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In the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen


Thistle Badge late 17th / early 18th century

RCIN 441923

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This badge of the Order of the Thistle, traditionally associated with James II and VII, was bequeathed to George, Prince of Wales, by Henry Benedict, Cardinal York (younger brother of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender) in 1807. It has always been assumed that the badge was made for James II at the reinstitution of the Order in 1687 and subsequently taken by him to France in 1688. However, the badge does not appear in the posthumous inventory of the King’s possessions drawn up at Saint-Germain in 1703.

Recent examination of the badge has shown that over time it has had a number of alterations. Beneath the miniature is a silver plate with a number of scratched marks. The main mark is the cipher of James II, when Duke of York, composed of the letters D and a reversed J. The backplate must therefore pre-date his accession in 1685 and the ‘refounding’ of the Order in 1687.

It seems therefore that the badge was adapted for Prince James Francis Stuart, probably in France, from an earlier Garter badge, perhaps one of the two (valued at 11,000 and 2,000 livres) listed in the 1703 inventory, neither of which appears in subsequent lists. It first appears as ‘Le grande Ordre de St André’ in a list of Jacobite jewels of 1754 and then as ‘Un Ordine di s. Andrew con diamanti piccoli’ in a list written by Prince Count Ricci of Cardinal York’s household.

James II’s inventory also lists the pieces sold prior to 1703 in order to maintain his family and their supporters. These sales amounted to over 158,000 livres. Prince James Edward, the ‘Old Pretender’, maintained the iconography and symbolism of the Order of the Thistle. In 1730 both his sons were depicted wearing badges of the Order, in portraits by Louis-Gabriel Blanchet of 1739. Both paintings are in the Royal Collection. Prince Charles Edward’s badge had an enamel centre surrounded by small diamonds and rubies and that of Prince Henry Benedict is of enamel unadorned by precious stones.

The onyx cameo of St. Andrew displays the influence of the Italian Baroque and is probably early eighteenth century French or Italian in origin. Its setting is of a different coloured gold from the rest of the badge and probably replaced an earlier stone representing St. George. At the same time the panel bearing the Order’s motto was added to the reverse. Instead of the openwork foliate suspension loop there was originally a single loop suspension ring, the remains of which can be seen below the current loop. The single suspension ring with diamond formed part of the original Garter Jewel.

The portrait miniature of Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern probably takes the place of an earlier miniature and was almost certainly added following her marriage to Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1772. The miniature may be after a full-length miniature of Louise by Carlo Marsigli (worked in Italy, died in Naples 1807) of which a full-length version, signed and dated 1774, is in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. The miniature was probably introduced in 1774, two years after the Princess’s marriage to the Prince and possibly when they moved from Rome to Florence. The scratched date 1774 appears within and is possibly associated with the scratched AR below the date. A third scratchmark, JP, concealed behind the miniature remains unexplained. The hinged lid covering the miniature is technically more crudely made than the motto and stylistically appears to be from the later eighteenth century, probably replacing the original cover. It is not known what pre-dated the miniature when the badge was converted from a Garter badge but other late seventeenth century Garter badges are backed by enamel or chased gold images of St. George and the dragon.

In a list of Cardinal York’s possessions compiled after his death in 1807, the badge is described as ‘Case 1 relating to a well known personage containing the Order of St. Andrew and a ruby ring surrounded by brilliants on the ruby a cross is engraved it was used on the coronation day of the Kings of Scotland’. The badge and ring were bequeathed in the will of Cardinal York to the Prince of Wales in 1807. In addition the Prince was bequeathed the Sobieski Hours, a fifteenth century Book of Hours which is in the Royal Library at Windsor. After remaining hidden in Italy at considerable risk to their keepers from the occupying French, the pieces were finally delivered to the Prince Regent at Carlton House in June 1815.

The jewels were subsequently deposited on loan by William IV in Edinburgh Castle in November 1830 to be displayed with the Honours of Scotland.

Text adapted from Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 2008