The Mirror of Naples

The Mirror of Naples is one of the most famous jewels of history ... and no one knows exactly what it looked like, or what happened to it.

The descriptions we have of this gem are rather vague. The diamond was a table-cut gem, as wide as a "full sized finger" and having a pearl dangling from it the size of a pigeon's egg.

Mary Tudor Brandon
Queen of France
It enters the historical record as a present given by Louis XII to his new bride, Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Henry later argued the jewel was a personal gift of Louis. The new French king, Francis I, insisted it was part of the Crown Jewels of France, and thus belonged to the crown, not to the queen who wore it.

Mary Tudor was not Queen of France for long. Her elderly husband, Louis, died only a few months after their wedding. Mary was sent to reside in a convent until it was certain she was not pregnant with the king's heir. Henry sent his friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, to fetch Mary back home to England.

Before Mary would consent to wed the French king, she extracted a promise from her brother: that she would be allowed to choose her next husband. Henry agreed, never intending to keep it. In fact, he was busily arranging Mary's next marriage while he waited for her return.

Mary caught wind of this, or realized her brother never intended her to allow her to marry whom she pleased. And the man she wanted to marry was Charles Brandon.

Francis I
The new king, Francis, helped arrange an elopement between Mary and Brandon. He said he thought it was romantic, but truthfully, his motive was likely to remove a marriage pawn from Henry's board.

After the marriage was consummated, both Mary and Brandon wrote to the king, begging for forgiveness. To soften her brother's anger, Mary packaged up the Mirror of Naples and sent it with her letter. She later took with her more of the French Crown Jewels when she departed for England.

Francis was not best pleased, to put it mildly. He (and his wife, Claude) demanded the jewels return. Henry sent a few of the smallest pieces back, but kept the Mirror. The Letters and Papers of the reign record that Henry said the Mirror was but a "small thing," and part of the compensation she was owed as the French king's widow, and in fact, Mary was entitled to more. (This squabbling over dowries and marriage portions after short-lived marriages was common. Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon squabbled for years over Katharine of Aragon's dowry.)

Francis then tried offering thirty thousand crowns for the Mirror's return, which Henry scoffed at. His jewelers said it was worth at least sixty thousand. Too rich for Francis's blood, as they say, and so he mourned the gem's loss, but could do nothing to compel its return. It's said Henry wore it openly, and might have been painted wearing it, but if so, the portrait is not identified, nor are any of the jewels in his known portraits identifiable as the Mirror.

Supposedly, the Mirror was noted in the inventory of Elizabeth I's jewels after she died. Some say the gem was sold by Queen Henrietta-Maria to pay for supplies during the English Civil War, but I haven't been able to find confirmation of it. In any case, it vanishes from history. No jewels matching the description survive, so the Mirror must have been re-cut into smaller diamonds at some point, likely to make it easier to sell. Or, perhaps it was lost and will re-surface someday, having been hidden away like the Cheapside Hoard.

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