17 February 2014

Princess Louise's Diamond Cross

Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife [1]
So far this month, we've looked at two of the grandest wedding gifts received by Princess Louise, the eldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, on her marriage to the Duke of Fife: the diamond tiara given to her by the groom, and the diamond fringe given to her by her parents. Today, let's have a look at a smaller token that was among her wedding presents: her diamond cross pendant.

Ursula's run-down of Louise's wedding gifts, which is based on contemporary news reports, describes the piece as "a splendid cross, composed of large rose-cut brilliants, which measures in an inch and a half in length" [2]. The cross was not a present from one of her relatives or a specific member of the British aristocracy; instead, it was a gift from "the gentlemen of Norfolk" [3].

The generosity of the people of Norfolk toward Louise is surely connected with the royal family's estate in Norfolk, Sandringham House. The estate was the home of Edward VII and Alexandra, who were still the Prince and Princess of Wales when Louise married in 1889. Queen Victoria had purchased the estate for the Waleses at the time of their marriage in the early 1860s, and Louise and her siblings spent much of their childhood there. It's still an important retreat for the Windsors, and it's one of the only properties that belongs to the family in their own right rather than to the Crown.

Maud, Louise, and Alexandra ca. 1911, the year of the wreck of the Delhi [4]
Like many of the smaller pieces of jewelry owned by Princess Louise, this diamond cross seems to have disappeared into the proverbial royal mists. But based on the approximate date of a portrait (excerpted at the top of this post) in which she wears it, we know that it didn't meet the sad fate that some of her jewels did. In 1911, Louise was sailing to Egypt with her husband and their two daughters, Alexandra and Maud, when their ship, the Dehli, wrecked off the coast of Morocco. Although all of the family were rescued, there were two sad consequences for the Fifes. For one, a case of Louise's jewels was washed away and was never recovered; it's never been made clear which pieces were lost, but if an item was not photographed on the princess after December 1911 (as the diamond cross was), it's possible that it was among the lost cache [4].

Even sadder, though, were the effects of the wreck on the health of Louise's husband. The Duke of Fife developed pleurisy shortly afterward and died in Egypt. Princess Alexandra, who inherited much of her mother's jewelry, became Duchess of Fife in her own right following her father's death. Who knows -- perhaps the Norfolk cross was among the pieces she received from Louise? We may never know. Small jewels like this, especially those that don't hold a great deal of sentimental value, are extremely easy to auction off quietly. The cross may be hiding away in the Fife family's collection, or it may have parted ways with them long ago.

1. Cropped version of photographic portrait available here.
2. See Ursula's website for much more information on Louise's gifts.
3. See the article syndicated in the West Coast Times.
4. Cropped version of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
5. See this article from the Auckland Star.