It’s been a while since I’ve answered a reader email question here, but I’ve gotten several questions recently about articles floating around the internet related to a favorite ’80s jewel, the Spencer Tiara. What’s going to happen to the tiara? Who will wear it next? I’m countering the clickbait and clearing up the rumors here today. Read on for more…
I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past several months about the inheritance of the Spencer Tiara. It turns out that the online arms of several established publications, including Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, have disappointingly picked up clickbait articles about the tiara from less reputable magazines and websites.
Recently, one lovely reader sent me this message: “I keep reading stories that the Spencer Tiara will eventually go to Princess Charlotte. I personally can’t see that happening because the Spencer Tiara is a Spencer family heirloom most likely passed down through the main male hereditary line. I think the Earl might loan it to Diana’s granddaughter, but I feel it’s highly unlikely that the tiara would leave the main hereditary line, unless the family was under severe financial distress.”
So let’s chat about the Spencer Tiara and its history and chain of inheritance, shall we?
The Spencer Tiara is made of diamond elements that date to the nineteenth century, but those elements weren’t combined to make the tiara until 1937. That year was, of course, the year of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (the present Queen’s parents). The tiara was made for Cynthia Spencer, wife of the 7th Earl Spencer. Cynthia was Queen Elizabeth’s Lady of the Bedchamber, so she needed plenty of jewels to wear to events to which she accompanied the new queen.
Cynthia is wearing the Spencer Tiara in the background of this photograph, which was taken during a party at the Royal Academy in London in November 1956. She used both the Spencer Tiara and the Spencer Honeysuckle Tiara often for royal events. (Interestingly, by this time, the Queen Mother had appointed Ruth, Lady Fermoy as an Extra Woman of the Bedchamber. Two years earlier, Cynthia’s son, John, had married Ruth’s daughter, Frances. Johnny and Frances were Princess Diana’s parents, so both of Diana’s grandmothers were ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother.)
Cynthia passed away in 1972, and her husband, the 7th Earl, died three years later. The family titles, estates, and possessions—including the family tiaras—passed to their son, John, who became the 8th Earl Spencer. He’s pictured above in the 1980s with his second wife, Raine McCorquodale, who he married in 1976. Johnny had followed in his mother’s footsteps by serving the royal family. He was an equerry to King George VI from 1950 until the king’s death in 1952, and he subsequently served as equerry to the Queen from 1952 until 1954. He was one of the group of courtiers that accompanied the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on their Coronation Tour in 1953-54.
After Johnny Spencer inherited the tiara in the mid-1970s, it was worn by all three of his daughters for their weddings. In April 1978, Lady Jane Spencer (pictured above) wore the tiara for her wedding to Robert Fellowes (who was then an assistant private secretary to the Queen). Two years later, in May 1980, Lady Sarah Spencer wore the tiara for her wedding to Neil McCorquodale.
And then, in the summer of 1981, the Spencer Tiara hit the big time. Johnny and Frances’s third daughter, Lady Diana Spencer, wore the tiara for her wedding to the Prince of Wales at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At the time, the wedding was expected to begin the marriage of a future king and queen. Of course, we all know what happened next. But the wedding garnered so much global attention, and the tiara became so iconic because of it, that it really has loomed large in cultural memory ever since.
The tiara wasn’t given to Diana, but was merely loaned to her by her father. When she asked to continue using the jewel, Earl Spencer was apparently glad to let her continue to borrow the piece. After all, the Spencers, so long part of the royal world but not royal themselves, had become royalty. The use of his mother’s tiara regularly on the royal stage could only have made Johnny proud. Above, Diana wears the tiara with her Saudi sapphires in 1983 during the royal tour of Australia.
She continued to borrow the tiara regularly, even though she had the use of a second tiara from the royal vaults. Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara was a valued heirloom, but it was reportedly much less comfortable to wear, and Diana said that it gave her headaches. The Spencer Tiara, by comparison, must have been lighter and easier to manage. Here, she wears it with another sapphire set, a gift from the Sultan of Oman, during a visit to Germany in 1987.
In 1989, the tiara was called back to Althorp, where it was needed for another Spencer family wedding. Earl Spencer loaned the tiara to Victoria Lockwood, who wore the tiara for her wedding to Viscount Althorp, Diana’s younger brother, in 1989.
Diana, though, still continued to borrow the tiara regularly from her father. Here, she wears it with emeralds, including the earrings given to her by Prince Charles and Queen Alexandra’s Prince of Wales Feathers pendant with its emerald drop, for a gala in Toronto during a royal tour of Canada in 1991.
