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Crown Jewels of France, on display at the Louvre.
The French Crown Jewels were the crown, orbs, diadems and jewels that were the symbol of royalty and which were worn by many Kings and Queens of France. The set was finally broken up, with most of it sold off in 1885 by the Third French Republic. The surviving French Crown Jewels, principally a set of historic crowns now set with decorated glass, are on display in the Galerie d'Apollon of the Louvremarker, Francemarker's premier museum and former royal palace, together with the Regent Diamond, the Sancy Diamond and the 105 carat Côte-de-Bretagne red spinel, carved into the form of a dragon. In addition, some gemstones and jewels (including the Emerald of Saint Louis[94627], the 'Ruspoli' sapphire[94628] and the diamond pins of Queen Marie-Antoinette) are on display in the Treasury vault of the Mineralogy gallery in the French Natural History Museum (Muséum nationale d'histoire naturelle).

Use of the French crown jewels

In contrast with Englishmarker monarchs, French kings were less attached to the ritual use of crown jewels. Nevertheless, all monarchs were crowned until the French revolution, in the Notre-Dame de Reimsmarker cathedral (apart for two of them, who were crowned elsewhere). After the revolution, only Emperor Napoleon I, Empress Josephine and King Charles X were crowned. Though not always used, a set of expensive crown jewels did exist and was added to by various monarches.

Famous diamonds

Among the most famous diamonds in the collection were the Sancy Diamond, which once had been part of the pre-Commonwealth Crown Jewels of England, the Royal French Blue, and the Regent Diamond. The treatment of the Regent Diamond epitomised the attitude of the French Royal Family to the Crown Jewels. While the Regent Diamond was the centrepiece of the King Louis XV crown, and worn by him at his coronation in February 1723, Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, wore it in a black velvet hat.

Louis XV had the Regent Diamond set in the lower part of the fleur-de-lis in the front of his crown, while eight of the famous Mazarin diamonds that the cardinal had bequeath to the French Crown are set in the other seven fleur-de-lis and in the circlet of the crown. Diamonds and colored gemstones are set between two rows of pearls on the circlet and are also set into the four arches that rise behind the fleur-de-lis and the eight ornamental points between the fleur-de-lis. At the junction of these four arches is a small pedestal surrounded by two rows of small diamonds on either side of a row of small pearls. Eight larger diamonds set between this pedestal and the arches give the effect of a sunburst when the crown is viewed from above. On the pedestal rises a double fleur-de-lis formed of nine large diamonds, including the Sancy Diamond which forms the central upper petal of this double fleur-de-lis. The gold brocade cap which lines the crown is also ornamented with large diamonds.

Previous to the making of this crown the crowns of French kings had not contained many or valuable precious stones, since it was traditional for a French king to bequeath his crown to the treasury of the Abbey, now Basilica of St Denismarker on their deaths. This crown was also bequeath to Saint Denis on the death of Louis XV, but not before the diamonds had been replaced with crystals and it is on display presently in the Louvre similarly set with crystals.

King's sword

The recreated "Hand of Justice"
The sword used during the coronation of the kings of France is displayed at the Louvre museum, apart from the crown jewels. According to legend it is "Joyeuse"[94629][94630] Charlemagne's sword. Its unusual build and ornamentation make it difficult to date, but the parts probably date to the 10th to 13th century. Some believe it might be much older, even manufactured before Charlemagne's reign.

The coronation swords of Napoleon I and Charles X also were preserved in the Louvre museum, although the latter was recently stolen.

Sceptre of Charles V and Main de Justice

One of the few surviving pieces of the medieval French crown jewels is the Sceptre Charles V had made for the future coronation of his son, Charles VI, currently on display in the Louvre . It is over five feet long and at the top is a lily supporting a small statuette of Charlemagne. This evocation of Charlemagne may also explain why this sceptre was included in the imperial regalia of Napoleon I.[94631]

A uniquely French type of sceptre is the Main de Justice (Hand of Justice), which has as its finial an ivory Hand of God in a blessing gesture. Only the ivory finial itself appears to be medieval; the present golden rod which it terminates was probably made for either the coronation of Napoleon I[94632] or that of Charles X.[94633] The camoes and other medieval gemstones which surround the junction of the finial and the rod represent a deliberate nineteenth century anachronism.

Theft of the crown jewels during the revolution

The Hope Diamond, which was cut from the Royal French Blue, part of the French Crown Jewels.
The Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792 when the Garde Meuble (Royal Treasury) was stormed by rioters. Most, though not all, of the Crown Jewels were recovered eventually. Neither the Sancy Diamond nor the French Blue Diamond were found in the years after, however. The Royal French Blue is believed to have been recut, and it is now known as the Hope Diamond.

