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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, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.