In March 1992, Johnny Spencer died after suffering a heart attack. This time, the family titles, estates, and possessions—including the tiaras—passed to his only son, Charles, who became the 9th Earl Spencer. Charles still holds the title today. Diana continued to borrow the tiara from her brother, wearing it for gala events in 1992 and 1993.
After Diana’s death in 1997, Earl Spencer put the tiara on public display. It was shown as part of Diana: A Celebration, the exhibit devoted to Diana’s life which ran for years and traveled around the world. The Spencer Honeysuckle Tiara, which Diana never wore in public, was also displayed in the exhibition. (The “photograph” floating around online showing Diana “wearing” the honeysuckle tiara is photoshopped.)
Earl Spencer has been married three times. With his first wife, Victoria, he had four children: Lady Kitty (Spencer) Lewis, Lady Eliza Spencer, Lady Katya Spencer, and Louis Spencer (who is Viscount Althorp and heir to the earldom). They divorced in December 1997. Four years later, he married Caroline Hutton Freud, with whom he had two more children, the Hon. Edmund Spencer and Lady Lara Spencer. That marriage also ended in divorce.
Since 2011, Charles has been married to Karen Villeneuve Gordon (pictured with him above at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018). They also have a daughter, Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer. Neither Caroline nor Karen wore the Spencer Tiara for their marriage ceremonies, and the earl’s eldest daughter, Lady Kitty, also chose not to wear the tiara for her recent wedding. In 2018, though, a Spencer family bride did wear the tiara. Charles loaned the tiara to his niece, Celia McCorquodale, for her wedding day that spring.
The tiara, like all the rest of the Spencer holdings, still belongs to the earl today. The strange rumors about who will inherit the tiara after Charles Spencer have apparently been drummed up by an Australian women’s weekly, New Idea. The tabloid magazine cites an anonymous “insider” (of course) who claims, “William is close with his uncle and has asked if his mother’s namesake tiara can be given to Charlotte someday,” adding, “William is quite aware the earl has daughters of his own, but the two have agreed that Diana’s iconic piece belongs to her first granddaughter.”
The magazine even purports to know little Charlotte’s feelings about the tiara, claiming that the princess is “giddy with excitement” about having the jewel all to herself one day. As eye-rolling as the magazine’s claims are, it gets even worse: the websites that have picked up the New Idea article have tried to spin the piece as a competition between young Charlotte and her baby cousin, Lilibet. Several trumpet the statement that Charlotte will inherit the tiara, not Lilibet. I don’t know what’s worse: publications that put out wild and incorrect claims about jewels to garner clicks, or publications that try to drum up the idea of a feud between two literal children to maximize ad revenue. It’s really pretty disgusting, if you ask me.
So, who’s going to inherit the Spencer Tiara? Will it be Charlotte? Will it be Lilibet? The answer is…
…the tiara going to be inherited by this guy, right here! The man in the middle of the photograph is Viscount Althorp, the elder son of the 9th Earl Spencer. He’s pictured here at the Sussex wedding in 2018 with his mother, Victoria, and two of his sisters, Lady Eliza and Lady Kitty. Despite what any tabloid magazine or clickbait website claims, the Spencer titles, estates, and possessions—including the family tiaras—will pass to Louis one day, hopefully far in the future, when his father passes away.
Neither of Diana’s granddaughters will inherit the Spencer Tiara, despite the wishful thinking of some of those who remain so singularly devoted to Diana’s memory. The tiara, like Althorp House and the rest of the Spencer estate, is part of Diana’s ancestral family holdings, a legacy entrusted to and managed by the present earl. The lovely reader who sent the question to me is absolutely correct: it’s a Spencer tiara, and it will stay with the Spencer family.
Now, the earl can choose to loan the Spencer Tiara to anyone he wishes, of course. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting to see either William’s daughter or Harry’s daughter wearing that tiara. Princess Charlotte, given the state of things, is the one who is more likely to wear a tiara as a working member of the royal family eventually. I think it’s much more plausible to imagine Charlotte wearing one of the tiaras that her mother has worn. (That would be, of course, the Cartier Halo Tiara, the Lotus Flower Tiara, and Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara.) And, after all, the Lover’s Knot Tiara, so favored by Kate in recent years, is a Diana tiara as well. Perhaps one day we’ll see Charlotte pay tribute to her grandmother and mother by wearing that piece instead.