Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shah Jahan: The Blood Behind the Glitter

A history resource article by  © 2014 

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Shah Jahan
admiring the 56-carat Blue Table Diamond embedded in an
ornamental pin designed for his turban.
 Photographed at
the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, CA
A few months ago when I visited the "Diamonds Are Forever" exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, California, it was a treat to see George Stuart's latest 1/4 scale sculpture of Shah Jahan, the ruler of the Mughal Empire at its zenith in 1627 CE.  The sculpture, modeled after a miniature painting of the fabulously wealthy Shah serenely contemplating the beauty of the 56 carat Table Diamond,  belies the ruthless nature of this warrior king, however.

Yes, Shah Jahan is the ruler famous for building the breathtaking Taj Mahal as a memorial tribute to his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  This is the same Shah Jahan who reveled in wearing a special velvet brocade from Ahmadabad (that only he was allowed to use) and a qaba made of gold with blossoms fashioned from jewels  and fastened with pearls.  This Shah also ordered the interior of his palaces to be decorated with mosaics made from pieces of mirror so candlelight in the evening would produce a shimmering, hypnotic effect and ordered the construction of over a thousand gardens. His elegant palaces were embellished with delicate floral motifs embedded with jewels .  But, love was hardly a hallmark of his rise to power, thanks in part to his fierce Mongol and Turkic forefathers and the complex machinations of the Mughal royal court.

Shah Jahan's ancestry was no ordinary birthright. He was descended from the merciless Mongol invader, Ghengis Khan, on his mother's side and on his father's side the infamous Amir Timur, known as Tamberlane to the Western world. Scarcely less notorious for his barbarism than the Mongols, the Turkish ruler had invaded Hindustan in 1398, massacred its inhabitants and brought back riches beyond his wildest dreams: trays of gold and carved ivory and mounds of jewels – rubies, pearls, emeralds, turquoise, topaz and cat's eye, and diamonds said to be so valuable they might have fed the world for a day. - PBS, The Mughal Dynasty

To gain the Mughal throne, Shah Jahan, originally Prince Khurram, third son of the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and grandson to the legendary emperor Akbar the Great, would need every ounce of his ancestors' fierce resolve as he ordered the deaths of two (possibly three) brothers, two nephews and all remaining male Timurid cousins to remove any possible contenders to the throne by the time of his succession.

This familial bloodshed was a direct result of Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir, not naming an heir before his death and the lack of primogeniture (succession determined by birth order) in Mughal culture.

The first of Shah Jahan's siblings to fall was his eldest brother, Khusrau Mirza.  Prince Khusrau is said to have had an amiable disposition that endeared him to his grandfather, Akbar, and the liberal party within the Mughal court.  As his father, Jahangir's excessive indulgence in wine and opium became increasingly debilitating, powerful factions within the Mughal court favored Khusrau as the successor to his grandfather, Akbar, instead of Khusrau's father, Jahangir.

Mughal Emperor Jahangir receives a prisoner. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The tension at court became so intense  that Khusrau's mother, the Hindu princess Man Bai (later called Shah Begam), her heart torn between her husband and her son, committed suicide on May 16, 1604.  Meanwhile Jahangir reconciled with the aging Emperor Akbar, who then appointed Jahangir his official successor shortly before Akbar's death on October 17, 1605.  This left Prince Khusrau flapping in the wind so to speak.

Now Emperor Jahangir placed Khusrau "under strict surveillance" (imprisoned) in Agra.  But the young prince escaped and fled to the Punjab with only a small contingent of horsemen.   However, on April 27, 1606, Prince Khusrau was recaptured and, after another abortive escape attempt, was blinded by order of his father.

According to Mughal tradition, the blinding of an heir to the throne symbolically blocked the heir from succession.  Normally, this would have protected him from any future heirs fighting to ascend the throne.  But, Jahangir, feeling remorseful for the punishment, asked his physicians to restore Khusrau's eyesight.  According to court sources, the physicians were only partially successful.

Shah Jahan must have surely remembered the reconciliation of his father, Jahangir, with his grandfather, Akbar.  So, in 1617 when a rebellion broke out in the Deccan region of the empire and Jahangir, urged on by Nur Jahan, ordered Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to the area, far from his father's court, the prince refused unless Jahangir agreed to let Shah Jahan take Khusrau with him, claiming his request was a result of "the tender affection he held for him."
Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Prince Khurram entertained by Nur Jahan.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

"Shah Jahan was worried, and rightly so, that in his absence, at the very least, various factions would consolidate their power behind his back and, at the most, he would lose what he thought to be the just dessert of his labors.  And so he pressed for Khusrau to accompany him to the Deccan, in the hopes of depriving Nur Jahan of his popular brother as a candidate for the throne." - Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

In 1621, Shah Jahan received word that Jahangir was seriously ill.  Perhaps fearing a death bed declaration of succession, Shah Jahan had his eldest brother secretly strangled (or stabbed through the heart depending on the source) on January 26, 1622 and reported to Jahangir that Khusrau had contracted an illness and died.  The Empress Nur Jahan's father subsequently "died suddenly" in January of that year as well.

 Emperor Jahangir received a second letter, though, from a noble in Burhanpur indicating Khusrau's death may have been planned.

"Upon receiving this second letter, Jahangir became furious and wrote back to the nobles in Burhanpur 'a very angry letter...enquiring why they had failed to write to him the truth...' It was then that Jahangir ordered Khusrau's body exhumed and brought to Allahabad and committed Khusrau's surviving family to the care of his still living father-in-law." -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Jahangir then ordered Shah Jahan to return to court and give a personal account of Khusrau's death to the emperor.  (This would indicate that the exhumation did not reveal any obvious wounds - so much for the "stabbed through the heart" source)  Instead, Shah Jahan gathered his forces and prepared to march against his father.

But in March of 1622, Shah Abbas I of Persia besieged and captured Qandahar fort.  This direct challenge to Mughal supremacy required a swift response.  Empress Nur Jahan urged her husband to order Shah Jahan to lead a relief army to Qandahar.

Detail from painting of Shah Abbas I of Persia at court.  Image courtesy of
"...we assume that Nur Jahan intended these orders to place Shah Jahan in a difficult situation;  if he refused to go, he would be denounced as a rebel and crushed, most likely, by the imperial armies; but, if he left the Deccan for Kandahar he would lose the base of power he had spent so long in cultivating.  Moreover, if he was far off in Kandahar fighting and Jahangir died, Shah Jahan might miss his chance for the throne."  -  Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Rather than incur his father's wrath again, Shah Jahan simply delayed using the monsoon season as an excuse.

Shah Jahan feared that in his absence Nur Jahan would attempt to poison his father against him and convince Jahangir to name Shahryar the heir in his place. It was this fear which forced Shah Jahan to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians." - Vidya Dhar Mahajan,  Jahangir. Muslim Rule in India (1970: 5th ed.)

17th century painting of a Mughal couple.  The prince in this painting resembles
Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Prince Shahryar.  Prince Shahryar married the
daughter of the powerful Empress Nur Jahan who hoped to have a grandson that
would eventually rule the Mughal Empire.
 Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

But to test his brother's influence at court,  Shah Jahan petitioned his father for ownership of a "jagir" (lands awarded for military success) assigned to Shahryar, now son-inlaw to Nur Jahan and Jahangir's latest favorite son, and sent a force to procure them. Shahryar sent a force to defend his lands and the two forces fought, resulting in many deaths on both sides.  Jahangir was so enraged that he awarded the disputed lands to Shahryar and appointed Shahryr to command the Qandahar expedition, declaring Shah Jahan "unworthy of all the favours and cherishing I had bestowed on him."

In response, Shah Jahan marched toward Agra, the location of the Mughal treasury.  But his father anticipated this move and had the fort of Agra reinforced then ordered his second eldest son, Parviz (also spelled Parwez or Parvez), and the emperor's trusted and experienced general Mahahbat Khan to lead the imperial armies against Shah Jahan.  The imperial armies routed Shah Jahan's forces at Baluchpur and Shah Jahan was forced to retreat.

