When King George VI unexpectedly ascended to the throne in the wake of his brother’s abdication in 1936, the Duchess of York had to adjust to her new life as Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. With her new title came new formal portraits—and grand new jewels fit for a queen.
In these portraits, likely taken in the last days of 1936, Queen Elizabeth wears a classic diamond fringe tiara that was given to her by her mother-in-law, Queen Mary. Two decades earlier, Mary had had the tiara made using diamonds taken from her dismantled wedding tiara, which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. The new sleek, streamlined diamond fringe tiara took the place of Queen Adelaide’s Diamond Fringe Tiara, which was difficult to wear and was subsequently rearranged as a necklace. The tiara would become especially important to the family in later years, when it was worn as a bridal tiara by Queen Elizabeth II, the Princess Royal, and Princess Beatrice.
For this portrait session, Elizabeth also piled on the pearls. In various images from the session, she’s wearing either three or six magnificent strands. She’s also wearing a petite pair of diamond and pearl earrings, which just peek out from beneath her hair.
This image from the session shows off the details of Elizabeth’s glamorous ’30s gown in lovely detail. It also shows that she’s wearing bracelets on both wrists. On her right wrist she wears one delicate piece, and on her left, she has again stacked all five of her Cartier Art Deco Bracelets. Given to her by her husband in the 1920s, the bracelets are set with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, and they can be mounted on a frame to be worn as a bandeau-style tiara.
The orders and decorations worn by Elizabeth in this image are an interesting snapshot in time, and they help date the photograph. From top to bottom on her left side, she wears the ribbon and badge of King George V’s Royal Family Order, the ribbon and badge of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, and the star of the Order of the Garter. Note that she’s not yet wearing King George VI’s Royal Family Order—likely because it hadn’t been made yet. The new monarch was reportedly still in discussions with Garrard about the badge and ribbon’s design at the end of 1936, and I don’t believe they were distributed until the time of the coronation in 1937.
Elizabeth received both King George V’s Royal Family Order and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India in the 1920s. On December 14, 1936, her husband offered her a special new honor to celebrate his birthday: he made her a member of the Order of the Garter. At the time, she was only the second living female member of the order. (Queen Mary was the other.) So we know for sure that these portraits were taken after December 14, 1936, and likely before May 1937.
The portraits were used by members of the press around the globe around the time of the coronation. They appeared on newspapers, on postcards, and even on stamps, like this one issued in 1937 by Australia Post.
This image, a reference photograph from the archive of the State Library of New South Wales, shows portraits of the new King George and Queen Elizabeth used to promote and celebrate the 1937 coronation. The one of Queen Elizabeth on the right comes from the session we’ve been discussing in today’s article. And if you’ve been following the series all week long, you’ll probably recognize the portrait of Bertie as well. It comes from the pre-1927 photo session we talked about on Monday, which featured Elizabeth wearing the Strathmore Rose Tiara. (We know it’s from before 1927 because, as we discussed yesterday, he’s not wearing the Royal Victorian Chain in the photograph.)