04 February 2014

The Fife Tiara

Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife [1]
It's a new month, and that means it's time for us to take a peek into the jewel box of another royal lady. This month, we'll be marveling at jewels from the collection of Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife. We're kicking off the series with her most famous piece, the Fife tiara. Enjoy!

One of the most stunning tiaras in the collections of the extended British royal family, the Fife tiara was given to Princess Louise, the daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, as a wedding gift in 1889. Louise's new husband had inherited the Fife earldom when his father died; but that title wasn't quite lofty enough for a granddaughter of the monarch, so Queen Victoria made him the Duke of Fife just before the wedding.

Princess Louise [5]
The tiara was a gift from the newly-elevated duke to his bride [2]. It seems extremely likely that the tiara was constructed based on a design by Oscar Massin, who had exhibited a very similar piece at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. Massin didn't generally produce his tiara designs himself; instead, he partnered with other jewelry firms who executed the pieces he'd created. However, the maker of this tiara has never been positively identified. A special issue of The Graphic, published in August 1889 to celebrate the Fife wedding, describes the tiara as follows: "in a very uncommon and beautiful design, composed of hundreds of stones, ranging in weight from one carat to ten, the larger being what are technically known as briolettes -- that is cut on both sides and turning on pivots so that they will flash with every movement of the head" [3]. Another contemporary news report describes the tiara given by the duke as "a mass of diamonds, and one of the most valuable pieces of work in England" [4].

The Duke of Fife's title, like most in the United Kingdom, was originally designed to pass only to sons. However, Louise's only son was stillborn. Queen Victoria intervened once more, reissuing the Fife dukedom and making it possible for Louise's daughters to inherit their father's title. In due course, Louise's elder daughter, Lady Alexandra, inherited both the Fife dukedom and the Fife tiara. She wore the Fife tiara at the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Alexandra married Prince Arthur of Connaught, who was also a direct descendant of Queen Victoria; she was generally associated with her Connaught title rather than the Fife dukedom. Their only son, Alastair, died in rather unusual circumstances -- he was serving in World War II, but he died after, er, getting drunk and falling out of a window. Alexandra's title -- and the Fife tiara -- both subsequently were inherited by her nephew, James.

Since then, the tiara has mostly been seen at family weddings. Both the daughter and daughter-in-law of the current duke have worn it; the most recent Fife wedding was in 2001. It also appeared in the major exhibition of tiaras at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The tiara hasn't been photographed in recent years, and many have feared that it was perhaps privately sold. It's possible we won't know the fate of the Fife until another major occasion -- either a family wedding or perhaps a coronation -- provides the family with a reason to take it out of the vaults [6].

1. Cropped image from a picture postcard of Princess Louise; image in the public domain; original here.
2. Geoffrey Munn argues that the tiara was a gift from Louise's parents (see Munn, pg. 123), but contemporary newspaper reports clarify that this tiara was a gift from Lord Fife. Bertie and Alexandra (then Prince and Princess of Wales) gave Louise a diamond fringe tiara/necklace.
3. The Graphic article is excerpted by Ursula at her site; see here.
4. See the report from Press here.
5. Cropped image from a picture postcard of the Fifes, available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
6. A version of this post originally appeared at A Tiara a Day in March 2013.