Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Diamonds Are A Gay's Best Friend

When I was putting together my “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” project I did a bit of research into diamonds. Some of that found its way into the articles on CecilRhodes and Alexander the Great. There were several other directions I could have taken to continue the connection of “80 Gays”. One was the James Bond connection I mentioned in that Cecil Rhodes article.

Apart from Bond’s “Diamonds Are Forever” title there’s another famous phrase in common use, and another song title – “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Over the centuries many men have had diamonds close to their heart (and wallet). Here are three owned by some gay/bisexual men.

One of the rarest of all diamonds is a pear-shaped pink diamond called the Le Grand Condé. Its discovery and original owners are unknown, but by 1643 it was in the possession of King Louis XIII of France. It is said that the king gave the diamond to his cousin Prince Louis II de Bourbon, Duke of Condé (1621-1686) in recognition of the duke’s great victory against the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi. The problem with that story is that King Louis died the week before the battle took place. It’s more likely that it was the king’s son, King Louis XIV, who gave him the diamond much later.

However the duke acquired the diamond it quickly acquired his name. He was known as Le Grand Condé, and the diamond is still known by that name today. The duke was a magnificent military leader. While his achievements on the battlefield were lauded his string of close male companions, some of them lovers, led to him being satirised and criticised. He was a typical prince of the Enlightenment, a patron of arts and science.

I’ll write more about Prince Louis, Duke of Conde later in the year in “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” when I write about his abortive attempts to become King of Poland. For now, let’s return to Le Grand Condé diamond. It remained in the Condé family until 1886 when it was bequeathed to the French government. There was a proviso attached, that Le Grand Condé should never leave the family home, the famous Chantilly château. And there it was kept until 11th October 1926 when it was stolen.

The police began an international manhunt for the thieves. Several days later a maid in a Paris hotel was searching the room of a couple of guests who had been acting suspiciously. As she searched she found an apple and, because she was hungry, she took a bite. She bit into something hard, and found that hidden inside the apple was the famous pink diamond which all of France was looking for. Today Le Grand Condé diamond is back at Chantilly safely locked way while a replica takes its place on display.

But it’s not only wannabe kings like the Duke of Condé who didn’t get to wear a crown (the crown of Poland as I’ll write about later in the year). Some real kings didn’t get to wear theirs either.

The famous King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) never wore his. One of the unusual facts about the kings of Bavaria is that they got to wear their royal crown, not even at their coronations. When Bavaria was raised from a princely electorate into a kingdom in 1806 a new set of crown jewels were made. Included in the crow itself was a fabulous blue diamond. It was named the Wittelsbach Blue after the family name of the Bavarian royal family. It came into the family’s possession from the Hapsburg emperor through a royal marriage in 1722.
The coronation portraits of the Bavarian kings including Ludwig II (pictured above) show the crown, with the Wittelsbach Blue diamond on the top, resting beside them on a table. After the collapse of the Bavarian monarchy the royal family removed and sold the Wittelsbach Blue. Today the Wittelsbach Blue is owned by an Arabian prince and has been recut and renamed the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond.

Another diamond owned by a king and worn conspicuously on several occasions is the Saucy Diamond. This pale yellow diamond takes its name from the Seigneurs de Saucy who owned it. They sold it to King James I Stuart of Great Britain (1566-1625) in 1605. Unlike other diamonds that have reputations for bringing bad luck King James considered the Saucy Diamond as a lucky charm and wore it often.

Just like the Union Jack and the name Great Britain the Saucy Diamond became a symbol of the union of the crowns of England and Scotland. It was set in a large brooch with three other diamonds and a ruby to form what became known as The Mirror of Great Britain. It was listed as part of the British crown jewels. Several portraits of King James (one shown below) depict him wearing the Mirror of Great Britain in his hat.
You probably know of the fate of the later Stuart kings of Great Britain. It’s as if the Saucy Diamond had skipped a generation and provided bad luck to King James’s descendants. James’s son King Charles I was beheaded, his grandson James II was deposed, and two of his grandchildren, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Cardinal York, failed in their attempts to regain the throne.

The Saucy Diamond followed the failed Stuarts around Europe until they were forced to sell it to Cardinal Mazarin in 1657 to pay debts. After passing through the ownership of several families to Saucy diamond, now separated from the Mirror of Great Britain, was sold to the Louvre in 1978.

There are several other diamonds that have been owned by other queer royals, and they have often crossed paths in time and location with those described above. It would be interesting to see a “diamond lattice” showing the paths of all those diamonds through lgbt hands. Perhaps I’ll design it myself one day.

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