About the Adventures of the Great Sancy Diamond Through History

the Sancy was one of the large diamonds lost by Charles of Burgundy, almond-shaped and purchased in Constantinople in 1570,


The Sphinx of Diamonds--Looking Back over Three Hundred Years--In the Days of the "Holy League" A Royal Debauchee--A Faithful Valet--Important Revelations--Under a Cloud--A "Cause Celebre"--Once More on its Travels--An Incident of the Prince of Wales's Indian Tour.

This is the very sphinx of diamonds. The history of many other gems is no doubt sufficiently obscure, and often involved in great confusion. There is generally, however, some key to the solution of the most difficult problems, and the writers of this work are complacent enough to hope that the reader will find more than one such problem satisfactorily solved in the accompanying pages. But the "Sancy" seems to be wrapped in a dense cloud of mystery, defying the most subtle analysis, and impenetrable to the attacks of the keenest processes of reasoning. Nevertheless, there are even here, one or two breaks of light, by means of which it may be possible to dissipate the darkness in which this famous jewel has hitherto been involved.

Much of this darkness is due to the commonly accepted statement, that the "Sancy" was one of the large diamonds lost by Charles of Burgundy, either at Nancy or Granson. Its history thus became entangled in that of the "Florentine," elsewhere elucidated. Once separated from that connection, and from the Burgundian duke, to whom we shall see that it never belonged, its career, although still somewhat obscure, becomes at least, consistent with facts, and on the whole, fairly intelligible.

The "Sancy" is described as almond-shaped, and originally facetted on both sides, a form and cut peculiar to India, and altogether unknown in Europe. We may therefore, take it for granted that it was not one of the stones manipulated by Louis de Berquem, for Duke Charles. On the other hand, its Indian origin harmonises with the statement made, amongst others, by Louis's descendant, Robert de Berquem that the gem was brought from the East by M. de Sanci, French Ambassador at the Ottoman Court, who purchased it for a large sum in Constantinople, apparently about the year 1570. This French gentleman, Nicholas Harlai, Seigneur de Sancy, was evidently a diamond fancier, as shown by the fact that he also in 1589, obtained another large stone from Don Antonio, the pretendant to the Portuguese crown, as security for an advance of 100,000 livres, which was never repaid.

Nicholas was attached both to the Courts of Henry III. and Henry IV., having been ambassador for the former in Turkey, for the latter in England, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. According to two different versions, obviously of one event, he is stated to have advanced the "Sancy" to both monarchs, in order to enable them to borrow money on its security, for the purpose of enlisting a body of Swiss mercenaries, as was the custom of the times. With regard to Henry III., we read in Varillas (Memoirs), that during the "Holy League," (1576), formed for the threefold purpose of exterminating the Huguenots, shutting up the king in a monastery, and placing the Duke of Guise on the throne, Henry abandoned himself to a life of almost unparalleled debauchery, leaving the cares of State to his mother, Catherine de Medicis. In his twenty-sixth year he became quite bald, and in order to conceal his deformity, the Duc de Sully tells us that he wore "a little turban on his head, his 'toque' as it was called, which was ornamented in front with a very large diamond. It is added that Henry induced M.Sancy to part with the Indian gem, which had already become famous in the West, ostensibly to empawn it for the purpose of obtaining means to engage a body of Swiss soldiers to crush the Duc de Guise. In 1588 the duke was assassinated by the Swiss guard thus formed, who were themselves afterwards shot down by the Parisian rabble. But the jewel does not appear to have ever been pledged by Henry, for it continued to glitter on his toque when he was engaged combing his lap dogs, fondling his monkeys, stringing death's heads, playing with his ivory cup and ball, or caressing his detestable dwarfs and minions, his cheeks plastered with white and rouge, his lips, eyes, and ears smeared with unguents and cosmetics, while the streets of Paris ran with the blood of his bravest subjects, and his realm was brought to the verge of ruin by the feuds and intrigues of lawless passion and religious animosity. Such was the murky atmosphere faintly illumined by this glorious gem, while in the possession of the modern Heliogabalus.

