Hancocks London showcases a necklace from one of the most famous and influential of all English family dynasties as it goes on sale for the first time in its history
3 March 2023: At first glance, though undoubtedly stunning, painstakingly intricate and sporting a highly unusual design, it is a piece of jewellery. No more, no less.
But look closer at the intricate gold collar, set with eight oval lockets, and it opens a vista on one of the most famous and influential of all English family dynasties.
Indeed, the Victorian necklace, which will go on sale on the open market for the first time in its history, links some of the 19th and 20th centuries’ most notable figures, including Queen Victoria, The Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill. Moreover, its chain of influence stretches across the Atlantic to the fabulously wealthy US Vanderbilt family, the Singer sewing machines corporation, and even, latterly, to Diana, Princess of Wales.
It will be the first time that the Spencer-Churchill necklace will be available to buy on the open market given it has been in the family since its creation. And it seems fitting that Mayfair’s oldest family jewellers, Hancocks London, which is itself is 174-years-old, is handling the sale of this family jewel.
The necklace is as steeped in the history of the nation as powerfully as the provenance of the aristocratic family whose names and stories it has memorialised for almost 150 years.
Guy Burton, Managing Director, Hancocks London, says: “From sentimental gift to a historic jewel – this is the story of a family necklace and the famous people it connects. It’s an utterly unique piece of jewellery, both in its design and concept, and in the family history and social connections of those whose names it carries.
“The Spencer-Churchills were at the very heart of British society and politics for two centuries and this piece, and the names it carries, reflect their status and influence in a way almost no other family dynasty could match. Its fascinating provenance deserves study by historians equally as much as jewellers.
“We feel very privileged to bring this piece to the open market and expect an enormous amount of interest given its provenance.”
A storied necklace
The fabulously storied necklace was created around 1875 on behalf of John Spencer-Churchill for his wife Frances.
It carries the initials of seven of their 11 children on the glazed enamel lockets, each surrounded by a floral wreath and white bows. The reverse of each is hand-engraved with the name of each child and their date of birth. The eighth locket displays a ducal coronet set with tiny gems.
John was the 7th Duke of Marlborough and Frances, the daughter of the 3rd Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry, was chatelaine to the family seat at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
The family enjoyed close links with the British Royal family and Frances was a childhood friend of Queen Victoria as well as being the goddaughter of the Duke of Wellington. She grew up in luxury, the second of six children, and married into the Spencer-Churchill family in 1843. Fourteen years later, John succeeded his father to the title Duke of Marlborough and he and Frances took over the running of Blenheim.
The couple had 11 children, including five sons (three of whom did not survive infancy) and six daughters. Seven of their children are immortalised in the necklace.
Frances remained a close friend of Queen Victoria and her son, Randolph, the Tory politician father of Winston Churchill, was part of Edward, the Prince of Wales’ social set. It was the Prince who introduced Randolph to his future wife, US heiress Jennie Jerome, Winston’s mother.
When Frances passed away in April 1899, Winston described her as “a woman of exceptional capacity, energy and decision”.
The necklace John had made for his wife carries eight 18 carat gold panels, in decorative openwork with stylised floral and scroll motifs, linking the eight lockets.
The seven engraved lockets commemorate:
- R H: Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill (1849-1895), the gifted Tory politician and Chancellor under The Marquess of Salisbury, who married American dollar princess Jennie Jerome, and whose eldest son was Sir Winston Churchill;
- F O: Lady Fanny Octavia Louisa (1853-1904), later Baroness Tweedmouth;
- C H: Lady Cornelia Henrietta Maria Spencer-Churchill (1847-1927), later Baroness Wimborne;
- G C: Lord George Charles Spencer-Churchill (1844-1892), later 8th Duke of Marlborough, his son Charles married Consuelo Vanderbilt of the US shipping and railroad dynasty of America’s Gilded Age;
- R J: Lady Rosamund Jane Frances Spencer-Churchill (1851-1920), later Baroness de Ramsey, whose son married Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes;
- A E: Lady Anne Emily Spencer-Churchill (1854-1923), later Duchess of Roxburghe;
- S I: Lady Sarah Isabella Augusta Spencer-Churchill (1865-1929).
Hancocks London is looking in to the history archives to find out why the couple’s fifth daughter, Lady Georgiana Elizabeth Spencer-Churchill, was, for some reason, either not included or her locket was removed.
Guy Burton sums up: “Reading the list of the great and good connected by this single piece of jewellery, it’s really quite incredible to see just how far a single generation’s influence stretched at home in the UK and in America. As the Spencer-Churchill family are related to the Spencer family of Althorp, the necklace also links the late Diana Princess of Wales and our future King, Prince William, both families being descended from John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough.
“It is a wonderful collectors’ piece and you can imagine it being on show in a museum given it’s historical significance. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime piece to acquire.”