By Jennifer Conley
The Hope Diamond has fascinated those who have had the pleasure of gazing upon its immense blue beauty as well as those who have been intrigued by the urban legend that the diamond is cursed.
In the early 1900s, the Diamond came into the spotlight and stories about the tragedies that have befallen those who have possessed or worn the diamond started appearing in newspapers. The Curse of the Hope Diamond was formed from those stories and, to many, is still believed today.
The Diamond was said to originally be 112 carat (currently at 44.5 carats) and stolen from a statue of the goddess Sita in India in the middle 1600s. Sita is the Hindu Goddess noted for her devotion to her husband Rama, a manifestation of Vishnu, and is associated with the feminine virtue of all women. As a sacred statue to the Hindu faith, stealing from the statue would lead to unfortunate consequences, which is the foundation of the curse.
The first “victim” of the curse is Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French gem merchant, who procured the stone in 1642 during his five year gem excavation in India. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier died in Russia at age eight-four, supposedly after being mauled by wild dogs.
King Louis XIV of France bought the diamond from Tavernier in 1668 and named it “Bleu de France” (French Blue). King Louis XIV’s rule was long and prosperous but tragedy did befall the great French king. His son and heir, Louis “Le Grand Dauphin”, died of smallpox in 1711. Less than a year later in 1712, King Louis XIV grandson, Louis “Le Petit Dauphin”, died after getting measles. The eldest son of “Le Petit Dauphin” would also catch and die from measles.
While it was in King Louis XIV’s possession, it was rumored that he allowed a few courtesans and his superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, to wear the diamond. All fell out of favor with the king, supposedly after wearing the stone and would be noted as “victims” of the curse. Fouquet was tried for treason and imprisoned till his death in 1680. Fouquet’s misfortune would appear to link to the curse; however, if one looks at a timeline of his misfortune, it is clear he is not a victim at all. King Louis XIV did not purchase the “Bleu de France” till four years after Fouquet had already been imprisoned, making it impossible for him to have worn the legendary diamond.
After outliving all of his sons and grandsons, King Louis died of gangrene in 1715. Inheriting the throne and the “Bleu de France” diamond was King Louis XV.
The rule of King Louis XV was fairly long and filled with military success but, as his forefathers before him, misfortune befell him and his family members. King Louis XV, similarly to his great grandfather, would outlive all of his children. His heir, Louis, would die in 1765 of tuberculosis. He would also outlive his wife and his favorite mistress who died shortly after his son. His eldest grandson, Louis XVI, was named his heir and took the throne upon the death of his grandfather in 1774. King Louis XV died of smallpox and left his successor, not only a throne, but tax policies and debts that caused public displeasure of the monarchy and would eventually lead up to the French Revolution.
King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, are some of the more well known victims of the Hope Diamond curse. King Louis XVI, allegedly, thought the diamond was cursed and refused to wear it. His wife on the other hand, indulged in the best France had to offer, which included the magnificent “Bleu de France”. France was already in deficit when King Louis XVI took the throne from costly wars and the excessive spending of the French but King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette continued the monarchy’s lavish spending and involvement in costly wars (like the American Revolution). To fund their exorbitant lifestyle they exploited their people forcing them, the lower and middle class, to pay higher taxes. France had lost its faith in the monarchy and unrest turned to anger in 1792 after food shortages plagued the country. By summer, mobs had stormed Versailles and the royal family was imprisoned in the Square du Temple in Paris.
Marie Antoinette’s closest confidant was Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy, Princesse de Lamballe. After remaining loyal to the monarchy during the French Revolution, she was stabbed and beheaded during what today is called, the September Killings of 1792. After her brutal murder, her head was placed on a spike to be displayed in front of the Temple where Marie Antoinette was being held. Antoinette was said to have let the Princesse de Lamballe wear the “Bleu de France” on several occasions prior to the Revolution.
King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793. During the French Revolution the “Bleu de France” was looted and would end up in the possession of a Dutch jeweler, Wilhelm Fals. Fals re-cut the diamond when it came into his possession, to which many believe to be its size and shape that it is today. He was murdered by his son who subsequently stole the diamond and committed suicide in 1830.
Nine years later, Henry Philip Hope comes into possession of the Diamond where it is called from then on, The Hope Diamond. Henry Philip Hope dies after featuring the diamond in his gem catalog and leaves the stone to his nephew Lord Henry Thomas Hope. Lord Hope, unlike many of the other owners of the diamond, lived a successful and peaceful life. After he and his wife died, the diamond was passed on to his grandson, Lord Francis Hope.
Lord Francis married May Hope in 1894 and both, similarly to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, lived an overindulgent lifestyle despite not having the funds to support that lifestyle. Lord Francis went bankrupt and May left him for Captain Bradlee Strong. Lord Francis sold off the diamond to help alleviate some of his debt; however, he died before getting out of debt. His ex-wife May would also die in poverty following a mediocre career as an actress.
The next owner of the Hope was Simon Frankel, who purchased the diamond from Lord Francis in 1902. The Frankels would have the diamond in their possession till 1908 when they would begin negotiations to sell it to the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. The Frankels didn’t have any noted tragedies while the diamond was in their possession but did have some trouble during the Depression with their finances which isn’t saying very much because it was the Great Depression and everyone faced some sort of financial struggles!
The next “victim” of the Hope was Simon Montharides, the broker of the deal between the Frankel’s and the diamond merchant, who died when he drove his car off a cliff. He and his entire family died on impact. There are some who believe he drove off the cliff on purpose.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II sold the Hope diamond in 1909 to Pierre Cartier. He was overthrown that same year and would go down in history as the last power governing Sultan of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Evelyn Walsh McLean, a very wealthy heiress, bought the diamond from Cartier in 1911. She publicly claimed not to believe in the curse. She regularly wore the diamond and some even claim she would occasionally put the diamond on her dog’s collar.
Many of her family members, like others who have possessed the stone, died rather unfortunate deaths. Her ex-husband, Edward Beale McLean, struggled with mental illness and died from a heart attack while at a sanitarium. Her son Vinson died after being hit by a car and her daughter overdosed at the young age of 25. All died within the thirty-six years the diamond was in her possession.
Over time, Evelyn, went bankrupt and had to sell many of her possessions including her ex-husband’s newspaper, The Washington Post. She did not, however, sell the diamond.
The diamond would be sold with the rest of Evelyn’s estate after she died in 1847 from pneumonia.
Harry Winston purchased the diamond at the jewelry estate auction and was the final owner of the stone before he generously donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958. Harry Winston was not affected by the “Curse”, however, the mail carrier who delivered the diamond to the Smithsonian on Winston’s behalf might have been. He was in a car crash that crushed his leg after he delivered the diamond and his house burned down shortly after that.
Is the Hope Diamond really cursed? Or are the misfortunes of those who have owned it just a coincidence, amplified and told for human amusement? As beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, the answer lies in the beliefs of our readers.
I hope you all have a Happy Halloween and, if you haven’t had a chance, stop by the gallery to see Eve’s newest series Sacred Geometries” which was release Saturday October 27th!