CURSE OF THE HOPE DIAMOND
Stolen from a God
The ice blue fire of the stone once shone like a star on the forehead of an Indian temple statue until the day when it was ruthlessly torn out by a French adventurer. He would pay a high price for his actions and would later die painful death. The stone would eventually become known as the Hope Diamond but what it brought most of its owners was despair.
While the Hope Diamond is regarded as the most beautiful and precious diamond in the world – at the same time it is to be the most dangerous. Since its theft from India a deadly curse is to live on within it. European kings, the richest woman in America as well as other owners all suffered terrible bad luck: They went bankrupt, were murdered, committed suicide or died in an accident.
This is the beginning of the dark story of a famous as well as notorious gemstone, which we know as Hope Diamond.
The Hope Diamond is believed to have come from the Kallur mine in the Golconda Region, on the river Kistna, in southwest India. In 1642 it appeared for the first time in Europe in the possession of a French merchant named Jean-Baptist Tavernier, who is said to have stolen it from the headband of the statue of the goddess Sita consort of the god Rama.
French Kings, Disease and Rebellion
In 1668 he sold the stone – now known as the Tavernier Blue – for a significant amount to King Louis XIV of France. The diamond was originally 115 carats but was recut in the western style resulting in a 69-karat masterpiece called the “French Blue” which became part of the French crown jewels.
Jean-Baptist Tavernier was not able to enjoy his profit and, in the process of try to save his son from debtor’s jail, he himself lost much of his fortune. In the hope of making up for his loss, Tavernier travelled to India. It was here that the curse struck again and after he died of a raging fever and his body was later torn to bits by a pack of wild dogs.
The Sun King (Louis XIV) himself died horribly of gangrene caused by an infected wound and all of his legitimate children died in childhood, except for one. (Anne-Élisabeth, Marie-Anne and Louis-François all died before the age of two.)
Nicholas Fouquet, who worked for King Louis XIV, wore the gem to a special occasion and wound up spending 15 years in a prison at the fortress of Pignerol. The diamond, on the other hand, was passed from one king to the next, and each of these kings suffered a tragic fate.
King Louis XV is said not to have much liked the gemstone and wore it rarely. Nevertheless the curse caught up with him and he contracted a virulent form of smallpox that turned every inch of his skin into a blackened scab of blood. His death was said to be excruciatingly painful.
King Louis XVI lost a large part of his empire and later fell out of favour with the people of France. Both he and Marie Antoinette wore the jewel and died on the Guillotine during the French revolution.
Princess de Lamballe was a courtier of Marie Antoinette and would often handle the Hope Diamond and the Order of the Golden Fleece. She was killed by a mob during the revolution in a most horrific fashion.
The cursed diamond disappeared after the royal storehouse (the Garde-Meuble) was robbed in 1792.
The Cursed Queen and a Tragic General
There is a strong suggestion that it may have found its way to Queen Maria Louisa of Spain around 1800. The curse followed quickly, and she suddenly lost popularity with the people of Spain becoming one of the most hated people in the land. In 1808 she and her husband were forced into exile shortly before Napoleon invaded Spain.
One version of the legend claims that Napoleon Bonaparte himself took the jewel from the Spanish around 1809 and from the moment he owned it all his military campaigns turned sour leading to the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 and his ultimate defeat in 1813 when Paris fell to his enemies. Napoleon would ultimately die as a prisoner on the island of St. Helena under mysterious circumstances after a horrible sickness – some say arsenic poisoning. It’s been suggested that the stone was stolen from Napoleon’s treasury around 1810 and sold for a pittance to a string of middlemen.
Cut Down to Size
The Hope Diamond seems to have resurfaced in the possession of a Dutch jeweller known as Wilhelm Fals sometime around 1810. He drastically recut the diamond – possibly to disguise its origin. The larger piece would later become known as the Hope Diamond. This was soon stolen from him by his son Hendrik Fals who also murdered his fathered for good measure. The legend states that Hendrik sold the stone to a French diamond merchant called Francis Beaulieu for a fraction of its value and used the money to live a life of sin and debauchery. He was eventually driven mad by his own alcoholism, STD’s and guilt. Hendrik Fals killed himself in 1830.
