It’s officially the month of May—and since the most famous Royal May of all was undoubtedly Queen Mary, we’re going to be devoting several articles to some of her lesser-known jewels this month. Let’s kick things off with a look at a long-lost sparkler: the Ladies of England Tiara.
On July 6, 1893, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (who was always called “May”) married Prince George, Duke of York, heir to the British throne. (You can read about their very unusual courtship and engagement, as well as May’s wedding jewels here.) The wedding of a future monarch and his consort was celebrated widely, and as you can imagine, incredible wedding gifts were lavished on them both.
The incredible wedding gift hall given to the couple was highlighted in newspapers across the country in July 1893. May, in particular, received an astonishing number of fabulous jewels. Among these was a convertible diamond and pearl tiara from Hunt & Roskell, a gift from a committee of 650 women calling themselves the “Ladies of England.” The St. James’s Gazette opined, “One of the most admired gift was that sent by 650 ladies of England. This was a magnificent tiara, capable of being worn also as a necklace, and so adjustable that a part of it may be used as a brooch and the remaining sections as sprays. It was composed of brilliants, with large pearls as drops, with pearl earrings to match.”
The Folkestone Express and Hythe and Sandgate Advertiser wrote, “The exquisite necklet of diamonds and pearls presented by the ‘Ladies of England,’ together with the earrings to match from ‘Devonshire,’ does both their loyalty and their taste infinite credit. The illustration above was also included in the same paper’s July 8, 1893 edition. The matching pearl and diamond earrings, the Ladies of Devonshire Earrings, had been selected as a gift by a different committee (the Ladies of Devonshire, naturally) specifically to coordinate with the Ladies of England Tiara.
Princess May, now Duchess of York, wore the Ladies of England Tiara occasionally in its tiara form. We have several portraits that show her wearing the jewel in this setting, which appear to be different images taken from the same photo session, which dates to the mid-1890s.
In the portraits, she’s wearing the Ladies of England Tiara with the Ladies of Devonshire Earrings. She’s also wearing an incredible pearl choker necklace, featuring eleven rows of small pearls with elaborate diamond spacers, as well as a longer pearl necklace. The Devonshire Earrings now belong to the Queen; the Eleven-Row Pearl Choker Necklace belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
While May often wore the Ladies of England jewel in its tiara form, she also liked to play around with its versatility. Here, at the Devonshire House Ball during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in July 1897, she wears the jewel, taken off its frame and stretched straight across the neckline of her gown. The event was an enormous costume party. The Duke and Duchess of York were dressed as the 3rd Earl of Cumberland (a courtier of Elizabeth I) and a lady of the court of Marguerite de Valois. (The Princess of Wales, May’s mother-in-law and the most senior royal lady present was naturally in costume as Marguerite.)
You’ll spot a lot of other familiar jewelry on May here. She wore a petite coronet setting of the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. The Richmond Brooch is used as a pendant on her pearl necklace. And several more brooches cascade down the front of her bodice: the Kensington Bow Brooch, one of her diamond stomachers, and the Dorset Bow Brooch.
May also wore the jewel frequently as a necklace in the early years. In this portrait, she wears the Ladies of England Necklace with a diamond rivière and her diamond and pearl lattice choker necklace. (The choker is now worn by the Princess Royal.) She also wears the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara with its original pearl toppers and the Ladies of Devonshire Earrings. Both the Kensington Bow Brooch and the Richmond Brooch are pinned to her bodice.
This painting, showing May wearing the Ladies of England Necklace, was based on another portrait from the same photo session.
George and May became the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1901, and in 1910, they ascended to the throne as King George V and Queen Mary. Three years later, May decided to have the Ladies of England Tiara dismantled. She used the stones to commission two new tiaras. One was her Honeysuckle Tiara (later reduced in size, and now worn by the Duchess of Gloucester). In this portrait, she wears the honeysuckle tiara with additional diamonds, including the Cullinan III & IV Brooch and the Indian Bangles (all of which now belong to the Queen).
The other tiara made with the gems from the Ladies of England Tiara was Queen Mary’s Lover’s Knot Tiara, a copy of another jewel (the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara) that belonged to her extended family. She wears the Lover’s Knot here in a 1927 portrait by Arthur Trevethin Nowell. The tiara now belongs to the Queen, and it’s worn today by the Duchess of Cambridge.