Emerald Gifted by a Mughal Emperor




A brooch featuring an engraved Colombian emerald gifted to an aristocrat who inspired a character in the poem “The Lady of the Lake” sold for more than double its pre-sale estimate at Bonhams Tuesday.

The piece was part of Bonhams’ London jewelry auction that took place Sept. 24.

It was estimated to sell for $50,000 to $75,000, but ended up going for about $187,000.

The brooch once belonged to Victorian adventurer, literary muse and heiress Lady Mary Hood.

The showpiece of the brooch is a Persian-engraved emerald believed to have been given to her by Mughal Emperor Akbar II (reigned 1806-1837) around 1813 while she was traveling across India.

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

In 1801, her family moved to Barbados, where her father became governor. It was there she met her first husband, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, who was 20 years her senior. The two married in November 1804 in Bridgetown.

Hood was a captain who served in several battles. While he was away at sea, Lady Hood lived primarily in England, where she became friends with a number of prominent aristocrats.

It was also then she befriended poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott, which led to her serving as the prototype for the character Ellen Douglas in the narrative poem “The Lady of the Lake.” The two corresponded regularly, with the poet often attempting to lift her spirits while her husband was away at war.

In 1811, Sir Samuel was appointed commander-in-chief of the East Indies, so the two sailed to India.

Lady Hood traveled extensively throughout the country, most of the time in a manner comparable to a royal procession. She sometimes even traveled by palanquin (a covered litter with bearers).

It was during this time, it is believed, that the emperor gave her the emerald.

The rulers of Mughal India often inscribed their names and titles on rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Lady Hood’s emerald is engraved with five lines in nasta’liq, a Persian calligraphic script, interspersed with floral motifs.

The brass plaque on its 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.”

In December 1814, Lady Hood’s husband died of malaria in Madras.

Childless and short on money, she returned to Scotland, and upon her arrival in early 1815 discovered her father and remaining brother also had died recently. The Seaforth family’s estates devolved to her, and she assumed the chieftaincy of clan Mackenzie.

In 1817, she married James Alexander Stewart of Glasserton, who took her family name—Mackenzie—and the extensive Seaforth properties. The couple had three sons and three daughters.

Lady Mary died in 1862. According to Bonhams, her funeral was one of the last great Highland funerals. A five-mile column of mourners, led by pipers playing the clan lament, followed the hearse to her final resting place, Fortrose Castle.

She was said to be the first British woman to shoot a tiger and acquired a taste for smoking the hookah pipe.

Her youngest daughter, Louisa Baring, Lady Ashburton, inherited the emerald, which has been passed down through the family to the current owner, a direct descendant.

The Colombian stone sits in a frame of black enamel, brilliant and single-cut diamonds, calibré-cut emeralds at each corner and platinum, thought to have been created circa 1925 by British society jeweler Hennell.

“The resulting Art Deco jewel perfectly encapsulates the early 20th-century vogue for Indian-inspired jewelry that resonated particularly in England due to Britain’s colonial interests,” Bonhams U.K. Jewellery Director Emily Barber said.

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