Our series on the jewels worn by British queens regnant and consort for their coronations continues today with the rather incredible 1902 coronation ensemble of Queen Alexandra. You like jewels? We’ve definitely got jewels for you today!
King Edward VII ascended to the throne in January 1901 on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. He and his wife, Queen Alexandra, were scheduled to be crowned on June 26, 1902, but when the King had to unexpectedly undergo abdominal surgery a few days before the event, it was postponed to August.
On August 9, 1902, Edward and Alexandra left Buckingham Palace en route to Westminster Abbey to be crowned. The photograph above was taken at the west portico entrance of the palace as the couple prepares to ride in the state coach in the procession to the church. Both wear their coronation robes, and Edward also wears a velvet cap and the collar of the Order of the Garter.
There hadn’t been a coronation in Britain for more than 60 years, but there had been two major celebrations in recent memory: Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Those festivities helped guide the planning for the coronation, which was largely considered to be a success and would become a pattern for the three subsequent 20th century coronations. One challenge, though, was the age and health of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple. The 80-year-old archbishop accepted some accommodations, including large-print scrolls with the order of service as a concession to his eyesight. But he insisted on handling the majority of the service himself, and when he crowned the King, he put the crown backwards on Edward’s head.
And speaking of that crown, there were changes made to that aspect of the service after the postponement as well. Edward had intended to be crowned with St. Edward’s Crown, the golden crown made for Charles II in 1661. It hadn’t been used to crown a monarch since 1689, but Edward wanted to revive the tradition. Unfortunately, his continuing health issues meant that using St. Edward’s Crown was impractical, because it is extremely heavy, weighing almost five pounds. Instead, the Imperial State Crown made for his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1838 was altered for his use. It was this lighter crown that the archbishop placed backwards on the monarch’s head at the moment of crowning.
Several paintings captured scenes from the coronation, including this memorable moment. This painting, by the artist John Henry Frederick Bacon, depicts Temple giving homage to the King after crowning him. The elderly archbishop stumbled when he attempted to rise from his knees, and he had to be assisted by other clergy before the service could continue.
Like her husband, Queen Alexandra was crowned and anointed during the service. This famous painting, by the Danish artist Laurits Tuxen, shows the queen consort being anointed by the Archbishop of York. Four peeresses (the Duchesses of Portland, Marlborough, Montrose and Sutherland) hold the canopy over her head.
After the coronation, Edward and Alexandra were photographed in their robes and crowns.
A new crown was made for Queen Alexandra for the coronation. The new crown, which had curved, feminine arches, prominently featured a diamond that had been acquired during the reign of Queen Victoria: the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. As I’ve written here often, the transaction through which Queen Victoria acquired the Koh-i-Noor is incredibly controversial. In the late 1840s, the British East India Company waged war on the Sikh Empire in India. Following the conflict, the Company annexed the Punjab region and compelled the ten-year-old maharaja, Duleep Singh, to sign over his kingdom. Duleep Singh was placed in the care of a Scottish guardian and isolated from almost all contact with his fellow countrymen.
Two famous gemstones that had been in the young ruler’s possession, the Timur Ruby and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, were also ceded to the British. This handover remains incredibly controversial to this day, with some depicting it as a gift exchange, others interpreting it as a part of a military treaty negotiation, and even others arguing that it was outright theft. The British East India Company then took both the Koh-i-Noor Diamond and the Timur Ruby and handed them over to Queen Victoria. It was worn by Victoria, as well as by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). It remains in the late Queen Mother’s coronation crown today, and it’s unlikely to be worn in public again, as it is a significant diplomatic flashpoint.
The new crown was far from the only jewel worn by Alexandra on her coronation day. Her entire coronation gown—made of golden net fabric, with design input from Lady Curzon and the House of Worth—was adorned with some of the most important pieces in her jewelry box. The golden gown was also embroidered with roses, thistles, and shamrocks, floral symbols of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Alexandra wore so many jewels on her coronation day that it’s really difficult to isolate and identify every single piece. Her earrings are her diamond and pearl wedding earrings, which were commissioned by her husband in 1863. She didn’t wear her wedding necklace for the coronation, but the individual pearl and diamond clusters from that jewel were dismantled and placed individually on the raised panels at her shoulders.
Alexandra liked to wear tall choker necklaces, in part to hide a scar on her neck, and on her coronation day she stacked necklaces just about as high as they would go. The stack includes the Coronation Necklace, worn without its pendant. That pendant, the Lahore Diamond, is used as a pendant on the largest of her diamond necklaces. The necklace also features the drops from the Coronation Earrings, as well as the pair of diamond earrings now worn by the Queen of Norway.
Ropes and ropes of pearls were draped over Alexandra’s bodice, almost camouflaging several major jewels beneath. These included the Cockade Brooch, with its distinctive central sunburst section, and the Dagmar Necklace, worn as an ornament on her bodice. Prince Albert’s Brooch also peeks out of this jumble of jewels on her bodice. It can be spotted along her neckline on her right side.
The Albert Brooch was just one of the Heirlooms of the Crown worn by Alexandra for the 1902 coronation. Queen Victoria had applied this designation to a special cache of her jewels, intending them to be used going forward by British queens, both regnant and consort. Other Heirlooms of the Crown from Queen Victoria worn by Alexandra at the coronation were the Coronation Necklace and the drops from that necklace and the Coronation Earrings; the Cockade Brooch; the Diamond Foliage Bracelet and the Four-Row Diamond Bracelet; the Diamond Bow Brooches, worn cascading down the front of the gown’s skirt; and the Diamond and Emerald Fringe Earrings, which were used as pendants on two of the bow brooches. The brooches, along with several other jeweled ornaments, were attached to a pair of diamond necklaces, forming a long chain of jewels down the front of the skirt in a medieval style.
Here’s a close-up of the bodice of Alexandra’s coronation gown, complete with the mass of jewels attached to the dress. You’ll also note that Alexandra is wearing a diamond fringe ornament at her waist, almost like a belt. This is Queen Adelaide’s Fringe, which could also be worn as a necklace or placed on a frame to be worn as a tiara. It originally belonged to Queen Adelaide, and it remains in the Royal Collection today, though it hasn’t been worn in some time. Queen Mary had her own modern diamond fringe tiara made to replace it about ten years after this coronation took place. Atop the diamond fringe is another diamond bow brooch. This one features a round central gemstone (likely an emerald or sapphire) and gemstone drops on négligée-style pendants.
Shortly after the coronation, the artist Luke Fildes was commissioned to paint a state portrait of Alexandra. In the painting, which was finished in 1905, he depicted the Queen wearing her coronation gown, jewels, and robes, with her crown sitting on a cushion beside her. (In the image, she’s wearing the Diamond Diadem.) The portrait captures the gleaming gold color of the coronation gown, which was a unique creation inspired by gowns worn by the American-born Lady Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India. She had a heavy hand in the design of the gown, a fascinating story which you can read more about here.