24 August 2017

Readers’ Favorite Tiaras, The Rematch: #2. The Fife Tiara

Some of the tiaras on your list get popularity boosts from the fact that they’re worn all the time, often by very famous figures. This tiara, on the other hand, racked up most of its appearances well over a century ago with very little since and hardly any public exposure. That’s not about to stop it from taking home your runner up ribbon:

The Fife Tiara
The Fife Tiara was a wedding gift to Princess Louise of Wales, the oldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, for her marriage to the Earl of Fife in 1889. The tiara has diamonds mounted in silver and gold and the design is dominated by a series of pear-shaped diamonds that hang freely in a Gothic-inspired diamond framework. More large pear-shaped diamonds alternate with round diamonds along the top of the tiara. One can only image that this diadem would be blindingly sparkly in action.

Princess Louise
An identical design was shown as part of a display of the work of Paris jeweler Oscar Massin in 1878, and he is thus assumed to be the designer of the Fife Tiara. This is sometimes said to have been a gift from her parents, but contemporary reporting of her wedding gifts attributed it to the Earl (who was made the Duke of Fife by Queen Victoria right after the wedding). Her parents' gift, on the other hand, is described as a classic convertible diamond fringe tiara.

Princess Louise
Princess Louise was given the title of Princess Royal but didn’t play a large role in the royal family and took a backseat to her mother and sister, Princess Victoria, both of whom were considered prettier, and to her more notably married sister, Queen Maud of Norway. Apparently a rather difficult person to make conversation with, she earned herself the title "Her Royal Shyness" and was most known for her talents in the realms of music and fishing. Her marriage to the Duke, who was 18 years older, seems to have done her a world of good - as, no doubt, did the escape from the smothering atmosphere of her parents' home. She was one of the first princesses to marry a subject rather than a prince but Queen Victoria approved of the union, noting that the groom was extremely rich.

Louise, also wearing her fringe necklace/tiara from her parents
Louise had three children: a stillborn son followed by two daughters, Princesses Alexandra and Maud. Because it was known in advance that there would be no Fife son to inherit the title, Queen Victoria made a special dispensation for inheritance in the female line. Accordingly, Princess Alexandra became the Duchess of Fife in her own right when her father died. Later she was also known as Princess Arthur of Connaught through her marriage.

Alexandra, Duchess of Fife
The Fife Tiara passed to Princess Alexandra and she, as Duchess of Fife, wore it to the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. Alexandra was predeceased by her own son, so the title – and the tiara - passed down to her nephew, James Carnegie. So far as we know, the tiara is still with the family. It seems the only modern example we have of the Fife Tiara in use is one glimpse of it on the current Duchess of Fife.

The current Duchess of Fife
Several tiaras have been, at one point or another, associated with the Fife branch of the family in addition to this diamond masterpiece: the convertible fringe necklace tiara Louise received from her parents, a diamond floral tiara that (at the very least) bears close resemblance to one made famous by Downton Abbey, Princess Maud was seen wearing Queen Alexandra’s amethysts at the 1937 coronation, and the last known appearance in use of Queen Victoria’s Emerald and Diamond Tiara was on a past Duchess of Fife. So much intrigue in that list, and few answers about what might still be in the collection today.

I can only assume that the Fife Tiara was a favorite of Princess Louise, judging from how often she selected it for portraits, and I can’t blame her one bit. It’s substantial yet light; delicate despite the extreme carat weight that must be present here. Perhaps it’s for the best that we don’t see it in use these days. The sparkle might blind you. (….NAH. Just kidding. It’s in desperate need of a proper outing.)

Did the Mighty Fife earn a spot on your personal list?