Queen Maria Luisa of Parma she lived her last years of exiled life in Rome with her husband Carlos IV, who renounced the Spanish Crown up to three times and ended up wandering between France and Italy. In that small court of exiles, spies and courtiers fallen from grace, melancholy settled as one more guest. Not satisfied with humiliation, Napoleon Bonaparte and then Fernando VII spent years demanding María Luisa to return the supposedly stolen jewels to Spain.
The Bourbon Queen was required to return the “crown jewels,” that is, the linked diamonds. to the Royal Heritage that they should not have left Spain because they belonged to the State. The Italian would defend until her last breath that the only ones she took with her were her strict property and that she had been left behind The Pilgrim or The pond, both jewels obtained in the time of Felipe II and that had even survived the fire in the Alcázar de la Nochebuena de 1734.
The Pilgrim It is a pearl of unusual size and shape that was discovered by an African slave, in Panama, around 1515, and nicknamed with a thousand names due to its beauty: “La Sola”, “La Margarita” … The jewel was offered decades later to King Felipe II by the chief bailiff of Panama, Diego de Tebes, who had taken her to Seville. According to a document of the time, it weighed 58.5 carats and was teardrop-shaped. Margarita de Austria, Isabel de Borbón and María Luisa de Parma posed with her in different portraits, although with a different montage adapted to fashion.
The pond It is the name that received a brilliant one hundred carats also obtained by the Prudent King, who bought it in Antwerp for a price of 80,000 gold shields from a Flemish named Carlo Affetato. It was carved in Spain and offered to Isabel de Valois, his third wife, on the occasion of his wedding. The Leonese goldsmith Juan de Arfe went on to say that it was a perfect diamond, cut in such a way that its entire area was square, with four perfect and equal sides at right angles, giving rise to full and entire angles and very sharp corners.
While Carlos IV was silent and Fernando VII It incited the thief accusation against her mother, for years it was assumed that, indeed, María Luisa had stolen the jewelry, and that thanks to them she had been able to pay for certain luxuries in Rome. Whoever benefited the most from this smear campaign, apart from Fernando, always happy to launch hoaxes against Godoy and his mother, was Napoleon, who took advantage of the confusion to cover his responsibility in what was a true looting of Spain.
The Great Corsican he asked his brother-in-law Joaquín Murat, sent to take Madrid, to dispatch and dismantle on the way to France any valuable object that he found in the palaces to defray the expenses of the occupation. The historian Izquierdo Hernández He claims that the French appropriated only in the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial with diamonds and jewels for an estimated value of four million francs from the 19th century. Murat’s wife Carolina Bonaparte (1782-1839) would have left Spain for Paris with a millionaire treasure.
José I ordered, among his first measures, his major stewardship to deliver to the Minister of Finance, Count of Cabarrús, the jewels of the Spanish Crown for their appraisal. In an inventory kept in the French National Archives, there is a list of all those jewels that give a total price of 22 million reais. According to this same document, the minister himself Cabarrús He gave the jewels to the help of the House of José Bonaparte, Christopher Chinvelli, who sent them to Julia Clary, the King’s consort, in Paris. The Pond was removed from the Royal Palace and sent, with an appraisal of 1,500,000 reais, to France, while La Peregrina passed directly into the hands of the Bonaparte.
That plunder meant the disappearance of the jewels related to and belonging to the Spanish Crown, and since then, the rest of the jewels are exclusive and private goods, the jewels they possess the Kings of Spain. Some jewels, such as El Estanque, were able to return home after the war. Ferdinand VII gave it to Francis I of Naples, set on the hilt of a sword, on the occasion of his marriage to Maria Cristina de Borbón, who would eventually be his fourth wife.
Other pieces lost their trail or, of course, moved away from Spain. When Napoleon’s brother broke up and went to United States with a lover, he took the Pilgrim with him. The jewel is believed to have ended at his death in the hands of Napoleon III, who in turn sold it to the Marquis of Abercorn, whose wife wore it at least once at a ball in the Tuileries Palace. After many twists and turns it ended up in the hands of the actor Richard Burton, who acquired it in the mid-20th century and gave it to his beloved Elizabeth Taylor.
Even today there are those who defend in Spain that this pearl of Taylor is not the authentic one and that, in fact, the Bourbons never got rid of it.
Marshal Soult out of control
Apart from the looting of the jewels, the Napoleonic troops carried out a complete looting of the Spanish artistic heritage. After the battle of Vitoria, the duke of wellington he intercepted José I’s luggage when he tried to flee Spain. In the car were found not only State documents, some love letters and a silver chamber pot, but also more than two hundred paintings on canvas, unhooked from its racks and rolled up, along with drawings and engravings.
Bonaparte’s luggage was only the tip of the iceberg of a process of institutional looting that began in 1808 under the false pretext of gathering the works in a museum in Madrid for its good conservation, but which later became a project to nurture the Louvre in France. Fifty paintings specifically selected for Napoleon arrived in Paris in July 1814 after a journey of more than a year. Previously Vivant Denon he had already sent two hundred and fifty selected works. Only six works were exhibited, as the rest were considered second row by those responsible for the Louvre, who did not believe in the existence of a Spanish school as such.
Calculate the Carlos Ballesta López Foundation In his work “The Expolio of Spanish Heritage during the War of Independence”, almost 2,000 paintings were stolen in Madrid, which added to the almost 1,000 in Seville, make almost 3,000 in the two Spanish cities alone. Among these works, a large part were by Flemish and Italian authors, such as Rubens, Rafael, Titian, or Corregio, highly appreciated in France, but also Spanish painters such as Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán or Ribera.
The situation became so scandalous and chaotic that on September 12, 1809, José I prohibited the extraction of precious metals and ordered the confiscation of everything that had been hidden and, by means of another subsequent decree, prohibited the exit of works of art from the country. Even so, these prohibitions did not affect the military governors of the different provinces, who enjoyed a total level of independence from Madrid and took advantage of the virgin land that was Spain to profit from the plunder.
Marshal Soult, general-in-chief of the Andalusian army, stood out as the most brilliant trilero when it came to obtaining works of art through extortion. As he extended his military power, he offered the religious of the Andalusian monasteries his help and protection, a euphemism for them to sell him at ridiculous prices the works of art that most interested him. The marshal maintained a constant flow of shipments to France until almost the end of the occupation, in 1813. A large part of the paintings were by Murillo, a painter who, unlike the rest of the Spanish, enjoyed a certain prestige abroad.