22 February 2015

Sundays with the Queen: The Dorset Bow Brooch

It's difficult to think of a modern royal who has a collection of brooches as vast as the one that belongs to Queen Elizabeth II. While some see these small baubles as old-fashioned relics of the past, Elizabeth continues to wear brooches as a part of her daily uniform. She uses them to remember special occasions, to recognize history, and to acknowledge contributions. The brooches might not be very big, but they pack a major symbolic punch. Today's brooch, the Dorset Bow Brooch, is one that has been in HM's jewelry box for nearly seven decades.

In 1893, Princess Mary of Teck wed the Duke of York. (We know them better today as King George V and Queen Mary; the Queen knew them as her paternal grandparents.) The County of Dorset offered a wedding present to the new duchess: a brooch made of diamonds set in gold and silver, designed in the shape of an elaborate bow. The piece was made by Carrington in the same year that it was given. You can see Mary wearing the brooch in the photo above, taken in 1897 at the Devonshire House Ball; the brooch is pinned at her waist.

Hugh Roberts notes in The Queen's Diamonds that the bow brooch is very similar in design to one that once belonged to Empress Eugenie of France, a piece that was sold with the French crown jewels in 1887. Perhaps Carrington and Co. took inspiration from one of the auction documents that circulated around the time of the sale?

Although Queen Mary loved to tinker with her jewels, the Dorset brooch exists today just as it did when she received it in 1893. In 1947, the brooch was one of the jewels that Mary gave to her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a wedding present. You can see it in the photograph of the wedding presents on display at St. James's Palace; it rests to the right of the picture, alongside other familiar pieces like the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara and the ruby and diamond necklace from the Greville bequest. A year later, Elizabeth wore the brooch at the christening of her eldest son, Prince Charles.

Since receiving it from her grandmother, the Queen has worn the brooch regularly. It's one of the larger bow brooches in the Queen's collection, but it's still used for everyday wear as well as for white-tie events. The Queen also frequently wears it for one occasion in particular: Remembrance Sunday. She uses the brooch to gather the stems of the poppy flowers that she wears to honor Britain's fallen soldiers.