Once back in the Deccan, Shah Jahan began to cultivate alliances with the Golconda Sultanate (not under the control of the Mughal) and representatives of the new English factories of the south.  Reinforced and rearmed, Shah Jahan marched northeast and conquered the Mughal province of Orissa.  He then turned his sight on Bengal governed by Ibrahim Khan, Nur Jahan's uncle.  Following a bloodbath known as the battle of Rajmahal, Shah Jahan's forces hunted down and killed Ibrahim Khan on April 10, 1624.

In this detail of a hunting scene from the Jahan Nama, Shah Jahan is depicted firing a matchlock rifle, a weapon widely
used in Mughal warfare.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
When Shah Jahan advanced to take Allahabad, however, the imperial forces under Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan intercepted him and Shah Jahan fled back to Golconda where he was once more reinforced.  Shah Jahan and his allies laid seige to Burhanpur but they were again thwarted by the forces of Prince Parviz and Mahabat Khan.  Then Shah Jahan fell seriously ill.  Fearing his cause lost, Shah Jahan appealed to his father for forgiveness.

"At the instance [insistence] of Nur Jahan, Jahangir replied in March of 1626 that if Shah Jahan surrendered Rohtas and the fort of Asir and sent his sons Dara Shikoh and Arangzeb to court, he would give him full forgiveness and the province of Balaghat."   Ellison Banks Findly, Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India

Mughal painting of Prince Paraviz with a holy man c. 1610

In October 1626, Jahangir was notified that Prince Parviz had died of delirium tremens (the DTs - according to one source or alcohol poisoning according to another source) in Burhanpur.

The DTs are triggered by the withdrawal of alcohol from a severely addicted alcoholic.  (Before modern medical interventions were developed, the DTs resulted in death in about 35% of the cases.)  Although Prince Parviz was known to be a longtime alcoholic, it would be highly doubtful that the prince would have refused alcohol himself.   He was superior in rank to anyone else at Burhanpur since the prince's co-commander Mahabat Khan had been sent to govern distant Bengal by the constantly scheming Empress Nur Jahan.  So, who would have forcefully withheld alcohol from him?

Alcohol poisoning, on the other hand, would have been more logical, but it would also have been easy to imitate with other available concoctions.

Shah Jahan's "exile" province of Balaghat made Shah Jahan the geographically closest member of the royal family to Prince Parviz.  So, this is why some historians think Shah Jahan could have been instrumental in accelerating this brother's demise as well.

Anyway, this now left only Shah Jahan's youngest brother, Shahryar, as the remaining impediment to the throne.

By now badly enfeebled, Emperor Jahangir died October 28, 1627 while returning to Lahore from Kashmir.  Neither remaining heir apparent were present, but Shah Jahan's father-in-law, Asaf Khan, quickly confined Nur Jahan (his sister) and dispatched a messenger to Shah Jahan.  In the meantime, Asaf Khan got the majority of court nobles in the emperor's camp to proclaim Dawar Bakhsh, the young son of the ill-fated Khusrau, emperor, solely as a place holder for Shah Jahan.

Then Asaf Khan gathered his forces and marched on Prince Shahryar at the palace in Lahore.

Painting of a Mughal commander approaching a fortified city.

"Shahryar used the seven million rupee treasure in Lahore fort to mibilize a large, disheveled, army of hastily assembled mercenaries.  He was easily defeated by Asaf Khan just outside Lahore.  Captured alive in Lahore Fort, Shahryar was made to submit formally to Dawar Bakhsh and then imprisoned and blinded." - John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire

Within twenty days Shah Jahan received the news of his father's death and set out for Agra.

"On the way to Agra, Shah Jahan sent a firman to Asaf Khan, written in his own hand, to do away with all potential contenders to the throne - Shahryar, Dawar Bakhsh and his brother Gahrasp, and Daniyal's two sons [Daniyal was a deceased brother of Jahangir]." - Abraham Eraly, The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors

So, on the night of February 2, 1628, all of the remaining Mughal princes were seized and put to death.

Sadly, the Shah's own offspring took this lesson to heart and in turn Shah Jahan's second son, Aurangzeb, ended up defeating and ordering the executions of his three brothers as well.

A poignant watercolor of Shah Jahan's son Shah Shua as a child.  Image courtesy
of Wikipedia.

When Shah Jahan was a youth, his grandfather, the famous Akbar the Great, had insisted that Shah Jahan study Turkic language and culture. In the case of the Ottoman Empire that meant Mehmed II's law, passed in 1477 that codified fratricide:  "For the welfare of the state, the one of my sons to whom God grants the sultanate may lawfully put his brothers to death."

Mehmed II only had to slaughter an infant half brother and its mother since the rest of his brothers were already dead by the time he ascended the throne.  But when Mehmed III became Sultan, the law justified his slaughter of 19 brothers by strangulation with a ritual bowstring.

Apparently, Shah Jahan was a very good student.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

American Heroes Channel steps up production quality and research with "Gunslingers" premiering July 20

A history resource article by  © 2014

A week ago I received an invitation to review a new documentary series, "Gunslingers", that is slated to premiere on the American Heroes Channel (formerly the Military Channel) on July 20, 2014.  The first episode examines the life of the legendary Wyatt Earp.  Castle Pictures, who produced this docudrama series for AHC, recalls the life of each of these larger than life characters from the Old West by having the individual narrate (via a professional actor) the events of his life. AHC assures us that great care has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information presented.

WYATT EARP: World Premiere Sunday, July 20 at 10/9c
A reimagined Wyatt Earp.  Image courtesy of  the
American Heroes Channel.

"Tombstone was one of the Wild West’s most infamous settlements. The town’s powder keg of competing interests explodes, culminating in the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. When the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday confront a group of cowboys demanding they surrender their arms, the cowboys opt to use them instead… and three of them wind up dead. But the gunfight is just the beginning of the story. In its wake, Wyatt’s two beloved brothers are shot down, prompting him and Doc to go on a “ride of revenge.” This is the true story of Wyatt Earp: the town-taming marshal who sacrificed everything to bring his own kind of justice and order to the American West." - American Heroes Channel
Since I've seen the movie "Tombstone", I was pretty familiar with the events portrayed in this first segment. In fact, Kurt Russell, who played Wyatt Earp in the Hollywood film and is apparently an avid admirer of Earp and has studied Earp's life extensively, provides some of the commentary in this episode.

There were two incidents related in the docudrama, however, that I either had forgotten or were not mentioned in the Hollywood film. Doc Holliday, along with the rest of Earp's posse, apparently retreated during a gunfight with a group of cowboys that Earp's posse stumbled across while hunting for Morgan Earp's killers.   This left Earp alone and practically defenseless with his gunbelt around his knees because he had loosened his belt while riding to be more comfortable.  Earp still managed to kill one of the men who was thought to have been involved in Morgan's murder and somehow mystically escaped being wounded in any way. He later spreads his arms to show his bullet riddled coat to the astounded posse and they could hardly believe what they were seeing.

I was also unaware of Earp's apparent friendship with a very young John Wayne.  I know I saw a movie once (Sunset) where Earp in his twilight years (played by James Garner) is serving as a technical consultant in Hollywood for Republic Pictures and becomes a kind of sidekick of Tom Mix (played by Bruce Willis). Apparently Earp really did finish his career in this way.

Although this series covers similar material explored in the 2008 History Channel series "Outlaws and Gunslingers" (except for extensive coverage of John Wesley Hardin and Tom Horn) and omits some of the seedier activities of Wyatt Earp, I found the series a well crafted production and look forward to seeing future episodes examining the lives of Billy The Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin and Tom Horn.

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Celebrating my birthday on the 4th of July

A history resource article by  © 2014

Today I received a list of historical facts about the Fourth of July from Sandra Correa, a representative of the genealogy website My Heritage.  I doubt if she realized that I am a Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the 4th of July so the day has particular significance to me!

 When I was a girl, my family celebrated my birthday by driving down to the little southern Oregon coast town of Port Orford and watching a reenactment of the Battle of Battle Rock.  We would park the car then walk over and join the crowd stretched out on the grassy dunes on the edge of the beach waiting for the excitement to start.  Sometimes, local children would shoot off firecrackers or some of the more elaborate "illegal" fireworks that they had purchased up in nearby Washington state that had more liberal fireworks regulations than Oregon. 

I had always heard there were some graves on the rock but according to this historical narrative, none of the nine traders beseiged at Battle Rock were slain. So if there are graves there they must be someone else. Although I've been to Battle Rock State Park many times, I have never actually climbed up on the rock to see for myself.  I suppose I should add this to my bucket list!

I didn't realize until I read the narrative that so many Native Americans were involved in the attack.  At the reenactments there were only a handful of reenactors dressed as Native Americans so I never realized the scope of the event.

After the battle reenactment, my family would watch the city-sponsored fireworks that were shot over the ocean afterwards. Sadly, Port Orford has dwindled to a shadow of its former self after the timber industry logged most of the surrounding trees in subsequent years.  I sometimes wonder if the little town still sponsors the annual reenactment.

Anyway, for those of you interested in learning more about the Fourth, here is the list of factoids Ms. Correa sent to me:

·       On June 11, 1776, the colonies' Second Continental Congress formed a committee in Philadelphia whose purpose was drafting a document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson crafted the original draft document. A total of 86 changes were made to his draft.
      On July 2, 1776, the delegates to the Continental Congress approved at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia the resolution introduced on June 7, 1776 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia calling for independence from Great-Britain.
      On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress officially adopted the final version of the Declaration.
·       All 56 men who ultimately signed the Declaration showed great courage. Announcing independence from Great Britain was an act of treason, punishable by death.
·       John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration. With its ornate capitals, Hancock's sprawling signature is prominent on the document. Since then, when people are asked for their "John Hancock," they are being asked to sign their names.
      On July 5, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed.
      On July 6, The Pennsylvania ‘Evening Post’ became the first newspaper to print the Declaration.
      On July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia's Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band music.
      The second president, John Adams, wrote his wife Abigail in 1776 "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."
      In 1777, Philadelphia hosted an elaborate demonstration of joy and festivity.  Bells were rung, guns fired, candles lighted, and firecrackers set off. Cannons rained 13-gun salutes in honor of each state.
      In 1778, marked the first Independence Day oration—given by historian and patriot David Ramsay in Charleston, South Carolina.
      In 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to celebrate officially July 4.
      In 1783, Boston became the first city to designate, by a public vote, July 4 as the official day of commemoration. July 4 became a holiday in some places. Speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks marked the day.
·       Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.
      Another Founding Father who became a President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831
      In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
      Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and is so far the only President to have been born on Independence Day.
      Kansas City, Missouri hosted an “Americanization Day” on July 4, 1915, at which 220 new citizens sang patriotic songs.
      On July 4 1918 cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, DC held “melting-pot” celebrations, showcasing hundreds of thousands of foreign-born Americans and their traditions in an assortment of parades and celebrations.
      In 1938, Congress declared July 4 a paid federal holiday.
      Over time, various other summertime activities also came to be associated with the Fourth of July, including historical pageants, picnics, baseball games, watermelon-eating contests, and trips to the beach. Common foods include hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, apple pie, coleslaw, and sometimes clam bakes.
·       Some New England towns keep celebrate the night before the Fourth with bonfires.
      Independence Day fireworks are accompanied by patriotic songs such as the national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner", "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "This Land Is Your Land", "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Yankee Doodle","Dixie".
      Philadelphia holds its celebrations at Independence Hall, where historic scenes are reenacted and the Declaration of Independence is read.
      Other interesting parties include the American Indian rodeo and three-day pow-wow in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Lititz, Pennsylvania, candle festival, where hundreds of candles are floated in water and a ‘Queen of Candles’ is chosen.
      Traditions: hang the flag, go to a parade, have a block party, barbecue party, watch some fireworks, family reunions, baseball games, fairs, picnics, concerts.

     I hope you all have fun helping me celebrate!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Diamonds Are Forever A Must See at the Museum of Ventura County

Multimedia sculpture of Queen Marie de Medici ...
Multimedia sculpture of Queen Marie de Medici by artist George Stuart and a cubic zirconia replica of the Sancy Diamond crafted by Scott Sucher
(Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014)
A history resource article by  © 2014

I always look forward to visiting the Museum of Ventura County  to enjoy the beautifully sculptured 1/4 life-size figures of famous historical personalities created by artist/historian George Stuart .  This year, the Historical Figures Foundation in cooperation with the museum and world-renown gemologist Scott Sucher, is sponsoring a joint exhibit entitled "Diamonds Are Forever" and I was privileged to photograph it a couple of weeks ago.

