18 April 2020

The Cartier Indian Tiara

Photo generously shared by reader Javier

The Duchess of Gloucester, wife of a cousin of the British monarch, has a jewelry collection that outshines those of some entire royal families. Many of her pieces came from Queen Mary via the current duke's mother, Princess Alice. But today's tiara, the Cartier Indian, arrived in the Gloucester collection from a different, lesser-known branch of Queen Victoria's family tree.

Portrait of Princess Marie Louise by Josefine Swoboda, ca. 1890 (Wikimedia Commons)

The tiara was originally owned by Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Marie Louise, who was born a princess of Schleswig-Holstein. Marie Louise's parents were Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Helena of the United Kingdom, one of the daughters of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Princess Marie Louise on her wedding day, 1891 (Wikimedia Commons)

Princess Marie Louise had a rather complicated marital situation; she was married to Prince Aribert of Anhalt, but the match was a poor one. The reasons why are debated — many think that Aribert was gay — but whatever the problems were, Marie Louise's father-in-law, the Duke of Anhalt, apparently decided that he should use his ducal prerogative to annul the marriage without adequately notifying his daughter-in-law or the British royal family. Not exactly the tidiest of endings.

Princess Marie Louise, ca. 1910 (Bain Collection/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

While Princess Marie Louise lost her spouse, she did maintain a rather stupendous collection of jewels, even after her marriage ended. She remained a part of the extended British royal family for the rest of her life, wearing her jewels for major family occasions. This continued even after the great culling of German titles among the Windsor clan in 1917. Unlike others who took wholly new titles, the territorial distinction was removed from Marie Louise's title, transforming her from Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein to simply Princess Marie Louise. (She also wrote a highly entertaining memoir!)

The Duchess of Gloucester wears the tiara at the State Opening of Parliament, November 1998 (Fiona Hanson/PA Images/Alamy)

Perhaps the most impressive tiara in the princess's collection was this pearl, diamond, and sapphire sparkler, which was made for her by Henri Lavabre at Cartier. It was constructed in the early years of the twentieth century, perhaps in the years following the annulment of her marriage; Lavabre's tenure at Cartier dates the piece from between 1906-1921. The tiara is called the "Indian" tiara not because of any specific connection to that nation but because it mimics traditional Indian design motifs.

The tiara was displayed in an exhibition in Canberra, 2018 (Photo generously shared by reader Javier)

Princess Marie Louise wore the tiara at major royal events, including the 1953 coronation. After her death in 1956, the tiara was inherited by her godson, Prince Richard of Gloucester, who eventually (and unexpectedly) inherited his father's ducal title. Today, it is worn by Richard's wife, Birgitte, who occasionally brings out the piece at state banquets or at the Guildhall banquets which traditionally make up a part of a state visit to the United Kingdom. It was also "worn" by the Gloucesters' younger daughter, Lady Rose, in a 1981 Norman Parkinson portrait. In recent years, the tiara has also been exhibited, notably as part of the landmark Cartier exhibition held in Canberra in 2018.

Note: This is an expanded and updated version of an earlier post.