The size and style of the gem made it difficult to sell in France where it might still be linked to the robbery of the Garde-Meuble. Together with an unknown French diamond cutter, Francis Beaulieu split off a small section of the stone and used this to fund a trip to London. He struggled to find someone he trusted to buy the gem and became ever more impoverished, paranoid and physically wasted. Eventually, he settled on Daniel Eliason a well-respected Hatton Garden jeweller. He showed Eliason the stone and offered it for 5,000 pounds (around £200,000 today). Eliason wanted time to think it over but when he went back the next day, he found Francis Beaulieu dead on his bed. The stone was clutched in Beaulieu’s hand, but the young man was dead of starvation. This was almost exactly 20 years after the robbery of the French Blue – just when the statute of limitations on the theft were expiring.
Mad Kings of England
Some sources claim that Eliason sold the stone to King George III in 1814 where it became known as the ‘London Blue’. If this is true it was bad luck for King George III. His compulsive and unexplained madness returned, and he was dead by 1820. Some say the stone passed to King George IV who kept it for ten years until 1830. During this time he became an alcoholic, possibly addicted to a heroin type drug called laudanum, so obese his cloths no longer fitted, partially blind from cataracts, mentally unstable and plagued by gout.
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
It is ironic that a stone that had seen so much despair should fall into the hands of a man with the name Hope. The stone eventually passed into the ownership of the rich banker Henry Philip Hope for £18,000. Some believe it was sold off by George VI’s mistress, Lady Conyngham. One version goes that George had left all his jewels to her in his will but for some reason she refused to take them. Perhaps she had heard of the curse and no longer wanted it anywhere near her. (She also needed money to pay off some of the King’s debts) Some versions of the story claim that Eliason himself went mad later but there is no hard evidence for this. The stone was later revalued at £30,000. From this point on the stone would be known as the Hope Diamond. Not surprisingly, while Henry Hope owned the diamond, he suffered a long series of misfortunes, including the death of his only son.
In 1887 his grandson, Lord Francis Hope, inherited the cursed diamond. He spent almost all of his fortune on his extravagant and reckless lifestyle and had to sell the diamond in 1901 to Adolf Weil of Hatton Garden to pay off gambling debts. He also lost his foot in a hunting accident and his wife cheated on him. He later died as a poor man.
A Fallen Star
While he owned the diamond, he became infatuated with an American actress May Yohé who he later married. May didn’t like the diamond and claimed it exuded an evil spell on people. She blamed the diamond for corrupting her and driving her to have the affair that ended in her divorce from Lord Francis. She is said to have died poverty stricken after the failure of an early film about the Hope Diamond Mystery (1921) and its now well-known curse. There have been some suggestions that Yohé might have tried to kill her second husband – Captain John Smuts.
It passed on to Jaques Colot, a broker who struggled to sell it on. The worry of his investment took the pleasure out of his life and even after he did sell it, he declined into madness when he found out he would not receive full payment for the gem. He finally committed suicide.
Murder at the Theatre
In 1902 Jaques Colot sold the Hope Diamond to Ivan Kanitowsky, a Russian prince. In 1908 Kanitowsky then gave it (loaned it) to the celebrated actress Mademoiselle Lorens Ladue of the Folies Bergère in Paris. The first time she wore the stone on stage she was shot by a man in the audience some people claim was an ex-lover. Some versions of the story claim that it was Kanitowsky himself that pulled the trigger. Some weeks later the prince himself was stabbed to death as he walked along a Parisian street. The work some believe of Russian revolutionary agitators.
