Revealed: the curious story of the wandering pearl that linked a queen to a movie star

One was a Catholic queen who died leaving England in economic ruin and religious dissent. The other was also a queen, of the big screen at least, who became as famous for her string of husbands as her movie career.

One was a Catholic queen who died leaving England in economic ruin and religious dissent. The other was also a queen, of the big screen at least, who became as famous for her string of husbands as her movie career.

Yet despite the yawning cultural and temporal gulf between the two, Mary I and Elizabeth Taylor do have some things in common: a taste for pearls, and extremely generous husbands.

The pious Mary would no doubt have been amazed to see La Peregrina, one of the most admired jewels of the 16th century and her wedding gift from Philip II, nestling on the ample chest of Elizabeth Taylor 400 years later. Taylor, too, was given the jewel by a husband. It was a gift from her fifth (and sixth) spouse, Richard Burton, soon after their first marriage in the Sixties.

The story of the pearl was revisited yesterday when a very rare portrait of Mary, seen wearing La Peregrina, was unveiled to the public in London for the first time in two centuries. It is to travel to Winchester Cathedral where it will go on show in an exhibition commemorating Mary's 1554 royal wedding in the Hampshire town.

The pearl, which witnessed Mary's short, difficult marriage to Philip, had already survived much by the time Burton handed it to his wife. It was returned to the Spanish royal family after Mary's death in 1558 but was seized by Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon I, when he was in charge in Spain.

When the Napoleon family fell on hard times, they sold it to the Marquis of Abercorn, and it was once lost by a family member at a ball at Buckingham Palace. Burton bought it in 1969 and Taylor still owns the pearl, which was incorporated into a Cartier-designed ruby and diamond necklace. She can be seen wearing it in the 1977 film A Little Night Music.

Yet Taylor, too, once feared she had lost it. During a stay at Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas, she realised she had dropped it somewhere in the deep shag pile of the suite she was sharing with Burton. Terrified of telling her volatile husband, she spent several hours walking carefully on the carpet, feeling for the pearl with her toes before noticing her puppies chewing on something.

"I did the longest, slowest double-take in the world. I just casually opened the puppy's mouth and inside was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was, thank God, not even scratched," she said.

The exhibition of treasures relating to the Anglo-Spanish alliance in Winchester will feature valuable medals from the British Museum, manuscripts from Lambeth Palace and paintings from the Prado in Spain, including a portrait of Philip attributed to Titian. But the star is likely to be the painting of Mary, which has been owned by the Society of Antiquaries in London for nearly two centuries and has never been loaned for public display before. It has even been in the same room at Burlington House, Piccadilly, for more than 130 years, leaving only for conservation.

Announcing the exhibition yesterday, the historian Dr David Starkey described the work as "by far the best portrait of Mary. Were it not here [at the Society of Antiquaries] and were it to come on the open market, the National Portrait Gallery would have to go cap in hand to the Heritage Lottery Fund for an impressive number of millions. This is as iconic of Mary as the Holbein is of Henry VIII. It was probably painted for Mary herself."

There will be no shortage of glitter to illuminate the story of Mary's wedding, which was attended by 5,000 people who ate banquets served on giant plates of silver and of gold.

Dr Starkey said the exhibition would "celebrate the extraordinary wedding that had it produced children would have transformed our history. Elizabeth would have become surplus to requirements. We would have been a Catholic country. Our history would have been much nearer to the history of France. The event in Winchester is a very important might-have-been."

The exhibition is being held from 30 June to 30 September and was the brainchild of the cathedral's Canon Flora Winfield, who is also running a series of events, including a lecture by Dr Starkey.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence