Commissioned by Madame Mère, Napoleon’s mother, on the death of the Emperor in 1821, this is the only surviving one of the twelve for all the female members of the family.
It belonged to the Emperor’s niece Laetitia, wife of Thomas Wyse of Waterford, the scion of the leading Waterford Catholic family.
The semi-precious stone jet is black in colour and consequently was used in mourning jewellery especially in the nineteenth century.
Thomas Wyse met Laetitia Bonaparte, daughter of Lucien, Prince of Canino and brother of the Emperor, when on the Grand Tour in Italy. Sir Thomas Wyse was introduced to her through the notorious Pauline, sister of the Emperor known as the Venus of the Bonapartes having posed as the model for a marble sculpture of Venus by Canova housed in the Borghese Palace in Rome.
Thomas and Laetitia were married in Viterbo Italy in March 1821 and soon after came to live in Waterford. Laetitia was a great fashion icon and was much loved by the ordinary people of Waterford for her Napoleonic connections. Sadly what should have been a romantic fairytale marriage ended in failure. Although they had two sons together, Laetitia left her husband and went on to have three more children two daughters and a son. Laetitia and Thomas did not live together again but never divorced.
Thomas, a Catholic Unionist, served as MP for Waterford for twelve years and can be credited with much of the education legislation relating to Ireland including the setting up of the national school system in 1831. From 1849 he was Britain's first Ambassador to the new kingdom of Greece where he died in 1862 and received a royal funeral. He had been knighted in 1856 by Queen Victoria for helping to keep Greece neutral during the Crimean War. On his death Laetitia returned to Waterford where she successfully contested his will and erected a marble plaque (also on display in the Bishop's Palace) emblazoned with the Napoleonic coat-of-arms and the words Laetitia Bonaparte Wyse, in a triumphal last act of defiance, on the Wyse residence which had been remodelled by Augustus Welby Pugin.
Waterford Treasures published a book by Olga Bonaparte-Wyse The Issue of Bonaparte Wyse, Waterford's Imperial Relations which is available from the Museum shop.
Included among the memorabilia and also displayed are two locks of hair of the Emperor and of his mother.