From Henry III., assuming the truth of this story, the gem returned to Nicholas Harlai, who, according to the second account, advanced it to the Valois' successor, Henry IV. of Navarre, under peculiarly romantic circumstances. Being desirous of strengthening his army by a body of Swiss recruits, Henry is reported to have borrowed the diamond of Nicholas, now superintendent of finance, intending to raise money on its security. But the messenger charged with the responsibility of conveying the gem either to the king from Harlai, or from the king to the Swiss (for the story is here somewhat confused), disappeared on the way. A long interval elapsed before it became known that he had been waylaid and assassinated. Full of confidence in the loyalty and inventive faculty of his servant, Harlai proceeded to the forest where the murder had been committed. After a long search the body was found, disinterred and opened. In the stomach was found the diamond, which, as suspected by his master, the faithful valet had swallowed to prevent it falling into the hands of the thieves.

Whatever credit may be given to these stories, it is certain that the "Sancy" again returned to its rightful owner, from whom it soon passed into the possession of Elizabeth, Queen of England. We have seen that Harlai was ambassador of Henry IV. at her Court, and the subjoined document shows that he sold it to the British Crown, doubtless during his residence in London. The passage, which occurs in the Inventory of the Jewels in the Tower of London, March 22nd, 1605, thus describes the "Mirror of Great Britain," a famous Crown Jewel, composed soon after the accession of James I. "A greate and ryche jewell of golde, called the 'Myrror of Greate Brytayne,' conteyninge one verie fayre table dyamonde, one verie fayre table rubye, twoe other lardge dyamondes, cut lozengewyse, the one of them called the 'Stone of the letter H. (A) of Scotlande,' garnyshed wyth smalle dyamondes, twoe rounde perles, fixed, and ONE FAYRE DYAMONDE, CUTT IN FAWCETTIS, BOUGHT OF SAUNCEY."

This important extract, strangely overlooked by all who have hitherto endeavoured to unravel the tangled history of the "Sancy," shows beyond all doubt, that this gem never permanently left the hands of its original purchaser until disposed of by him to the Crown of England, somewhere between the years 1590 and 1600. The words "cutt in fawcettes" clearly identify the stone here referred to with that still known as the "Sancy."

If possible, still more important is the following passage, which occurs at p. II of Robert de Berquem's well-known Merveilles des Indes, published in 1669. Speaking of the diamonds, at that time famous for their size and beauty, the writer observes: "There are some of extraordinary size and perfection. The present Queen of England has the one brought by the late M.de Sancy, from his embassy in the Levant, which is almond-shaped, cut in facets on both sides, perfectly white and pure, and weighing 100 carats."

The "present Queen of England" might have been either the queen-consort of Charles II., Catharine of Braganza, or the dowager-queen Henrietta Maria. But in either case, this passage shows that the "Sancy" remained in the possession of the English royal family till the year 1669. It also shows that the stone was brought by M. Sancy, as above stated, direct from "The Levant," consequently, that it could never have belonged to Charles the Bold. Its owner, here spoken of as "the late M de Sancy," died in 1627, and as he had already parted with it in London, about or after the year 1590, it is evident that all the other De Sancys, descendants of the original purchaser, mentioned in popular accounts of the stone, are purely mythical beings, introduced to make its history stretch back to the time of the Burgundian prince.

We now identify Henrietta Maria, and not Catherine, of Braganza, as the Queen referred to by Berquem. This appears from the subjoined extract from a letter of the Queen Dowager, written while in exile to Somerset, Earl of Worcester, and presenting to him, amongst other valuable gifts, the very diamond in question, in return for the sacrifices made by that nobleman in the cause of the House of Stewart: "We, Henrietta Maria of Bourbon, Queen of Great Britain, have by command of our much honoured lord and master, the King, caused to be handed to our dear and well-beloved cousin, Edward Somerset, Count and Earl of Worcester, a ruby necklace containing ten large rubies and 160 pearls set and strung together in gold. Among the said rubies are also two large diamonds, called the 'Sanci' and the 'Portugal,' &c."

The "Portugal," of which nothing further is known, was probably the above-mentioned stone received by Nicholas Harlai from Dom Antonio in security for a large sum never repaid. It would thus became the property of Harlai, and may have been sold by him to the English crown when he disposed of the "Sanci" about 1590.

