Queen Victoria acquired many pieces of jewellery throughout her lifetime – both small, personal items and grander, regal items associated with her role as Queen. One item, about which there is an interesting background, is the miniature crown that Victoria would wear and become associated with in her later years.
When Prince Albert died in 1861, Victoria began wearing traditional black mourning clothes – a practice she would continue until the end of her reign and her death in 1901 – and retreated from public life. After a number of years, there was considerable government pressure for the Queen to return to public life and Victoria reluctantly did so in 1870. However, Victoria refused to wear the Imperial State Crown on the occasions it was required, as not only was it large and uncomfortable, but also because it was not compatible with the widow’s cap that Victoria then wore regularly. Victoria did not want to relinquish the widow’s cap, and so an alternative was sought.
Victoria, therefore, requested a smaller crown that would enable her to both complete her duties with an appropriate level of majesty, but one that would also allow her to continue wearing her mourning clothes in remembrance of Prince Albert. The crown was made for Victoria by the crown jewellers, Garrard & Co. in 1870. Measuring approximately three and a half inches in width and four inches in height, the crown consisted of 1,187 brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds. Weighing five ounces, the crown was designed to be both light and comfortable and crucially, that it would fit on top of the widow’s cap. The inclusion of colourless diamonds, taken from an existing necklace, was considered appropriate in jewellery to be worn whilst still in mourning.
The first appearance of the crown was at the opening of Parliament in February 1871. It was subsequently worn by Victoria at state occasions and when receiving guests. The miniature crown became synonymous with Victoria and was a recognisable part of her image in later years, as she chose to wear it in many subsequent portraits.
After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the miniature crown was placed on top of her coffin. The crown then passed to her daughter in law, Queen Alexandra (wife of King Edward VII). The crown continued to be passed down the generations, although it appears that Queen Mary, wife of King George V, never wore the item.
The crown was later added to the collection of crown jewels at the Jewel House in the Tower of London in 1937, by King George VI. The miniature crown remains at the tower, where it can be seen by the public as part of the collection of Crown Jewels.