Bonhams : Remarkable Engraved Emerald presented to Victorian Adventuress and Literary Muse by Mughal Emperor Two Centuries Ago during her Travels in India is due to be Auctioned for the First Time
Remarkable Engraved Emerald presented to Victorian Adventuress and Literary Muse by Mughal Emperor Two Centuries Ago during her Travels in India is due to be Auctioned for the First Time

A truly remarkable emerald brooch belonging to the aristocratic beauty who inspired Sir Walter Scott's famous narrative poem, The Lady of the Lake, is being offered for sale for the first time at Bonhams later this month (24 September 2019).

Bonhams London is selling an Art Deco emerald, diamond and enamel brooch once belonging to the Victorian adventuress, literary muse and heiress of a "cursed" family, Lady Mary Hood, at its London Jewels auction, which will be held in its New Bond Street saleroom.

The Persian-engraved emerald that forms the centerpiece of the unique brooch is believed to have been presented to Lady Hood by the Mughal Emperor Akbar II around 1813 during her travels across India.

She was reputedly the first British woman to shoot a tiger, acquired a taste for smoking the hookah pipe and her Indian journals and correspondence provided vivid portraits of events and personages during the early 19th century.

The unique engraved octagonal-cut Colombian emerald stone dates back to 1813-1814, and sits within a frame of black enamel, brilliant and single-cut diamonds and mounted in platinum, which was thought to have been created around 1925 by the distinguished British society jeweller Hennell.

The brooch, complete with its original leather case, has a pre-sale estimate of £40,000-60,000. Having been handed down via Lady Hood's family over several generations, it is now being sold by a direct descendant of her family.

ven its provenance, and the extraordinary story attached to its original owner, the brooch has already attracted significant interest from around the world after previews at Bonhams in New York, Geneva and Hong Kong.

Emily Barber, Bonhams UK Jewellery Director, said: "This is a splendid jewel with an evocative and impeccable provenance. It has been passed down the female line of the family since Mary Hood's death and is the first time it has been offered for sale on the open market.
"It is thought that the emerald was mounted as a brooch by Hennell in around 1925. The resulting Art Deco jewel perfectly encapsulates the early 20th century vogue for Indian-inspired jewellery that resonated particularly in England due to Britain's colonial interests.
"The brooch is a fitting tribute to the extraordinary life of Mary Hood and we are privileged to offer this for sale."

Lady Hood, also known as Lady Hood Mackenzie, Mrs Stewart-Mackenzie and sometimes simply "The Hooded Lassie", was the heiress of Francis Humberston Mackenzie, British soldier, politician and botanist, chief of clan Mackenzie and last Baron Seaforth.

She was also the prototype for the character, Ellen Douglas, in The Lady of the Lake having become friends with the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott.

In 1801, the family moved to Barbados where her father took up the position of governor. It was there that she met her first husband, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, who was attracted to her "superior mind, happy disposition, cultivated tastes and engaging eagerness for life". They married in November 1804 at Bridgetown and, despite their difference in age - he was 20 years her senior, formed a devoted bond.

Hood was one of Nelson's captains and had served at Santa Cruz and the Battle of the Nile. When he lost an arm during a sea-battle in 1805, Mary wrote: "I love him ten times better than ever and I think he has shown himself a greater hero in his sick chamber than ever he did on the quarter deck."

When Sir Samuel was away at sea, Mary lived chiefly in England and became friends with, among others, Catherine Wellesley, wife of the Duke of Wellington. One evening, in London, she escorted the Princess of Wales to Covent Garden Theatre. It was also during this time that she forged a firm friendship with Sir Walter Scott. The two corresponded regularly and he would often attempt to lift her spirits when her husband was at war.

In 1811, Sir Samuel was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies, and the couple sailed to India.

There, Lady Hood travelled extensively, charming the upper-echelons of Anglo-India. The splendour of her travels, sometimes by palanquin (a covered litter with bearers), were likened – perhaps fancifully - to regal progresses and attracted the attentions of Indian royalty.

The brass plaque on the reverse of the case reads: "This emerald is engraved in Persian with the following words: cream of the pillars of the state, Queen and music of the age, Mary Frederica Elizabeth Hood, noblest of women, Princess, child of the Majesty of Mahommed Akbar, the Emperor, the Warrior. 1813."

The rulers of Mughal India often ordered their names and titles to be inscribed on rubies, emeralds and diamonds. Engraved seals were widely used and gifted amongst foreigners and noblemen in India. The practice of using inscribed seals continued into the late 19th century and well beyond court circles.

Tragedy struck in December 1814, when Lady Hood's beloved husband died in Madras of malaria. Left childless and short of money, she returned to Scotland. At her melancholy homecoming in early 1815,she discovered both her father and remaining living brother had also recently died.

The Seaforth family's estates devolved to her and she assumed the chieftaincy of clan Mackenzie.

This fulfilled the prophesy – or curse - of the Brahan Seer, a 17th century Highland prophet, who had predicted the extinction of the line, when a deaf and dumb chief, would survive his sons and die without male heir and that a white-hooded woman from the East would inherit the remains of his possessions.

Lady Hood's father had suffered profound deafness after an attack of scarlet fever as a child and was so tormented by the deaths of all four of his sons, that by the end of his life he rarely spoke but "perceived his deprivation as in a glass, darkly". The last Lord Seaforth had also already started the process of selling off the family lands.

Sir Walter Scott, in his poem The Lament for the Last Seaforth, wrote: "And thou, gentle Dame, who must bear, to thy grief, For thy clan and thy country the cares of a Chief, Whom brief rolling moons in six changes have left, Of thy husband and father and brethren bereft; To thine ear of affection, how sad is the hail That salutes thee--the heir of the line of Kintail!"

In 1817, Mary married James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, who assumed her family name Mackenzie and the extensive Seaforth properties, including the island of Lewis and Ross-shire estates of Brahan Castle.

The couple had three sons and three daughters. After a career in politics, Stewart-Mackenzie later served as Governor of Ceylon and Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, based in Corfu.

Lady Mary died in 1862. Her funeral was one of the last great Highland funerals to take place and was reported as one of the largest ever witnessed. A five-mile column of mourners, headed by pipers playing the clan lament, followed the hearse to Fortrose Castle, her final resting place, and was joined by followers from all parts along the 20-mile route.

The emerald was inherited by Mary's youngest daughter, Louisa Baring, Lady Ashburton and has since passed down through the family to the current owner.

Donald MacKenzie, Chair, Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the UK, said: "The emerald, like Lady Hood herself, is both outstanding in beauty and also in Clan Mackenzie history.

"Lady Hood was the daughter of the last Lord Seaforth.  She inherited the Estates upon her father's death as her four brothers had predeceased her.  She was described as being "an outstanding person" and "ablest of the Seaforth family".  She was also know by the sobriquet "The Hooded Lady" and was described by William Dalrymple as "an aristocratic Highland tomboy" during her time in India. 

"This is a fabulous opportunity to purchase a wonderful jewel and to own an item of incredible provenance and pedigree linked to one of the mightiest Clans of Scotland."

Details of this lot and full information on all 158 lots featured in the sale can be found here: http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/25315. Bids can be placed online on Bonhams' website www.bonhams.com, via telephone, in writing, and also in person on the day of the sale (which starts at 12 noon GMT, 24 September 2019).

Bonhams sells more jewellery lots each year than any other international house and has more dedicated jewellery auctions annually.                 

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