The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

Catherine’s Carelessness ~ The lost Hairpin of a Queen

Being careless with one’s things; it is one of the main vices of mankind.
I have yet to meet the first person who has never lost anything.

It begins at a young age with losing socks as a baby; mounting to blankies and stuffed animals. Then the habit grows into losing toys and the small valuables of parents (which they left carelessly lingering around themselves), from there it goes to schoolbags, bicycles and, let’s not forget: virginity. And when growing older the range of lost items only expands: keys, umbrella’s, (ear)rings, mobile phones, diaries – up to complete briefcases, laptops and even children (sorry Mr. Cameron, it fitted the subject). When lucky, we retrieve the lost object in the end, but more often it is gone forever and we’ll never know where exactly we have lost it. As of today there is again a smidgen of hope for all of us who have been so embarrassed by our carelessness in losing valuable, perhaps even irreplaceable, items.

Today’s news carried the announcement that archaeologists working in the Château de Fontainebleau (near Paris) for the upcoming restoration of a communal restroom within the palace, found a hairpin. Not the most spectacular find, as we would all have been more exalted and intrigued had it been a skeleton. But still it was important enough as it happened to be a golden hairpin with interlocking ‘C’s. And what’s more? After the palace-conservators had cleaned the pin, they discovered a certain kind of finish: One of the C’s was marked with a hint of green, the other with white: which happen to be the royal colours of a known Renaissance Queen, once a resident of that same palace.

(Both photo’s released by the Associated Press)

Taking all into account, they came to the conclusion that this very hairpin must have adorned the hair (wig?) of Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), queen-consort of France between 1547 and 1559 as the wife of Henri II. She is, however, mostly remembered for her power and influence as Regent and Queen-mother during the reign of their sons who were all King of France during her lifetime: François II, Charles IX and Henri III. She was a staunch Catholic (even fiery where it concerned Protestants) and known to be ruthless and quite harsh to some of her courtiers. In all honesty, she witnessed troubled times with civil wars; being a widow with little children while two other families, the Bourbons and the Guises, were lurking around for the right moment to take the crown from her family (the Valois). Any woman in that time of that birth and given the chance, would have done the same. But she went further than that, at some point she was one of the most powerful woman of 16th Century Europe.
Her legacy isn’t all that bad. Between her troubled times she was also a collector and patron of the arts; her jewellery collection for one was large, beyond imagination, and known for its extreme value. The irony being that most of it has been lost, sold or stolen…

Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589)
Artist: copy after François Clouet, ca. 1580
Medium & Dimensions: Oil on panel, 33.7×25.4cm
Photo & Collection : The Walters Art Museum,
Baltimore (Maryland, USA)

So another lost piece from a long gone era has been retrieved. And now comes the part which is so typical for the change of times. The conservators are puzzled by the find on that particular location: a Renaissance communal lavatory. The chance that she lost it there herself is considered ludicrous. But who knows… perhaps her own royal loo was clogged and she had to run to the one used by the rest of the court. In her hurry and not being used to the smaller space she could have very well bumped her head and, because of that, lost a hairpin. But, no, they are almost bending backwards in finding a proper and acceptable excuse: ‘Perhaps it was a lady-in-waiting who took it, and lost it there.’ Of course! When in doubt or embarrassed: Blame the staff.
Had this come out during her lifetime, conversation at the various courts of Europe would have been rank with gossip: ‘Have you heard about the Queen-mother of France? I am told, by very reliable contacts, that she hangs around the servant’s loos…

Personally, I think the biggest shock is that, despite her reputation, she now turns out to have been a bit careless with her things.


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