King Charles and Queen Camilla weren’t the only ones wearing fabulous royal jewels during last week’s State Opening of Parliament. Several peeresses also donned tiaras, and today, we’ve got a closer look at one of the sparkliest of them all: the Duchess of Wellington’s Diamond Tiara.
The 9th and present Duke of Wellington, Charles Wellesley, is the great-great-great-grandson of the famed 1st Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The 9th Duke is a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords. (He’s also a courtier and friend of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, even carrying Camilla’s crown at the recent coronation.) Above, the Duke consults with his wife, Princess Antonia, during last week’s State Opening of Parliament, squinting as she points out a piece of information from the program.
As the wife of a peer, Antonia wore gala dress and jewels for the State Opening, as well as the ribbon and badge of the Order of the British Empire. She was appointed to the order in 2008 for her work toward creating more affordable housing opportunities in England.
The jewels that Antonia wore for the occasion have a long, glittering history with the Wellesley family. The diamond tiara, which is actually a complete circlet, dates to the middle of the nineteenth century.
The tiara’s storied history likely begins with the second Duchess of Wellington, Lady Elizabeth Hay. Elizabeth was a daughter of the Marquess of Tweeddale and wife of the 2nd Duke of Wellington. Elizabeth’s marriage wasn’t a particularly happy one, but she was quite close to her famous father-in-law, the 1st Duke. She was also a fixture at the court of Queen Victoria, serving as Mistress of the Robes from 1861-1868 and then again from 1874-1880.
Through her royal supporting role, Elizabeth was front-and-center at court functions for decades. Above, she sits in a choice spot for the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1863. Such an important position required important jewels.
Newspapers often recounted the glittering jewels worn by Elizabeth at drawing rooms and other court functions. For a drawing room in 1858, she wore a “coronet of diamonds” with trendy lappets and feathers. Two years later, in 1860, it was noted that she wore “a fine tiara and necklace of single stone diamonds.” Above, in a preparatory sketch made by the artist George Housman Thomas for his painting of the 1863 wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the details of her diamond tiara, with its scroll and knot design elements, are clear. (She has added a diamond collet necklace to the base of the tiara for even more royal wedding oomph.) In its coverage of the wedding, the Guardian took note of the “magnificent tiara of diamonds” worn by the Duchess, noting that it was “crowning a brow that needs no such enhancement of its calm and stately beauty.”
One of the next prominent wearers of the tiara was Kathleen Williams, the wife of the 4th Duke of Wellington. She was the Duchess of Wellington at the time of the 1902 coronation, and newspapers recorded that she wore her “famous diamond crown” with her gown and robes for the ceremony. (It’s worth quickly noting that the tiara isn’t a crown, but because it’s a complete circlet, or coronet, it’s sometimes mistaken for one.)
Kathleen’s appearances in the grand diamond tiara continued into the next reign as well. For King George V and Queen Mary’s first State Opening of Parliament in February 1911, the Duchess was spotted inside the Palace of Westminster wearing “a diamond crown” placed atop a “heavy lace veil framing the face and falling down behind.” She glittered her way through the whirl of coronation festivities just a few months later.
In November 1976, Kathleen’s great-grandson, Charles Wellesley, announced his engagement to a woman with both royal and aristocratic heritage. Princess Antonia of Prussia (a courtesy title by this point) was the 22-year-old daughter of Prince Friedrich of Prussia, a grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm, and Lady Brigid Guinness, the youngest daughter of the 2nd Earl of Iveagh. Her future husband, then the Marquess of Douro, was 31. The engagement linked one of Britain’s wealthiest aristocratic families with the extended royal family, as Princess Antonia was a distant cousin of the British royals. (Antonia also brought a whole lot of Guinness family money to the union.)
When the couple were married at St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge on February 2, 1977, there were several royals among the congregation: the Queen Mother, the Prince of Wales, Princess Margaret, and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. They witnessed Princess Antonia walking down the aisle with the grand Wellington Tiara securing her tulle veil. The tiara was loaned to her by her new mother-in-law, Diana McConnel, who was Duchess of Wellington from 1972 until 2010—and who had been a British spy (!) during World War II.
Charles and Antonia became Duke and Duchess of Wellington on his father’s death in 2014. They have maintained a long friendship with King Charles III and Queen Camilla, whom they hosted at their London home, Apsley House, for a celebration of the Wellington victory at Waterloo in 2015. Queen Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, dazzled in the Greville Tiara and the Greville Festoon Necklace for the banquet, but Princess Antonia more than held her own in the jewelry department, wearing the antique Wellington Tiara and additional family diamonds.
And we saw Antonia again in the tiara last week, glittering away during the State Opening of Parliament. She also wore the diamond earrings from the family collection, as well as that downright astonishing diamond collet necklace. Look at the size of the diamonds in that thing!