The Duchess of Sussex pulled a style surprise on her wedding day when she chose an all but forgotten royal tiara as the finishing touch to her bridal outfit. Meghan’s pick has put Queen Mary’s Bandeau Tiara back in the regal spotlight and reignited interest in the set of stones that make up this sparkler. And at their heart is a pretty brooch that already had a royal wedding history all of its own.
The centrepiece of the all diamond diadem that the Duchess donned to say ‘I do’ began life as a marriage present to Mary when she married in 1893. The then Princess Mary of Teck was a popular royal bride, and plenty of people wanted to send gifts to celebrate the wedding that would turn her into a queen in waiting. Among those looking for a suitable prize for the Princess was the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire who would eventually present the bride with the brooch that now nestles in the tiara.
Adelbert Wellington Brownlow-Cust, to use his full and fabulous name, was rather a high profile Lord Lieutenant. He had enjoyed a political career that had involved several government positions, and he had become a member of the Privy Council in 1887. Better known as Earl Brownlow, the title he had unexpectedly succeeded to in 1867 on the death of his older brother, he was well known in royal circles. So when George, Duke of York, and second in line to the throne, announced his engagement to Mary, Adelbert’s mind turned to wedding gifts.
The Lord Lieutenant wrote to mayors across the county of Lincolnshire inviting them and anyone who saw fit to send some money towards a wedding present for the royal bride. Contributions were capped at £5 per donor and cash soon started to pour in. Among those to join in the collection were the Bishop of Lincoln, the Grimsby News Company and the Town Clerk of Louth. In all, around £300 was raised, and Adelbert then got busy buying.
Thanks to his royal connections, Earl Brownlow was able to find out the kind of gem the bride was hoping to receive and settled on an all diamond brooch. As one local paper reported, the Earl felt this particular style would be useful to Mary now and in the future when a consort’s crown beckoned.
Another local paper reported that Adelbert and his wife Adelaide made the presentation on July 5th 1893 – the day before the royal wedding. The bride was apparently rather taken with the gift and, being the well brought up princess that she was, promised she would wear it often. Mary was as good as her word. She used it extensively as a brooch and then, in 1932, had a bandeau style tiara created just to house the brooch. Royal recycling at its most sparkling.
The tiara is now one of the most talked about style statements of 2018. And that means that, over 100 years since an ambitious earl decided to organise the ultimate office collection, a beautiful brooch with a sparkling past is making headlines all over again.