does the Queen of the United Kingdom also make personal statements through her choice of brooches?

During her Annual Christmas Message 2019, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II wore a glorious sapphire and diamond brooch on her royal blue cashmere dress. This was Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch, also known as Prince Albert’s Brooch or simply “The Albert”. Through the generations it has remained a visible symbol of love and the continuation of the monarchy. Might Queen Elizabeth have specially chosen to wear this brooch from Queen Victoria to convey a similar message to the selection of photographs on her desk – a visible sign of her devotion to her family and the British monarchy and its continuation through her direct bloodline.

The story begins when Prince Albert presented this elegantly splendid brooch to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on 9 February 1840 as a pre-wedding gift, the day before their marriage ceremony. She was so enchanted by the noble sapphire that she wore it prominently the next day on her wedding dress, close to her heart.

The entry for Sunday 9 February 1840 in Lord Esher’s typescript of Queen Victoria’s Journals says: “My precious Albert gave me a splendid and lovely broach [sic] of an immense Sapphire, set round with diamonds; it is quite beautiful.” Note here the use of the uppercase “S” for sapphire, but not for the “d” of diamonds. The gift of the brooch, and Queen Victoria’s wearing of it on her wedding day, were also noted by General Charles Gray, Prince Albert’s private secretary, in his 1867 book The Early Years of His Royal Highness the Prince and a reviewer of this book in the Morning Post added the comment that “The Koh-i-noor is but a pale and paltry jewel beside that sapphire brooch”. The Koh-i-nur, of course, is the 105.6 carat diamond in the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom which had been presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.

Following her marriage, Queen Victoria wore Prince Albert’s present regularly until his untimely death, an expression of her extreme devotion to her husband. She paid him the ultimate tribute by leaving the brooch to the Crown in her will. Since Queen Victoria’s death every queen consort has frequently worn Prince Albert’s Brooch, as does now Queen Elizabeth. Heirlooms owned by the monarch in right of the Crown are passed on from one monarch to the next forever.

The maker of the Queen Victoria’s wedding brooch or the origin of its sapphire is not certain. However, Prince Albert’s ledger records show that he purchased jewellery from the Crown Jeweller, Garrard, who more recently made Lady Diana’s sapphire engagement ring of the same design with a sapphire from Sri Lanka. This ring was given to Diana Frances Spencer by Queen Elizabeth’s heir apparent Prince of Wales on the occasion of her accepting to enter the Royal House of Windsor. Later, the same ring was presented to Catherine Elizabeth Middleton on her engagement to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, next in line to the throne.

Worn close to the heart and without inhibiting or directly ornamenting the body, brooches are often the statement jewellery of choice for contemporary powerful women. So, was there a message in the brooch worn by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her Annual Christmas Message in 2019? A message about upholding the strength of the British monarchy and its continuation through her direct line of succession? Or was she simply in the mood for blue?