The Hope is famously alleged to have been surrounded by bad luck. Marie Antoinette who supposedly wore it was beheaded (in fact, it was actually worn by her husband, Louis XVI). Other owners and their families experienced suicides, marriage break-ups, bankruptcy, deaths in car crashes, falls off cliffs, revolutions, mental breakdowns, and deaths through drug overdoses. It was even tangentially associated with the case of the murdered Lindbergh babymarker, when its then owner, silver heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, pawned it to raise money that she ended up paying to a con-man unconnected with the actual kidnap. Most modern historians view the tales of a curse on the Hope to be spurious; the first mention of such tales is documented to 1908. Pierre Cartier, the Parisian jeweler, is widely credited with publicizing the stories of a curse on the diamond in hopes of increasing its saleability. Since 1958, it has been in the Smithsonian Institutionmarker in Washington, D.C.marker, where it is the single most-viewed object in the Smithsonian's collection.

The Crown Jewels were augmented by jewels added by Napoleon I and Napoleon III along with their empresses.

Last coronation

The last French coronation occurred in 1824 when King Charles X was crowned at Reimsmarker. The scale of the coronation was seen by critics to indicate a return to the absolutism of the ancien regime that had been ended by the Revolution of 1830.Some historians suggest that the very grandeur of the ceremony marked the beginning of the end for the Bourbon monarchy, with Charles's image as an old style monarch falling out of favour with the French public, who had much preferred the low-key monarchy of his brother, Louis XVIII. Louis Phillipe of France, the last King of France, was not crowned, and neither was Napoleon III, the last Emperor. Napoleon III's consort, Eugénie de Montijo, however, did have a Crown made for her, though it was never used in an official coronation.

Break-up and sale of the French crown jewels

Notre-Dame de Reims, traditional location of the coronations of Kings of France
Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the jewels survived the First French Republic, the Directorate, the First Empire, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, the Second French Republic and the Second Empire. However, the decision of Henri, Comte de Chambord not to accept the French Crown in the early 1870s ended not just the prospect of a royal restoration. It also led to the break-up and partial sale of the Crown Jewels.

In 1875 the Third French Republic came into being with the passage of a series of Organic Laws (collectively forming a constitution). The interim presidency was replaced by a full "President of the Republic".

While few expected a royal restoration, certainly after the failure of the Seize Mai attempted royalist coup by President Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta, the continuing agitation of extreme right wing royalists, and the fear of a royalist coup d'état, led radical deputies to propose the sale of the Crown Jewels, in the hope that their dispersal would undermine the royalist cause: "Without a crown, no need for a king" in the words of one member of the National Assembly. This controversial decision was implemented. All the jewels from the Crown Jewels were removed and sold, as were many of the crowns, diadems, rings and other items. Only a few of the crowns were kept for historic reasons, but with their original diamonds and gems replaced by coloured glass. Some historic or unusual gems went to French museums, including the corsage brooch containing some of the 'Mazarin diamonds'[94634], which is now in the Louvre, and the 'Ruspoli' sapphire, which is now in the French Natural History Museum (curators took advantage of its unusual rhombohedral faceted shape and asked for it to be exempted from the sale, falsely claiming that it was a natural, uncut crystal).

Most recent royal ceremony in France: The funeral of Louis XVII in 2004

One of the mysteries of the French Revolution was the question of what had happened to the Dauphin, the heir apparent of King Louis XVI, after the execution of the King and Queen. Though it was generally believed that he had died in prison, popular legend had spoken of the young prince being spirited away from his prison and living in exile.

In 2004, however it was finally confirmed that the legend was fictitious. In reality Louis XVI's son, Louis Charles, called the young prince by some, and King Louis XVII of France by royalist supporters following his father's death, had died of tuberculosis in prison. The fact of his death was established using DNA evidence. The heart of the young man claimed by the royalists to be the young Louis XVII had been secretly removed by a doctor just after his death. By comparing the DNA from the heart with DNA taken from strands of hair of Marie Antoinette that had been kept as a memento by royalists, it was possible to establish that the boy who died in prison was indeed the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; the above mentioned heir to the crown of Louis XVI.

The formal funeral for Louis XVII finally took place, albeit with his heart, not his body, in 2004. For the first time in over a century a royal ceremony took place in France, complete with the fleur-de-lis standard and a royal crown.


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