At the moment, I know we’re all on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether we’ll get to marvel at major jewelry during Saturday’s coronation or have to be contented with smaller (but probably still important) pieces. Meanwhile, let’s soothe ourselves with a trip in our time machine, back to experience the bejeweled ensembles of princesses at coronations from another era of history.
I’m going to focus today on some of the jewels worn by royal ladies at the four 20th-century coronations: 1902, 1911, 1937, and 1953. We’ll start by peeking into the past on August 9, 1902. We’ve arrived in Westminster Abbey just as the Archbishop of York is about to anoint Queen Alexandra. Four peeresses—the Duchesses of Marlborough, Montrose, Portland, and Sutherland—are holding a golden canopy over the Queen’s head during the sacred moment. And above the scene, in the royal box, Alexandra’s daughters and daughter-in-law look down at the brilliant scene.
The Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen, a favorite of Queen Alexandra and her sister, Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia, was commissioned to paint this scene from coronation day. Thanks to him, we get a glimpse of the women glittering in the royal box. A few faces are immediately familiar, even in painted form. In the front row, you’ll spot (from left to right) Mary of Teck, who was then Princess of Wales; Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife; Lady Alexandra Duff; Prince Edward of Wales (later King Edward VIII, then the Duke of Windsor); Princess Charles of Denmark (later Queen Maud of Norway); Princess Victoria; and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.
Also present in the royal box were more family members, including Princess Helena, Duchess of Albany; Princess Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg; Grand Duchess Augusta of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; and Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught, with her daughters, Princess Margaret and Princess Patricia.
Though we don’t have photographs of Edward and Alexandra’s coronation ceremony, most of the royal guests did pose for photographic portraits that day. Here’s Queen Mary, then Princess of Wales, in her gown, robes, and jewels on Coronation Day in 1902. You’ll note several familiar pieces of jewelry here, including the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara with its original pearl toppers. She’s also wearing the Ladies of Devonshire Earrings, her Eleven-Row Pearl Choker Necklace, and the Ladies of England Tiara (in its necklace setting). On the bodice of her gown, she wears the grand pearl and diamond stomacher that was bequeathed by Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh to Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, Duchess of Teck.
Interestingly, this was the most recent appearance of a Princess of Wales at a coronation. Tomorrow, Catherine will become the first Princess of Wales attending a coronation since 1902. In fact, I think the only other Princess of Wales who ever attended a British coronation might have been Caroline of Ansbach way back in 1714. (Historians, please consult on this one.) Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
But back to the jewels of 1902! I don’t have access to any photographs of Princess Louise in her 1902 coronation attire, but the Tuxen painting makes it clear that she wore her very best jewel, the magnificent Fife Tiara, for the ceremony. The tiara is now on display for all to see as part of the “Victoria Revealed” exhibition at Kensington Palace in London.
This fuzzy photograph shows Queen Maud (then still Princess Charles of Denmark) in her gown, tiara, and robes for her parents’ coronation. Her jewels for the ceremony included her large diamond tiara, a wedding gift from a group of her friends. That tiara went with Maud to Oslo three years later when her husband was elected King of Norway. It was most recently worn by the late Princess Ragnhild, and it’s said to be back in the Norwegian royal vaults today.
Another of Maud’s tiaras also made an appearance at the coronation. She loaned her diamond and pearl tiara to her sister, Princess Victoria, for the occasion. That tiara had been a wedding gift to Maud from their parents, Edward and Alexandra. Toria wore the tiara for the coronation with a profusion of other pearl pieces, including a necklace with a fashionable tassel pendant.
There’s also a great photograph of the Duchess of Connaught on Coronation Day in 1902 with her daughters, Princess Margaret (later Crown Princess of Sweden) and Princess Patricia (later Lady Patricia Ramsay). She’s wearing lots of interesting jewelry, including her diamond fringe tiara and the Turkish Diamond Necklace that belonged to Queen Victoria. Look closely at the Duchess’s coronet/tiara combination in this picture. For some reason, instead of placing her tiara on her head in front of her coronet (the usual practice) it appears that she’s mounted her diamond fringe tiara on the coronet itself!
Now, it’s time to adjust our time machine to June 22, 1911. We’ve arrived in the coronation theatre at Westminster Abbey shortly after the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. King George is still sitting in his Chair of Estate, wearing the Cap of Maintenance, as the ceremony begins.
Above, the royal box is packed with family members looking down on the ceremony below: the King’s children, sister, and aunts, as well as numerous cousins and other relatives. In the front row, from left to right, you’ll see four of the six royal children (Princess Mary, Prince Albert, Prince Henry, and Prince George); Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife (again wearing the Fife Tiara, just a few months before the accident that rearranged her life); Princess Helena, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein; Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; and Princess Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg. Two of the King’s sisters are notably missing this time. Princess Victoria stayed behind with Queen Alexandra at Sandringham, and Queen Maud couldn’t attend, because she was married to a head of state, the King of Norway.
