In the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a royal wedding united a Habsburg archduke and a Bourbon-Parma princess. It would be one of the last great imperial gatherings in Austria before the assassination of the family’s heir led to the outbreak of World War I. Today, we’re looking at the tiara worn at the center of it all: the bridal diadem of Zita of Bourbon-Parma.
|Grand Ladies Site|
The guests at this wedding did not know that they were witnessing the marriage of a future imperial couple. The groom, Archduke Karl, was a relatively junior member of the Habsburg family; he was the great-nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, and his uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was heir to the throne. (Franz Ferdinand’s morganatic marriage, however, did place Karl much closer to the throne than he otherwise would have been.) The bride, Princess Zita, was the 17th of 24 children of Robert, Duke of Parma. The two families, with their shared Catholic religion, already had marital links prior to Karl and Zita’s wedding. Zita’s aunt, Maria Theresa, was married to Emperor Franz Joseph’s younger brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig. Concerned about the line of succession, Franz Joseph himself had reportedly approved of Zita as a suitable bride for his great-nephew. The emperor was delighted when Karl and Zita married on this date in October 1911 — and even more delighted when they quickly produced a son, Otto, the following year.
|Grand Ladies Site|
Zita’s wedding tiara was made at the time of her marriage by Köchert, court jeweler to the Habsburgs, underscoring her new position at the Austrian imperial court. The all-diamond diadem features scrolling motifs (some say heart-shaped motifs, but I don’t really see it) topped by round brilliants, with a detachable base that can be worn separately. In both its construction and its composition, the tiara has always reminded me a little of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, though that British-made sparkler pre-dates this one by almost two decades.
The assassination of Karl’s uncle in 1914 kickstarted a world war — and it also made Karl the heir presumptive to the imperial throne. Karl and Zita became Emperor and Empress of Austria and King and Queen of Hungary (among other titles) in 1916, following the death of Emperor Franz Joseph. Two years later, they were booted from both thrones. Karl died in 1922 after contracting pneumonia, leaving Zita a 29-year-old exiled widow with seven children (and one on the way). The combination of widowhood and exile meant that there were few further tiara-wearing opportunities for Zita, and the next woman to don the bridal diadem was her daughter-in-law, Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen.
Regina wore the tiara to marry Karl and Zita’s eldest son, Crown Prince Otto, in 1951. She was apparently also the last person who wore the tiara in public. Royal exile is expensive, and it’s astonishing to me that Zita and her children were able to hang on to the tiara for nearly three decades after losing the imperial throne. We’ve not seen this tiara in more than half a century at this point, and there are persistent rumors that it was sold along the way. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’re true.