20 May 2018

The Dorset Bow Brooch

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Dorset Bow Brooch at the Royal Film Performance, 27 October 1952 (Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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.

The Duchess of York (later Queen Mary) attends the Devonshire House Ball, 2 July 1897

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.

The Dorset Bow Brooch is displayed at Buckingham Palace, 23 July 2015 (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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, the brooch's maker, took inspiration from one of the auction documents that circulated around the time of the sale?

Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) wears the Dorset Bow Brooch for the wedding of Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott and Ian Bedworth Gilmour at Westminster Abbey, 10 July 1951 (Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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. A year later, Elizabeth wore the brooch at the christening of her eldest son, Prince Charles.

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Dorset Bow Brooch at Princess Anne's wedding, 14 November 1973 (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Elizabeth also wore the brooch at another important family occasion decades later: the wedding of her daughter, Princess Anne, in November 1973.

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Dorset Bow Brooch at the South Korean state banquet, 1 December 2004 (FIONA HANSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Queen Elizabeth II wears the Dorset Bow Brooch at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2006 (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post, with new text and images.