"Surprisingly, diamonds share some common characteristics with coal. Both are composed of the most common substance on earth: carbon. What makes diamonds different from coal is the way the carbon atoms are arranged and how the carbon is formed. Diamonds are created when carbon is subjected to the extremely high pressures and temperatures found at the earth’s lithosphere, which lies approximately 90-240 miles below the earth’s surface."

"The earliest diamonds were found in India in 4th century BC, although the youngest of these deposits were formed 900 million years ago. A majority of these early stones were transported along the network of trade routes that connected India and China, commonly known as the Silk Road. At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, served as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to provide protection in battle. In the Dark Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested." - Diamond History

English: 2008 sketch of the Golden Fleece (of ...
English: 2008 sketch of the Golden Fleece (of the Color Adornment) showing the "French Blue" diamond and the "Côte de Bretagne" dragon spinel of king Louis XV of France Français : Gouache 2008 de la Toison d'or de la parure de couleur de Louis XV, montrant le "diamant bleu de la Couronne" ainsi que le spinel "Côte de Bretagne". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scott Sucher crafted both life-sized and 1/4 life-sized miniatures of some of the world's most famous diamonds for this exhibit.   George Stuart then mounted the miniatures in meticulously recreated crowns, necklaces, scepters and a cravat pin that were used to accessorize his historical figures.  Stuart working with Sucher even created a now-lost insignia of knighthood known as the "Order of the Golden Fleece" for Stuart's sculpture of French King Louis XV.  The miniature was based on a replica of the French Order of the Golden Fleece recreated by Dr. François Farges, Professor of Mineralogy and Curator of Minerals and Gems at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle at Paris and an international team under the supervision of Swiss jeweler Herbert Horovitz.

The Order of the Golden Fleece was established by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1430 "for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also ...to do honor to old knights; ...so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order ... should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds..."

The sovereign was supposed to consult the order before a declaration of war and knights in each chapter of the order were to allow the order to settle any disputes between them.  A knight accused of rebellion, heresy or treason could demand that he be tried by his fellow members of the order as well.

Louis XV was inducted into the order in 1739 and at the exhibit, is displayed wearing the sovereign's medal around his neck.  Unfortunately, the original diamond-studded medal was stolen along with the French crown jewels in 1792 during the French Revolution.  Although some of the crown jewels were later recovered, Louis XV's Order of the Golden Fleece along with the French Blue (thought to be recut into the Hope Diamond) and Sancy diamonds disappeared from history (at least in their original forms).  Fortunately, extremely accurate drawings of Louis XV's Order were made, enabling Stuart and Sucher to recreate the piece with precisely reproduced cubic zirconia gems.

George Stuart's multmedia sculpture of Louis XV
wearing the French Order of the Golden Fleece.

Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County
 by  © 2014
Because most of the original diamonds reproduced for the exhibit originated in India, George Stuart also unveiled a newly sculpted historical figure of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal.  The Mughals were descendants of the warriors of Chagatai, one of the sons of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.  The Mughals ruled India from 1526 - 1857.  Shah Jahan was born in what is present-day Lahore, Pakistan in 1592 and was crowned Shah in 1628.  He ruled until 1658 when he was overthrown by his third son.

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Shah
Jahan admiring the Table Cut Diamond embedded
in an ornament for his turban.
at the Museum of Ventura County by
 © 2014.

India was thought to be the only source of diamonds in the world until 1866 when a 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs came across what he thought was an ordinary pebble along the banks of the Orange River in South Africa.  The pebble turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond and the diamond rush to such deposits as Colesberg Kopje began.

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of
Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-I-Noor diamond
in a brooch.
 Photographed at the
Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014
Of the Indian diamonds on exhibit, probably one of the most famous, the Koh-i-Noor, as well as the Great Table diamond, were once embedded in Shah Jahan's Peacock Throne.  The Shah Jahan figure in the exhibit holds a turban ornament that is embedded with the Shah Jahan Table Cut Diamond.  It appeared to be blue because of the exhibit lighting but the real stone is colorless.

