Pearl Earring, c. 1616

This large pearl drop in a gold mount is an excellent example of Charles I’s taste. Pearls of this size, proportion and lustre were rare, and it was customary to wear just one, rather than a pair. The King seems to have particularly liked this earring as it can be seen in many of his portraits painted by Van Dyck.

Gold toothpick and pearl earring belonging to Charles I, The Portland Collection

Gold toothpick and pearl earring belonging to Charles I, photo courtesy Mark Asher.

When Charles was executed in 1649, he was wearing this earring. It was later given to the 1st Earl of Portland by the King’s granddaughter, with an authenticating note in her handwriting.

The Portland Collection Museum also shows the cup that the king used for his final communion – ‘the last thing he kissed’ – and a gold toothpick which he gave to his guard to thank him for his kindness.

William Cavendish (1593 – 1676) was a member of Charles I’s Royal Court and remained a staunch royalist during the Civil War. He became general of the King’s forces in the North, leading 8000 men, and was governor to the King’s son Prince Charles, later to be King Charles II. Cavendish retired after the Restoration and spent his time developing his estate at Welbeck and nearby properties, Bolsover Castle and Nottingham Castle.

The family have collected items relating to Charles through the generations, from items collected by William Cavendish while in his court through to additions bought by the 6th Duke of Portland in the early 20th century.

Other pieces include a rosary carved from plum and cherry stones that belonged to Charles’ wife Queen Henrietta Maria, letters from the King, and numerous full length and miniature portraits.

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Top image: Pearl drop earring with gold mount, England, c.1616. Available on Bridgeman Images.