Rescued from the clutches of the Red Army! An unprecedented collection of royal jewels, smuggled out in a wheelbarrow and then forgotten in a bank vault, goes on sale today…
Hidden for almost eighty years in a vault in the depths of a German bank, an extraordinary collection of royal jewels is today offered for sale at Sotheby’s.
The beauty and craftsmanship of the tiaras, necklaces, bracelets and earrings create a treasure chest from one of the most opulent eras of European court life.
The collection can only be described as unparalleled.
Yet it is a miracle that it survived at all, having been wrested from the clutches of the Soviets under circumstances of courage and ingenuity.
The heroine, Princess Eudoxie of Bulgaria, eldest daughter of King Ferdinand I
Princess Eudoxie was a descendant of Queen Marie Antoinette
Crown Prince Boris of Bulgaria and future King Boris III
King Boris III of Bulgaria and Princess Giovanna of Savoy on their wedding day
They had been buried in an iron coffin for two years when the Bulgarian communists took power at the end of the Second World War, and were then smuggled out in sewn-in pieces of cloth – where they remained until they were finally rediscovered earlier this year.
The heroine of the story is Princess Eudoxie, the eldest daughter of the penultimate king of Bulgaria, who enjoyed having lavish parures made for his wife, the queen.
Through her father, Eudoxie was a cousin of Queen Victoria, while through her mother she was a descendant of Queen Marie Antoinette.
The princess never married, but after her father’s abdication in 1918 she became ‘First Lady of Bulgaria’ to her brother Boris, the new king, until his marriage in 1930 to Giovanna of Savoy.
She remained an integral part of the Bulgarian royal family and lived in the capital Sofia.
But in 1944, as the Russian Red Army closed in, Eudoxie realized that the end of the monarchy was fast approaching.
Eudoxie saved the family’s lavish jewelry by sewing them into pieces of cloth and burying them in an iron coffin in her garden in Sofia.
Arrests, solitary confinement and torture followed at the hands of the newly formed pro-Soviet Bulgarian Fatherland Front. After her release, she was placed under house arrest, with a guard by her side day and night.
On February 1, 1945, her brother, Prince Kyril, was murdered.
Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma, Princess Consort of Burlgaria, wearing the Kochert Lady’s gold watch
A women’s wristwatch from the Austrian crown jeweler Kochert, owned by Queen Marie Louise of Bulgaria
A three-strand seed pearl necklace set with pink topazes and diamonds. Inherited by Queen Giovanna of Bulgaria from her grandmother, Queen Margherita of Savoy
Prince Kyril of Bulgaria who was murdered
But in June 1946 it was decided that the remaining members of the royal family could leave the country. The communist leaders did not want to make martyrs of them, as had happened to the Russian royal family thirty years earlier.
As a Bulgarian, Princess Eudoxie was told not to take anything with her except the clothes she was wearing.
But it was different for her sister-in-law, the Italian-born Queen Giovanna, who was allowed to take her two small children and her personal belongings into exile.
This gave Eudoxie a small chance to save the jewels.
One night, while her keeper was fast asleep, Eudoxie dug up the box containing the jewels that had been buried two years earlier.
She put the box in a deep wheelbarrow and covered it with books, claiming that the Queen’s library had been destroyed and that she needed more reading material. And delivered the entire shipment to the palace, ready for their joint departure.
On September 16, the small royal party of two women and two children, together with the queen’s light luggage, left the palace to begin their brave journey.
They were first taken by train across the Bulgarian-Turkish border to Istanbul, where they boarded a boat to Alexandria, Egypt.
Princess Eudoxie disembarked at Port Said and with a suitcase full of jewelry and a few clothes given to her by Giovanna, she boarded a freighter for Europe.
A gold fringed necklace set with diamonds, rubies and sapphires from Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
A Fabergé crescent moon brooch set with rubies and diamonds, inherited by Princess Eudoxie of Bulgaria from Empress Maria-Feodorovna of Russia
Emerald and diamond cufflinks, given to Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria by Sultan Abdul-Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire in 1898
Princess Eudoxia who smuggled the jewels out of Bulgaria and deposited them in the bank where they were discovered in 2023
The first, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, who lived in the Coburg mansion in Switzerland
Despite having very little money, she left for Switzerland in early October, with a moving company’s truck. And once there she called the Duke of Württemberg, husband of her younger sister Nadezhda, who lived not far from their father in Germany.
The princess arrived at the Coburg mansion of her father, the former King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, and soon deposited her jewels in the bank where they were found in 2023.
They were all still safely hidden in the cloth bags she had sewn them into in 1944. Unfortunately they were never worn again.