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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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

Teachers required for Cambridge Primary positions Jan 2015

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in Cambridge...

British Sign Language Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are lookin...

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain