25 September 2014

Tiara Thursday: The Devonshire Diamond Tiara

Sad news yesterday: Deborah “Debo” Mitford, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, passed away at the age of 94. She was the last of the famed Mitford sisters and the wife of the 11th Duke of Devonshire. Debo's life is fascinating, the Mitford sisters are fascinating, and the Devonshire family (particularly the line up of women that have held the Duchess title throughout history) is fascinating. I couldn't begin to do any of that justice here, so I'll merely say that if you haven't picked one up, you're long overdue to spend some time with one of Deborah's books. Entertaining and conversationally written, they are all worth a read. This one is my favorite:
What I will do is stick to what I know, and I’ve had many requests to feature a Devonshire jewel for our Thursday treat. In the late Dowager Duchess' honor, and since she provided the best anecdotes about this piece, we’ll do that today.
The Devonshire Diamond Tiara (source)

This is the largest and most imposing Devonshire diamond tiara. It was made in 1893 for Louise, Duchess of Devonshire (1832-1911), just a year after she wed the 8th Duke. (Louise is nicknamed “The Double Duchess”, having first been married to and widowed by the Duke of Manchester prior to marrying Devonshire, with whom she'd been in love for some 30 years.) The tiara has 13 palmette motifs separated by lotus motifs, set on a base of three rows. The base dates from slightly later than the top part, around 1897. Jeweler A.E. Skinner used nearly 1,900 diamonds set in silver and gold to make the piece, including 1,041 diamonds taken from other family pieces (including the Devonshire parure and the star from the Order of the Garter regalia belonging to the 6th Duke). Louise was an influential woman at court – her 1897 Devonshire House Ball, a costume gala celebrating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, is still famous today – and on her head and the heads of Duchesses of Devonshire to come, this tiara saw many important events.
Evelyn, at left and center shown dressed for the 1911 coronation
Louise’s successor as Duchess of Devonshire was Evelyn, wife of the 9th Duke. Evelyn was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary for 43 years, and wore this tiara to the 1911 coronation and for many subsequent events in Queen Mary’s company. (Deborah Mitford would later write that Queen Mary’s complaints about the weight of her own tiara after a long night had prompted Evelyn to remark, “the Queen doesn’t know what a heavy tiara is”.) The coronation of 1953 also included a Mistress of the Robes wearing this tiara: Mary, wife of the 10th Duke. Mary's husband had passed away in 1950, leaving the title to their son Andrew, husband of the lady to which we dedicate this post. As Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah was also a guest at Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, but she wore the smaller of the family’s two diamond tiaras and wore an older set of peeress robes from the family collection. Her mother-in-law had the more important role to play in the ceremony, and thus had the more recent robes and the big tiara.

Deborah and her mother-in-law continued to use the tiara for many court and social events (Deborah can be seen wearing the tiara here or here). She wrote of her mother-in-law casually fetching jewels from the bank concealed in a Marks & Spencer bag, and she wrote of wearing the tiara out for the night and then hailing a cab on the streets of London, oblivious to the potential dangers of being out alone late at night with thousands of diamonds on display. Those tiara-filled days might be over, but the tiara is still with the family. They have exhibited it at Chatsworth House, their Derbyshire stately home.

Nadja Anna Zsoeks at her wedding to Alexander, Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe, in 2007, wearing a tiara similar to the Devonshire Tiara.
One final note about this tiara: a couple of doppelgängers are in existence. A similar tiara/necklace was auctioned by Christie’s in 2003, and a similar design is owned by the Schaumburg-Lippe family (as seen above), to name two. There are really no limits to the number of times a good tiara design might be used.

P.S.: Remember Thursday outfit posts have returned, so keep scrolling!

Photos: Amazon/Richard White, Gauis Caecilius, Flickr/NPG/Thomas Starke via Getty Images