As part of the opening ceremonies, Scott Sucher gave two fascinating presentations in the museum's new 3500 sq. ft. event pavilion.  His first lecture was about the history of the Hope Diamond and how Sucher, along with other scholars, used precise measurements of a lead replica of the French Blue Diamond, discovered in the archives of the National History Museum at Paris in 2007, and a software program called GemCad, to virtually recreate the French Blue.  Then Sucher received permission from the Smithsonian Institution to measure the Hope Diamond and recreated a virtual 3-D model of it.  Using these virtual models, Sucher was able to demonstrate that the virtual Hope Diamond could fit inside the virtual French Blue.  Furthermore, the amount of material that would have had to have been removed during a recutting process would not have resulted in any additional commercially marketable gemstones - the hallmark of a perfectly executed recut.   Sucher expressed his belief that this evidence is the most scientifically accurate method used to date to prove the French Blue (no longer in existence) was recut into the Hope Diamond.  Sucher's efforts were featured in a Smithsonian Channel documentary "Mystery of the Hope Diamond". ( I found a digital standard DVD resolution copy of it available through Amazon Instant Video for only $1.99.)

Sucher's second lecture focused on the history of diamond cutting itself.

I learned that even though diamonds are considered the hardest known natural material on earth, they can be damaged if they are dropped on a hard surface and the impact point occurs along a cleavage plane of the crystal's structure.

Historian Pliny the Elder describes how the Romans tested the hardness of stones thought to be diamonds:

"These stones are tested upon the anvil, and will resist the blow to such an extent, as to make the iron rebound and the very anvil split asunder. Indeed its hardness is beyond all expression ... When, by good fortune, this stone does happen to be broken, it divides into fragments so minute as to be almost imperceptible. These particles are held in great request by engravers, who enclose them in iron, and are enabled thereby, with the greatest facility, to cut the very hardest substances known." - Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia

The first attempts at faceting diamonds were a result of grinding off such damaged areas.  It was during these "repairs" that gemcutters discovered the process also increased the brilliance of a stone.  Sucher included animations that clearly demonstrated how the brilliance of diamonds has improved over the centuries by the practice of removing more and more points of the raw diamond's structure.  This process was further faciliated in 1475 when the scaifing machine was invented. By the 16th century, mere polishing became genuine faceting.

Diamond cutting machine illustrated in this copper
engraving dated 1710
.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.

The Rose Cut emerged and the early table cuts received extra facets on both the crown and pavilion to form an array of new cuts. Longer rectangular stones, named Hogbacks by Tillander formed a forerunner to the Baguette Cut and were extensively used to form letters and figures. Diamonds were cut to shape to be combined into Rosettes. The most popular cuts were the Table Cut and Point Cut.  - A History of Diamond Cutting

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Queen
Marie Antoinette wearing the Regent Diamond
as a hair ornament.
 Photographed at the Museum of
Ventura County
by  © 2014.
By the early 1900's diamond saws and jewelry lathes were developed enabling the "modern round brilliant" cut so popular today.  This was just in the nick of time as on June 25, 1905 the largest gem-quality diamond in the world, weighing 3,106 carats, was found in Cullinan, South Africa.  From this stone the "Great Star of Africa" (also known as the Cullinan 1), weighing 530.2 carats, was produced along with eight other major stones and 96 smaller brilliant-cut stones.

A cubic zirconia replica of the "Great Star of Africa" crafted
by world-renown gemologist Scott Sucher of Albuquerque,
New Mexico.
 Photographed at the Museum of  Ventura County
 by  © 2014.

Not only was there a replica of the "Great Star of Africa" in the exhibit itself, but Sucher brought a case of replicas to the lecture.  After he finished speaking, he opened the case and encouraged attendees to pick them up.  It was a thrill to hold even a replica of the "Great Star of Africa" in the palm of my hand!

Catherine the Great holds a scepter containing the Orlov Diamond.  Multimedia sculpture by George Stuart.  Full size Orlov replica by Scott Sucher.  Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014.
I was told that to see all of the original diamonds represented in this exhibit you would have to travel to nine different countries.  The "Diamonds are Forever" exhibit will be on display at the Museum of Ventura County until August 24, 2014.  If you are visiting the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend taking the 1 1/2 hour drive up to Ventura to see it!

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