We’ve been chatting often lately about the brooches that belonged to the late Queen Mother, and today, we’ve got one that’s perfect for springtime: the Ark Royal Flower Brooch.
To tell the story of this royal brooch, we have to travel back to a shipyard in Merseyside. On May 3, 1950, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (wife of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II) traveled to Birkenhead to launch a new aircraft carrier built by Cammell Laird. The ship was the fourth Royal Navy vessel to bear the name HMS Ark Royal. The first, famously, was the flagship of the English navy during their defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Originally owned by Sir Walter Raleigh (and called the Ark Raleigh), the ship was later purchased by Queen Elizabeth I and renamed the Ark Royal.
During the twentieth century, the name Ark Royal was revived for a series of Royal Navy ships. The first, built in 1914, was a carrier for seaplanes, and saw service during World War I. The third HMS Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier, finished in 1938 and sunk by a German U-boat in 1941. The ship that the Queen Mother launched in 1950 was the fourth HMS Ark Royal. Its construction began in the 1940s during World War II.
During the war, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made a secret visit to the shipyard where the Ark Royal was being built. During that 1940 visit, Elizabeth made a promise to return to the yard to christen a ship in the future. In 1950, she fulfilled that promise. Fifty thousand people watched as the carrier was successfully launched into the water. The Daily Telegraph reported that, as she launched the ship with the press of a button, she stated, “I name this ship Ark Royal. May God protect her and bless all who sail in her.” The Birmingham Post reported that, at a luncheon held after the launch, the Queen noted, “It was indeed a noble and stirring spectacle…It was plain that every man and woman in the vast gathering felt deeply moved.”
For the launch, Queen Elizabeth wore a blue ensemble accessorized with pearls, her diamond floral earrings, and one of her wedding gifts: her diamond and sapphire corsage brooch. But, according to the Birmingham Post, she swapped out the brooch for a brand-new jewel during the luncheon after the launch. Sir Robert Johnson, president of the shipbuilders, presented her with a diamond floral brooch to celebrate the successful launch of the vessel. The Daily Telegraph reported that the presentation took place “when she lunched with guests at the shipyard.” According to the Liverpool Daily Post, Sir Robert called the brooch “a little gift.” The Post wrote, “When the Queen accepted from Sir Robert a souvenir diamond brooch in the shape of two flowers, she removed the larger brooch she had been wearing and pinned the new one to her dress.”
Here’s a closer look at the floral brooch that Sir Robert presented to Elizabeth during the event. The piece features two flowers with individual stems. The diamond blossom on the left is a representation of a wild rose. The diamond flower on the right appears to be a representation of a sunflower.
The Queen also received a second floral-themed gift during her visit to Birkenhead: an fire screen decorated with floral embroidery, presented by the town’s mayor. The Birkenhead News reported, “The screen frame stand is an antique of the early 19th century. The embroidered crewel work panel, the worsted damask in the back, and the cord trimming were all made by Arthur H. Lee & Sons, at the Tapestry Works, Birkenhead.”
After the death of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) continued her long association with the Ark Royal. The aircraft carrier that she launched in 1950 was decommissioned in 1979, but a fifth HMS Ark Royal was launched two years later. On June 3, 1981, the Queen Mother arrived at the yard of Swan Hunter in Wallsend on the River Tyne to launch the new carrier. For the occasion, she again wore blue with her pearls and diamond floral earrings, plus the diamond floral brooch she’d received during the first launch 31 years earlier.
As the ship’s sponsor, the Queen Mother made frequent visits to the crew of the Ark Royal, and she always wore the diamond flower brooch when she dropped by. Here, you’ll spot the brooch pinned to her dress as she visits the ship in 1984.
She remained associated with the ship until the very end of her long life. In November 2001, just a few months before her death, the 101-year-old Queen Mother was transported by helicopter to the deck of the Ark Royal for its recommissioning in Portsmouth. Of course, the diamond flower brooch accompanied her. In the Daily Telegraph, Caroline Davies wrote that the Queen Mum “told the 2,000 assembled guests: ‘I am so happy that I’m once again on board Ark Royal—I launched her and her predecessor.’ Then, invoking the tradition of those ‘days of yore,’ in a reference to a now discontinued naval tradition when sailors were given a tot of rum on special occasions, she joked: ‘Captain, splice the main brace.'” (God love her.)
When the Queen Mother passed away in March 2002, the Queen inherited all of her jewelry. But several pieces have been allocated over the years for the use of the Duchess of Cornwall, including numerous brooches. The Ark Royal Flower Brooch is among the pieces that Camilla has worn since joining the family in 2005.
In March 2006, during an official visit to Saudi Arabia, Camilla pinned the diamond flower brooch to a pale blue scarf for a meeting with King Abdullah in Riyadh.