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The origins are sketchy, some say La Peregrina Pearl is from Panama and others think its birthplace is Venezuela. Most celebrated among the early American pearls was La Peregrina (the incomparable), or the Philip II pearl, which weighed 134 grains.

According to Garcilasso de la Vega, who says that he saw it at Seville in 1507, (Garcilasso, “Historie des Incas, Rois du Perou,” Amsterdam, 1704, Vol. II, P. 352.) this was found at Panama in 1560 by a negro who was rewarded with his liberty, and his owner with the office of alcalde of Panama.

Other authorities note that it came from the Venezuelan fisheries in 1574. It was carried to Spain by Don Diego de Temes, who presented it to Philip II (1527-1598).

Jacques de Treco, court jeweler to the king, is credited with saying that it might be worth 30,000-100,000 ducats, as one might choose to estimate, for in fact it was so remarkable as to be beyond any standard valuation.

If we can credit Garcilasso, at one time this pearl decorated the crown of the Blessed Virgin in the church of Guadeloupe, which was resplendent with gems.

queen-margarita-on-horseback“Queen Margarita on Horseback” wearing La Peregrina, by Valasquez, 1634-35, Collection Prado Museum

16th Century Royal Portrait- The painting of Queen Mary, by Flemish artist Hans Eworth

A contemporaneous account (Miscel. Academ. Nat. curios, Dec. 1, Ann.II, obs, 288.) notes that it was worn at Madrid by Queen Margarita, wife of Philip III, at the fetes given in celebration of the treaty of peace between that country and England in 1605


It will form part of the cathedral’s 450th anniversary exhibition of Mary’s marriage to Philip II of Spain.

In the painting, the monarch is wearing a giant pearl – known as La Peregrina – which was bought for actress Elizabeth Taylor, 400 years later.

The pearl – which is the size of a pigeon’s-egg – was given to Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, by her future husband.

Actor Richard Burton later bought it from a British aristocratic family as a Valentine gift for Taylor.




The painting was acquired by the Society of Antiquaries in the early 19th Century.

In the picture, Queen Mary depicted wearing what is thought to be her coronation dress.

Known as the “Cloth of Gold”, it was woven from silk and gold thread and was later adjusted for the coronation of her half-sister Elizabeth.

Historian Dr David Starkey, who is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, said the painting conveyed the “passionate intensity” of her Catholic religious feelings.

“It is one of the great 16th Century royal portraits,” he said.


Winchester Cathedral  

Mary and Philip II of Spain were married at Winchester Cathedral

“It is as iconic of Mary as Holbein is of Henry VIII, it is a picture of absolutely central significance.”

Dr Starkey added that the painting would be worth many millions of pounds if it were to put on the market.

The portrait will be on show at Winchester Cathedral until September 30 as part of the exhibition, the Marriage of England and Spain.

The couple were married at the cathedral on 25 July 1554.

Canon Flora Winfield, of Winchester Cathedral, said: “This exhibition is about trying to understand history in new ways and also to understand why she was so zealous in her Catholic faith.

“It is about trying to understand what were the things in her own experience of her own life which made her so zealous about it.”

Elizabeth Taylor, Present Owner of Famed Pearl



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