09 August 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Mountbatten Star Tiara

Lady Romsey in Stockholm, 1996

There are British royal tiaras, and then there are, well, British royal tiaras. We've looked at lots of sparklers from the Windsor royal vaults, but today, we're going to marvel at a tiara from another British family with royal roots: the Mountbattens. Descended from Queen Victoria's daughter Alice -- and brought to prominence in Britain again when Alice's great-grandson, Prince Philip, married the future Elizabeth II in 1947 -- the Mountbatten clan has owned several tiaras over the past century, including today's diamond star tiara.

Princess Alice of Battenberg, 1903 (source)

Princess Alice left Britain when she married Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and by Rhine; she died before their daughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse, married Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. As a wedding present, Queen Victoria gave her granddaughter a pair of hairpins that featured diamond stars set with a central pearl. (See Ursula's website for more). Apparently, the younger Victoria had these diamond stars incorporated into a star tiara. Sources suggest that this was the same tiara that Princess Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice of Battenberg, wore to marry Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903 (pictured above -- the stars are visible above the flowers in Alice's hair).

The Hesse sisters: Alix, Victoria, Ella, and Irene, ca. 1906 (source)

But sadly, that star tiara no longer exists. Princess Victoria (who became the Marchioness of Milford Haven when the Battenbergs renounced their German titles in 1917) was visiting one of her sisters, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, when World War I began. She left the star tiara, along with the rest of the jewels, in Russia. She wasn’t alone in her belief that Russia would be a safe place to leave the gems — her cousin, Queen Marie of Romania, also sent her jewels to Russia for safe-keeping during the war. But both collections were lost after the Bolsheviks took over, and neither the Romanian nor Battenberg jewels have ever been seen again.

And that brings us to the point where today’s tiara enters the story. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (Princess Victoria's aunt/godmother) decided that her niece needed a replacement sparkler after her other jewels had been lost. She gave this star tiara to Victoria, complete with diamond and pearl stars that looked just like the original jewels given to her by Queen Victoria in 1884. The new tiara was the most important jewel that Princess Victoria had left after the war. When her younger son, Lord Louis Mountbatten, married Edwina Ashley in 1922, Victoria gave him the new star tiara to present to his bride as a wedding gift.

Group photo from the wedding of Patricia Mountbatten (later Countess Mounbatten of Burma), 1946

Alterations were made to the piece in the 1930s, but the second version of the star tiara has stayed with the family in the decades since. Edwina was photographed in the tiara by Cecil Beaton for Vogue in 1937. And several Mountbatten ladies have worn the sparkler as a wedding tiara, including Patricia Mountbatten (pictured above, whose wedding in 1946 is best remembered as the moment when the public figured out that Philip Mountbatten and Princess Elizabeth were an item) and her daughter-in-law, Penelope (pictured below).

Lord and Lady Romsey's wedding, 1979

Today, Penny and her daughter Alexandra are the two Mountbatten women who wear the tiara. Penny donned it in 1996 for the fiftieth birthday celebrations of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Why would British aristocrats be invited to a Swedish king's birthday celebrations? Because Princess Victoria’s other daughter, Lady Louise Mountbatten, was queen of Sweden in the middle of the twentieth century, that's why!

Lord and Lady Romsey (now Lord and Lady Brabourne), 1996

Penny's daughter, Alexandra Knatchbull, reportedly wore the star tiara during the wedding celebrations for Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg in 2012. So, even though they auctioned off Edwina’s fabulous diamond tiara a decade ago, the family has managed to keep this tiara in their collection. But there’s been drama in recent years -- including Penny’s husband, Lord Brabourne, leaving her and the family estate for another woman. Here’s hoping that the current generations of the Mountbattens will be able to hang on to this version of their star tiara for a while longer!