But, however this be, the distinct reference here made to the "Sanci," while confirming Berquem's statement, brings the history of this stone down to the reign of Charles II. There is an absurd statement current in popular works to the effect that Charles' successor, James II., purchased the diamond from a Baron de Sanci, while residing at St. Germain. But we have seen that it had passed from the Sanci family just about 100 years previous to that time. James certainly did obtain possession of the stone; but that was either through purchase, or, more probably gift, from the generous Earl of Worcester, its then owner. All, however, are of accord that James, in his turn, sold it for 625,000 francs (pound 25,000) to Louis XIV. about the year 1695. From the "Grand Monarque" it passed to his successor Louis XV., who wore it as a hat ornament at his coronation. It also appears among the French Crown Jewels in the inventory of 1791, in which it is valued at 1,000,000 francs (pound 40,000).

But here begin a fresh series of vicissitudes; for it disappeared the very next year, together with the "Blue Diamond," and the other valuables permanently lost to the nation at the robbery of the Garde Meuble. And now comes Barbot's positive assertion that a stone, in every respect resembling the "Sancy" was sold in 1835 by an agent of the Bourbons to the Princess Paula Demidoff for 500,000 roubles-pound 75,000, or, if paper money, about pound 35,000. Beyond Barbot's assertion there is no authority for this statement, which may have been put forward for political purposes, in order to implicate the Legitimists in the robbery of the Garde Meuble. Another report, that it somehow fell into the hands of the Queen of Spain, who presented it to her favourite, Godoi, "Prince of Peace," scarcely calls for serious refutation. Both statements cannot possibly be true, and both are contradicted by the fact that it entered the Demidoff family not through a Bourbon agent in 1835, but through a respectable French merchant in 1828, or thereabouts.

Now comes the famous cause celebre of Prince Demidoff versus M. Levrat, Director of the Society of the Mines and Forges of the Grisons, Switzerland. After agreeing to buy the gem from M. Demidoff for 600,000 francs (pound 24,000), Levrat stated that it was not worth a third of that sum, since it had been greatly reduced in weight from being recut as a brilliant. The Prince accordingly agreed to accept 145,800 francs (pound 5,830), payable in three instalments at an interval of six months, the buyer placing 200 shares of the Swiss Company in the seller's hands as security for the payment. But Levrat, failing to discharge the very first instalment, M. Demidoff brought the action to have the contract cancelled, and to recover possession of the diamond, which Levrat had placed in the hands of the Mont de Piete or State Pawning Establishment. Judgment was given in favour of the plaintiff, who was authorized to withdraw the diamond on payment of the usual expenses due to the Mont de Piete, the defendant being condemned to pay the legal costs of the process.

The case was decided on June Ist, 1832, in the tribunal of First Instance presided over by M. D. Belleyme. Thirty-three years thereafter the "Sancy" resumed its travels, after all its strange vicissitudes again returning to "the land of its birth," for it was purchased in February, 1865, of the Demidoff family for pound 20,000 by a London firm, on behalf of the wealthy Parsee merchant, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, of Bombay. It did not, however, remain long in the East, for it was again in Paris in 1867, where it was to be seen in the glass case of MM. Bapst, shown in the Universal Exhibition of that year, who were then asking a million of francs for it. Certainly if there were as many solutions of continuity in the stone itself as in its history, as at that time published in the Paris press, we should tremble for the million of francs! It may be asserted without exaggeration that it has been made the subject of more contradictory accounts than perhaps any other historical jewel, the "Koh-i-Nur" alone excepted. Such accounts serve, however, at least to illustrate the anxiety which is naturally felt to enhance "the rare and beautiful" with a history worthy the intense desire to possess them, and thus to excuse our idolatry.

Whether Messrs. Oulman's expectations were fully realised or not, we cannot say. But in any case they appear to have soon found a purchaser for the "Sancy" in the Maharaja of Puttiala. In the account of the Prince of Wales' Tour in India it is stated that at the Grand Durbar, this native prince wore on his turban many fine diamonds which were said to have belonged to the Empress Eugenie, and "the 'Great Sancy' as a pendant."

By a strange fatality this stone has again been thrown on the market. As the Prince of Wales was landing in England on his return from India, a telegram was put into his hand announcing the sudden death of his friend the Maharaja of Puttiala. In consequence of this event, the 'Sancy' is once more on sale.

Copyright 2004 by JJKent, Inc

You are here: JJKent Home >> Precious Stones Guide Vol 10 >> About the Adventures of the Great Sancy Diamond Through History 

<<A Historical Comparison of the Pear and Savoy Diamonds About the History and Identification of the Missing Tavernier Diamonds>>

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ - By printing, downloading, or using you agree to our full terms. Review the full terms at the following URL: http://www.pagewise.com/disclaimer.html.