During late 1908, a well-known Greek jewel broker by the name of Simon Maoncharides acquired the stone. History, as always, is uncertain but it appears that he sold it to Habib Bey – a Persian diamond merchant. On the night that the deal was concluded, Maoncharides accidentally drove his carriage over a precipice, killing himself, his wife and child.
Habib Bey quickly sold the stone to Salomon Habib who was acting on behalf of Abdul Hamid II, the Sultan of Turkey. Within months Habib Bey drowned during the sinking of a French steamer in 1909.
Abdul The Damned
Abdul paid $400,000 and gave it Salma Zubayaba (Zubaidah) his favourite concubine with orders that it be protected by Kulub Bey, his favourite eunuch and guardian of the Sultan’s treasures. Mere months afterwards, while Kulub Bey was distracted by Jehver Agha, a low official in the treasury, who stabbed and killed Zubayda and tried to steal the jewel. He was caught by Kulub Bey and hanged after being tortured.
Abu Sabir, the man who had polished the stone for the Sultan was unfairly accused of working with Jehver Agha and was tortured and executed. Shortly after this incident Abdul Hamid II was overthrown during the Young Turks Rebellion of 27 April 1909. He was later captured and imprisoned at Beylerbeyi Palace in the Bosphorus. Legend has it that Kulub Bey was captured by a mob after the uprising and slowly strangled to death.
The Hope Diamond vanishes from history for a while until it appears in the hands of Pierre Cartier of the famous Cartier Jewellers family. On 28 January 1911 he sold it to Edward B. McLean on behalf of his wife Evalyn who became owner of the diamond and mocked the curse joking that things that brought other people bad luck brought her good luck. Perhaps Edward wasn’t convinced though as the original contract with Cartier did include a clause stating: “Should any fatality occur to the family of Edward B. McLean within six months, the said Hope Diamond is agreed to be exchanged for jewellery of equal value”.
Well, Evalyn may have joked about the Hope Diamond but it didn’t care. Shortly after she acquired it her mother-in-law died. Her eldest son, Vinson, often referred to as the Billion Dollar Baby, ran in front of a car and was killed. He was only nine. Edward McLean went off with another woman and even claimed to have married her although he hadn’t. Evalyn continued to spend money recklessly as did Edward who eventually wound up in a mental asylum where he died from brain atrophy brought on by alcoholism. Aged only 25, Evalyn’s only daughter died from a drug overdose. Debts eventually forced her to sell the Washington Post. Aged just 60, she died of pneumonia soon after her daughter and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington D.C. Evalyn’s grandson Lt. Ronald Walsh McLean was killed during the Vietnam War while leading a five-man recon in Quảng Tri Province.
Give It Up and Save Yourself
Harry Winston, a New York diamond merchant, bought the gem in 1949. He exhibited it around the world but in 1958 he was persuaded to donate it to the Smithsonian Museum, where it has resided to this day.
There is only one person who has been spared the “curse” of the diamond – the American jeweller Harry Winston. After buying the diamond, he donated it to the Smithsonian Institution who still possess the diamond to this day.
One Last Victim
The curse wasn’t quite finished yet. James Todd, the mailman who took the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian later crushed his leg in a truck accident, injured his head in an automobile accident and then lost his home in a fire.
Fact or Fiction
Is this all just coincidence or is the Hope Diamond actually cursed? Some researchers dispute many of the facts in the story such as the fact that Marie Antoinette may never have actually worn the jewel and that Tavernier may have lived a long and prosperous life. Still there is no denying that people associated with the stone – even if they weren’t the owners – have had uncommonly bad luck.
Footnote: This is the legend of the Hope Diamond and its curse. Please note that many researchers and authors disagree with this version of events and claim that the entire story of misfortune was probably made up by Pierre Cartier and later May Yohe. Cartier wanted to sell the gem and needed a fantastical back-story while Yohe was trying to promote the film about the diamond that she co-wrote.
For a very detailed and less sensationalist version of what really happened please read the book – ‘Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem’ by Richard Kurin.