In the second row, you’ll be able to spot, among others, the Duchess of Connaught; Princess Helena, Duchess of Albany; Princess Patricia of Connaught; Princess Alice of Teck; and Princesses Alexandra and Maud of Fife.
The Prince of Wales—on the day before his seventeenth birthday—had an important role in the coronation service, stepping up as the first person to pay homage to his newly-crowned father. Here, he’s pictured in coronation attire with his sister, Princess Mary. The photograph was taken at Buckingham Palace just after the family returned from the coronation ceremony.
The Royal Collection tells us that this photograph of Princess Helena (Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein) was also taken on Coronation Day in 1911. The picture was taken by James Russell & Sons, who had a shop in Windsor near Helena’s home, Cumberland Lodge. Helena isn’t wearing her coronation robes in the photograph, which shows extensive artifacts of retouching. The Telegraph described Helena’s dress as a gown of “white satin embellished with gold embroidery.” Her tiara, according to the Manchester Evening News, was set with “sky-blue turquoises.”
This official portrait photograph showcases the coronation attire Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, and her three sons, Princes Maurice, Leopold, and Alexander of Battenberg. (Her daughter, Ena, could not attend, because she was married to the King of Spain, and heads of state traditionally didn’t attend coronations in those days.) With her dress of white satin and chiffon, decorated with gold embroidery, Beatrice wore a diadem made by placing Queen Victoria’s Sunray Fringe Tiara atop her own diamond meander tiara.
The entire Connaught family also posed for a formal portrait on Coronation Day in 1911, showing the Duke and Duchess with their three children, Arthur, Margaret, and Patricia, and their son-in-law, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. The Duchess wore a kokoshnik-shaped diamond tiara with scroll and shamrock designs for the coronation. (This is a jewel that seems to have no known provenance, and that many people, including myself, are really curious about!) She’s also wearing many of the same jewels she wore for the 1902 coronation, including Queen Victoria’s Turkish Diamond Necklace.
Princess Patricia, standing behind her parents, wears a pearl and diamond tiara that was given to Queen Victoria by the Aga Khan. And, perhaps most interesting of all, Crown Princess Margareta wears a parure of diamond and emerald jewels loaned to her for the occasion by her husband’s grandmother, Queen Sofia of Sweden. That suite of jewels now belongs to the royal family of Norway.
Also in the royal box was Princess Alice, a member of the families of both King George V and Queen Mary. Born Princess Alice of Albany, she was the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Albany, making her a first cousin of King George. In 1904, she married Prince Alexander of Teck, Queen Mary’s brother. For the 1911 coronation, Alice wore several pieces of jewelry from the Teck family collection.
It was a particularly successful outing for the Teck Ears of Wheat Tiara, a piece that was notoriously difficult to wear. Alice also added the Teck Diamond Stomacher, worn on this occasion with several diamond gemstone clusters. Were these some of the Cambridge emeralds, loaned to her by Queen Mary, who had recently reacquired them from Lady Kilmorey? The late Duchess of Teck often wore the stomacher with several of those diamond and emerald clusters.
Time marches on, and so does our journey in the Coronation Time Machine. We’ve arrived now on May 12, 1937, with an excellent view of the royal box during the coronation ceremony of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. We’ve got a particularly clear view of the royal ladies in the front row of the box. One person has been missed by the photographer’s frame: Princess Marie Louise, daughter of Prince Christian and Princess Helena, who wore her Cartier Indian Tiara.
Beside her, from left to right, were the Duchess of Kent, the Duchess of Gloucester, Queen Maud of Norway and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom (both of whom broke tradition and attended the coronation, though they were also crowned queens), Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood.
Here’s a closer look at the Duchess of Kent, the Duchess of Gloucester, and Queen Maud.
For the ceremony, the Duchess of Kent wore the glittering diamond fringe tiara that had been given to her as a wedding present by the City of London. Today, it’s owned by her son and daughter-in-law, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. She also wore a pair of spectacular diamond girandole earrings and a gorgeous diamond bow brooch. The earrings, which date to the eighteenth century, were made in France and given to Marina by her mother, Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, who was born Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia. The nineteenth-century diamond bow brooch also belonged to Princess Nicholas. Both the earrings and the brooch were later sold by the present Duke and Duchess of Kent.
The Duchess of Gloucester wore Queen Mary’s Honeysuckle Tiara with its diamond centerpiece for the coronation ceremony. The tiara, as well as the earrings, necklace, and brooch that Alice wore for the coronation, was given to her as a wedding present by King George and Queen Mary in 1935.
And here’s a delightfully dramatic portrait of Queen Maud of Norway on coronation day. Maud’s wardrobe is the stuff of legend, and much of it is now housed in the National Museum in Oslo. The 1937 coronation dress, made by Worth, is part of that collection. The slinky, silky gown was made of gold lamé and chiffon. Maud accessorized with lots of diamonds, including a particularly appropriate diadem: the regal circlet made for her mother, the late Queen Alexandra, by Carrington around 1910.
