Princess Louise and the Fife Tiara

Amongst the splendid suite of jewels commissioned for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert, features in the permanent exhibition Victoria Revealed at Kensington Palace, when it re-opened in full on 30 March 2018, two magnificent tiaras which were formerly owned by Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife, one of which will go on long-term loan to Kensington Palace for the exhibition, from the estate of her grandson, the late James Carnegie, 3rd Duke of Fife.

Louise, Princess Royal was born at Marlborough House, the London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales – the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra – on 20 February 1867, where she was baptised later that May. Princess Louise was one of the bridesmaids at the wedding of Queen Victoria’s fifth daughter, Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885, together with her sisters, Princess Maud – future Queen Maud of Norway – and Princess Victoria of Wales. Princess Louise’s wedding to Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife, was celebrated in the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace on 27 July 1889.

Typically, Queen Victoria’s account of the wedding begins first with a description of her own choice of dress, sometimes followed by that of the bride, something which she continued to do on the weddings of her daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters as if subconsciously reflecting on her own widowed state. In this case, Queen Victoria does not describe how Princess Louise looked, reserving her commentary instead for the ceremony itself. She did, however, watch Princess Louise and “Macduff”, as she referred to Louise’s bridegroom, drive off down the Mall, from the Royal Balcony of Buckingham Palace. Fortunately for us, however, Princess Louise was photographed by the London photographers W & D Downey, with the Duke of Fife; Louise’s wedding has a long train and is apparently festooned with sprays of orange blossom. Her veil is of lace – presumably Honiton–, and she clasps a splendid, ribboned, bridal bouquet.

The Private Chapel where Princess Louise married now no longer exists; a victim of bomb damage during the London Blitz, it roughly corresponds today to part of the site occupied by the present Queen’s Gallery. Unusually though, a photograph was taken during the ceremony itself, showing the couple standing before the altar, from behind. It is a remarkable image because it shows the chapel decorated with ferns and flowers, with the officiating Archbishop of Canterbury, but also many of the wedding guests, including the seated and veiled figure of Queen Victoria; Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse; and the Prince and Princess of Wales. The couple were also photographed after their wedding with their eight bridesmaids, who were Princess Victoria of Wales; Princess Mary of Teck – the future Queen Mary -; Princess Marie-Louise of Schleswig-Holstein; Countess Feodora Gleichen; Princess Maud of Wales; Countess Helena Gleichen; Countess Victoria Gleichen and Princess Helena of Schleswig-Holstein.

In her official wedding photographic portrait, Louise wears a plain pearl necklace. There is no mention of the gift of jewellery from her grandmother Queen Victoria, as we might normally expect. What was not mentioned either, was the gift of the ‘Fife Tiara’, a wedding present from Princess Louise’s husband, the Duke of Fife to his bride. This glittering tiara is made up of hundreds of diamonds, with a ‘swing set’ of pendant, pear-shaped diamonds in a row. It was given to Princess Louise by her husband on the wedding day itself but does not appear to have been worn at any part of the ceremony. The Graphic (Issue 2 August 1889) described it as: “The tiara is in a very uncommon and beautiful design, composed of hundreds of stones, ranging in weight from one carat to ten, the larger being what are technically known as briolettes – that is cut on both sides and turning on pivots so that they will flash with every movement of the head”.

Like the ‘Fife Tiara’, Princess Louise’s so-called ‘kokoshnik’-type tiara will go on display in the newly re-opened Victoria Revealed; consisting of pave-set rays of diamonds in white and yellow gold, it picks up on the very particular type of headdresses traditionally worn by women in northern Russia, to accompany the ‘sarafan’, also interpreted in jewellery, notably in the Garrard & Co diadem known as ‘Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara’, given to Princess Louise’s mother, the Princess of Wales in 1888 and which is now part of the personal jewels of Her Majesty The Queen. It was bequeathed to Her Majesty in 1953.

Louise’s own, ‘kokoshnik’ tiara has been loaned from the Estate of the late 3rd Duke of Fife, her grandson. In a strange twist of fate, which underlines the links between Queen Victoria’s descendants and the Russian Imperial House of Romanov, the 3rd Duke of Fife gave a mitochondrial DNA sample to aid the identification of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, to whom Fife was related by blood through his maternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, whose younger sister Dagmar, was Tsar Nicholas II’s mother, Empress Marie Feodorovna – a direct genetic line which would have passed onto him through his mother, Princess Maud of Fife. This was reported in an article which appeared in the Washington Post (1.9.1995).

Both tiaras will now feature – fittingly – alongside the suite of jewels made for Princess Louise’s paternal grandmother, Queen Victoria, at Kensington Palace.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, an historical consultant and independent scholar. An expert on past British and European royalty, she speaks on matters royal historical for both TV and radio. She specializes in the family of Queen Victoria and Russian royalty, with a particular interest in royal weddings, speaking on historic royal weddings at Windsor for BBC Radio Berkshire prior to the first British Royal Wedding in 2018. As an historical consultant, she responds to a wide range of enquiries from media to private individuals. She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017. She regularly writes for academic journals and specialist magazines on the subject. She is a long-standing contributor to the genealogical royal journal Royalty Digest Quarterly and her original research into the Blue Room at Windsor Castle was published in the European Royal History Journal. She is a former contributor to Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine (2013-2018) and Tudor Life Magazine (2018-2019. Her Royal Central blog was written as history writer (2015-2019). She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) and has written numerous articles based on original research on her life. She was selected as an historical advisor for the first-time translation from English to Russian of the classic biography (1928) of the Tsarina by Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden (Moscow, 2012). She researches and writes on W. A. Mozart with a particular interest in his travels and correspondence. Her two-part article on Mozart in London was published in the Newsletter of the Friends of Mozart Society (New York, Summer/Fall 2016) and she wrote a mini-series on Mozart for the Czech Republic's only English language newspaper, Prague Post (2017-19). A passionate supporter of culture heritage, she worked in the heritage sector for ten years and has been an active supporter of numerous societies and organizations including The Georgian Group, Historic Royal Palaces, Berliner Dombau-Verein e.V, Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V, Verein Potsdamer Stadtschloss e. V, and Freunde der Preußischen Schlösser und Gärten e.V. Also a poet, her work is forthcoming or published in various literary journal/poetry magazines, including The Oxonian Review, North of Oxford, Coldnoon, Nine Muses Poetry, Allegro Poetry Magazine and Trafika Europe. Her debut pamphlet of poems will be published in 2020.