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British Royals

The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland: the iconic tiara just worn for the first time by Queen Camilla

It is among the most iconic of all royal tiaras and one that denoted the beginning of a new reign. The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara was worn frequently throughout her historic reign by Queen Elizabeth II. Her Late Majesty chose it for the first portraits of her record breaking tenure. And now, it has been worn, for the first time, by Queen Camilla.

This all diamond tiara began life, as did so many pieces used by the modern Royal Family, with Queen Mary. This gem came to her as a wedding present.

Princess May of Teck married the future George V in 1893. Her husband to be was second in line to the throne and his bride was showered with gems as their wedding presents arrived. Among her gifts was this tiara which would go on to become so important in the history of the House of Windsor.

Stephen Lock/ i-Images

Its unusual name is the clue to its origins. The tiara was a present from ‘girls’ across Great Britain and Ireland. Society hostess Lady Greville organised a committee to raise money for a wedding gift for Mary and with the huge amount donated by women (around £5,000), an all diamond diadem was purchased.

However, Lady Greville had change after she’d been shopping at Garrard’s for the tiara. At the request of the bride, the rest of the money was donated to a fund to support the survivors of men who died after the sinking of HMS Victoria

Photo by Dorothy Wilding, Royal Collection Trust

However, the tiara is most associated with Queen Mary’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, and it was granny she had to thank for the jewel that would become so emblematic of her reign.

Elizabeth was very close to Queen Mary who doted on her and who took a leading role in her education after the Abdication meant that the young princess was now in line to reign one day.

When Elizabeth married, in 1947, Mary passed this tiara to her as a wedding present. However, within five years it would go from being a sentimental gift to something far more symbolic.

Photo by Lydia Starbuck

On February 6th 1952, Elizabeth II became Queen on the death of her father, King George VI. Queen Mary mourned the loss of a third son (Prince John had died in 1919 while Prince George, Duke of Kent was killed in a plane crash in 1942) but was adamant in her support for the new Monarch.

As the Royal Family adjusted to life without a beloved father, husband and son, they also rallied round Elizabeth II as she began her new role. One of the first things she had to do, after the funeral for George VI, was pose for new portraits. They were taken by Dorothy Wilding. And in them, Elizabeth wore the tiara given to her by Queen Mary.

The image of a young queen in such a delicate and pretty tiara, rather than the heavy crown, became an almost instant icon. It was an emblem of the new Elizabethan age. Wilding portraits of Elizabeth II in the tiara would be the basis for the image seen on stamps and coins in the first years of this new reign. The gem that had been given by women around Britain and Ireland to a princess destined to be a queen consort had become the symbol of the woman who now ruled a nation.

The tiara remained a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II. Now, a new chapter in its history begins as Queen Camilla wears the gem that came to symbolise the most historic reign of all.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.