Behind Queen Maud, you’ll spot three more familiar British princesses sitting in the royal box. Princess Patricia of Connaught, who was now Lady Patricia Ramsay, is directly behind Maud. Patricia wears her mother’s diamond fringe tiara (the same one worn at the 1902 coronation) with additional diamond ornaments. On Patricia’s left is her sister-in-law, Princess Arthur of Connaught, who we previously met in this article as Princess Alexandra of Fife. (More on her jewels in a minute.) Alexandra is casting a deliberate glance backward at her sister, Maud, who is blowing her nose. Maud, now Lady Maud Carnegie, is wearing an amethyst and diamond tiara that originally belonged to her grandmother, Queen Alexandra. The tiara was later sold by Maud’s descendants.
Back to Alexandra. In 1912, she inherited her late father’s dukedom, becoming Duchess of Fife in her own right. In 1913, she had married her cousin, Prince Arthur of Connaught. For the 1937 coronation, she wore the grand Fife Tiara that had been worn at the previous two coronations by her mother. Alexandra had inherited the tiara from her mother in 1931. The extended family continued to own and wear the tiara until 2017, when the government accepted it in lieu of tax after the death of the 3rd Duke of Fife. Today, it’s on display at Kensington Palace.
Moving along across the front of the royal box, we see Queen Mary consulting with Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) on an aspect of the program. Little Elizabeth is wearing a special silver-gilt coronet made for her by Garrard for the ceremony, as well as a three-row pearl necklace given to her in 1935 by her grandfather, the late King George V. Behind the princess is Lady Elphinstone, sister of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. She wears the Lotus Flower Tiara, loaned to her by Queen Elizabeth for the occasion.
As for Queen Mary, she glittered mightily for her son’s coronation. She wore her own coronation crown without its arches, and with the Cullinan V Brooch set in place of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. She also wore a tall stack of diamond necklaces and additional diamond ornaments, including the Cullinan III & IV Brooch and her Chain-Link Bracelets.
Heading down further along the edge of the royal box, we see little Princess Margaret adjusting her coronet as she sits beside her aunt, the Princess Royal. Behind them, Princess Alice (now Countess of Athlone) wears a smaller setting of the Teck Ears of Wheat Tiara and ropes of pearls. And behind Alice is Edwina Mountbatten, with her head bowed, wearing her diamond and platinum tiara with scroll and trefoil motifs.
Here’s a rather grand portrait of Princess Mary on Coronation Day in 1937. She wore her own diamond scroll tiara with a sapphire cluster centerpiece, plus a sapphire and diamond necklace and corsage ornament given to her by her father, King George V, as a wedding present in 1922. These sapphires are said to be from the collection of Queen Victoria.
Now, let’s set our time machine forward once more, taking us to June 2, 1953. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II has just begun at Westminster Abbey, and the royal ladies are once more taking their seats in the royal box above the coronation theatre. In the front row of the box, you’ll recognize Princess Alexandra; Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent; the Princess Royal; Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; Princess Margaret; and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester with her sons, Prince William and Prince Richard of Gloucester.
In the second row, you’ll spot Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone with her daughter and son-in-law, Sir Henry and Lady Mary Abel-Smith; Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark (in her nun’s habit); Prince Berthold, Margrave of Baden and Princess Theodora, Margravine of Baden; Princess Margarita, Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg; and the Earl and Countess of Harewood.
Princess Marina wore her grand diamond festoon tiara for the 1953 coronation, paired again with her diamond girandole earrings and her diamond bow brooch. Princess Mary wore the very same jewels she’d worn at the coronation back in 1937: her diamond scroll tiara with the sapphire cluster centerpiece, plus the diamond and sapphire necklace and corsage ornament. Behind them, Lady May Abel-Smith (who was born Princess May of Teck) wears the diamond fringe tiara given to her as a wedding present by her mother-in-law in 1931.
Following in Queen Mary’s footsteps, the Queen Mother wore her own coronation crown without its arches for the 1953 ceremony, plus additional diamond ornaments, including the Greville Peardrop Earrings and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Fringe Brooch. Beside her, Princess Margaret wears the Cartier Halo Tiara with the Lady Mount Stephen Necklace and her Cartier Diamond Rose Brooch.
In the second row, the Margravine of Baden wears a large diamond floral tiara, and the Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg wears the Bolin Ruby Tiara that once belonged to the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (née Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia). And in the shadows behind Princess Andrew, you’ll spot Princess Marie Louise wearing the Cartier Indian Tiara.
Here’s another look at the jewels of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret (and, of course, the grand coronation jewels of Queen Elizabeth II herself).
The Duchess of Gloucester wore the same jewels for the 1953 coronation that she had worn in 1937, including Queen Mary’s Honeysuckle Tiara. Behind her, the Countess of Harewood wears a lovely diamond floral tiara. That tiara was able to be taken off its frame and worn as a set of brooches.
And here’s a family portrait from the 1953 coronation, featuring the core royal family with the Princess Royal, the Kents, and the Gloucesters. I’m not sure that we’ll be seeing tiaras on the royal women at this weekend’s coronation, but here’s hoping we get some excellent new family portraits from the celebration.
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