17 January 2015

Saturday Sparkler: The Brunswick Tiara

We've talked quite a bit this week about the jewels of the Hanoverian royal family, and today, I've got another of their tiaras to show off. But there's a bit of a catch: as is true with so many early nineteenth-century tiaras, the story of the Brunswick Tiara begins not in Germany but in France, at the imperial court of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Many tiaras have been tied, both correctly and incorrectly, to Napoléon’s first empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais. This diamond tiara is apparently a genuine piece from Joséphine’s collection; a portrait exists that features her wearing the piece. (You can see a small image of the portrait at Ursula's website.) The tiara uses many of the motifs favored by the French court during the empire era, including the laurels that drape across the top of the tiara and the delicate geometric scrolls across the central part of the piece.

Precisely how Joséphine’s tiara made it from France to Germany is unclear, although members of her family did marry into various German royal families. By 1913, the tiara was in the possession of Moritz Elimeyer, the Saxon court jeweler. The tiara was not in pristine condition; predictably, some of the larger diamonds were missing from the piece. But the diadem was exactly what Adolf Hartwieg, a Brunswick state official, was looking for. He had been tasked with finding a suitable wedding present that could be given to Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II, to celebrate her marriage to Prince Ernst August III of Hanover, the future Duke of Brunswick (pictured, with Victoria Louise, above).

The tiara was refurbished by the Brunswick court jeweler, Hermann Jürgens, and given to the princess on the day before her wedding. Victoria Louise was apparently delighted with the gift, and indeed, she wore the tiara both as a young woman and in her old age, long after the monarchy had been abolished in Germany. On her death in 1980, the tiara stayed in the family, and today is owned by her grandson, Prince Ernst August V. (Another of Victoria Louise’s tiaras, the Prussian tiara, passed through her daughter’s descendants and now is in the collection of the Spanish royal family.)

Unseen for many years, it was feared that the Brunswick tiara had been sold by Ernst August. But in 2004, his second wife, Princess Caroline of Monaco, unexpectedly turned up at the Danish crown princely wedding wearing the tiara. So far, this is the only time that Caroline has been seen in the tiara, and it seems highly unlikely that we’ll find her wearing it again, as she and her husband have lived apart for some time.

But perhaps this tiara would be an especially appropriate bridal diadem for the eventual wife of Ernst August V’s son, also named Ernst August. In recent years, the younger Ernst August has displayed much more interest in his family’s Hanoverian heritage than his father. (Above, he displays the Hanoverian crown during an exhibition last year.) This heirloom, linked to two imperial lineages, would be a perfect tiara for his future wife to wear.