This week, lots of news organizations have published stories about the closing of the Diana: A Celebration exhibition, which has appeared in venues all over the world for the past several years. Now that the traveling exhibit is no longer traveling, the objects and items displayed are returning to their rightful owners. That includes two tiaras: the Spencer tiara worn by Diana on her wedding day in 1981, and the tiara that visitors encountered immediately on entering the Diana exhibit: the Spencer Honeysuckle Tiara.
The Honeysuckle is actually the older of the two major Spencer tiaras. It’s been in the family since the nineteenth century. Most seem to think that the first owner of the piece was Charlotte, the wife of John Poyntz Spencer, the 5th earl. If sources that say that Charlotte received it as a wedding gift are correct, that would mean that it has been in the Spencer collection since at least 1858.
The tiara has been remodeled several times over the decades, including shifting of the honeysuckle elements and the meander border that runs along the base of the piece. When Charlotte wore the piece, it was considerably lower, with the honeysuckles placed on the same level as the Greek key design. The original design is clear in John Chancellor’s portrait of Charlotte (pictured above; the original is now in the National Portrait Gallery). Here’s another illustration of an early version of the tiara that also shows the elements on a single level.
The tiara seems to be a bit taller on Cynthia Spencer, the wife of the 7th earl and grandmother of Princess Diana, who wore the Honeysuckle tiara to the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. Today, the tiara is considerably larger, with the honeysuckles placed completely atop the meander base. While Diana got lots of use out of the Spencer tiara, she was never actually photographed in her family’s other diadem. There’s a convincing photoshop job online featuring Diana “wearing” the tiara, but it’s a fake.
Now that the exhibit has come to an end, both the Spencer and the Honeysuckle are returning to their owner. If you only read articles like this one from the Telegraph, you might think that William and Harry will be making room in their safes for these sparklers. But the savvy readers of this blog will know that the owner of the Spencer tiaras is, appropriately, Earl Spencer (pictured above at the exhibition). Diana never owned either of them — not this tiara or the one she borrowed for years while she was Princess of Wales — and so her sons couldn’t have inherited them.
William and Harry will surely receive lots of their late mother’s possessions, but neither of the Spencer tiaras will be among them. Instead, the current Countess Spencer is the person much more likely to eventually be seen wearing the family’s diadems. I’d like to see the Honeysuckle in particular worn again; I saw the Diana exhibition a few years ago, and you would not believe how much it sparkles under the light. Maybe at the next coronation we’ll have a repeat of ’53 and see the Honeysuckle on Karen Spencer’s noble head?