The Seton Necklace

Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 2008

The Seton Necklace, click to view large

THE SETON NECKLACE: necklace and earrings are part of a parure together with a brooch.

Late 16th cent. with 17th and 19th cent. additions

Chain: enamelled gold, pearls, rubies, emeralds; earrings: enamelled gold, pearls, rubies

Chain: L 9.5 cm; earrings: H 3.4 cm.

The necklace consists of a principal gold element with opaque white, pale-blue, light-green and translucent blue and green enamel scrollwork set with pearls, emeralds and rubies. It is flanked by two enamelled cross-shaped links set with pearls and emeralds. The chain is composed of six S-shaped snakes in translucent dark-green enamel coiled around two pearls and flanked by opaque white enamel c-scrolls set with rubies; these alternate with 4 S-shaped scroll-like ornaments in opaque white and translucent blue enamel set with rubies.

The earrings were made to match the snake links of the chain and adapted by surmounting the earring hook with pearls and emeralds. The dating of the pieces is complex and so is the history of the various parts.

The necklace is a composite piece. The oldest links are the four on either side of the clasp (four snake links and four smaller links); they are reminiscent of other late sixteenth century chain links of c.1600. The central part of the principal element and the star link to the left are probably somewhat later, c.1630.

The scrolls surrounding the central part and the link to the right of it were probably added at the same time as they both lack enamel on the reverse. The remaining two snake-links, the other star link and the border of the principal element are of a later date. The earrings were created in the nineteenth century.

A 1909 inventory in the Royal Collection, to which the parure has been added at a later date, states that the parure was given by Mary, Queen of Scots to her attendant Mary Seton. Mary Seton was a devoted attendant and friend of Mary, Queen of Scots, who shared many years of her exile. She was an excellent hairdresser whose services the Queen greatly admired.

The chain was originally longer; it was a cotiere - a long chain worn by women caught up in the breast. Mary Setonís descendant, Alexander Seton, 6th Earl of Eglinton (d.1661), removed four snake links and four S-ornaments from the chain on his succession to the earldom in 1612. The remaining sixteen snake links and sixteen white Sís set with rubies were passed to the Hon. Elizabeth Seton when she married William Hay of Drummelzier in 1694. The 1909 inventory states that this part of the chain was recorded in a Hay inventory in 1727.

The remainder of the jewels passed eventually to Alexander Setonís descendant, Archibald William, 13th Earl of Eglinton (1812-1861). In the nineteenth century, the eight links from the original chain removed by the 6th Earl - four snakes and four S-ornaments - were incorporated into the present Neo-Renaissance necklace. This may have been for the celebrated Eglinton Tournament, held by the 13th Earl at Eglinton Castle in 1839

The parure remained in the possession of the Eglinton family until it was sold, together with the Eglinton family jewels, by the three daughters of the 13th Earl, Egidia, Sybil and Hilda, in 1894 at Christieís on 22 February 1894 (lot 69). It was acquired by Algernon Borthwick, 1st Baron Glenesk (1830-1908) whose daughter, Lilias Countess Bathurst (d.1965), presented the parure to Queen Mary on the occasion of King George Vís Silver Jubilee in May 1935

 The Seton Brooch