11 January 2018

Tiara Thursday: A Fife Tiara Update

When the Fife Tiara took home the #2 spot in your Favorite Tiaras Rematch, I noted that it had achieved its tremendous popularity despite scarce appearances and hardly any public exposure. Well, following news that dropped in December – while we were in yearly review and holiday mode (thanks to those of you that contacted me about it!) – that’s about to change. The Fife Tiara has changed hands, and it looks like you’re going to be able to see it in person.

The Fife Tiara
Quick recap first: The Fife Tiara was an 1889 wedding gift to Princess Louise of Wales, the oldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, from her new husband, the Earl of Fife (who was made the Duke of Fife by Queen Victoria right after the wedding). 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. The design is attributed to Oscar Massin because an identical design was included in an 1878 display of his work.

Princess Louise
The Fife Tiara passed to Princess Louise’s eldest daughter, Princess Alexandra, and she, as Duchess of Fife in her own right, 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, the 3rd Duke. The tiara stayed within the family, though there’s really just about one public example of it in use in recent decades.

The Fife Tiara
Sotheby's/UK Government
And here’s the 2017 update: The Fife Tiara has been given to the U.K. government as part of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and will be displayed at Kensington Palace! The Acceptance in Lieu program enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and heritage objects into public ownership while paying Inheritance Tax; the 3rd Duke of Fife died in 2015. The government’s report on items accepted in 2017 (excerpted above and below; the full PDF is here) notes that the Fife Tiara was accepted as “pre-eminent under the second and third criteria” for assessing objects offered, which means that it was determined to have “especial artistic or art-historical interest” and was of “especial importance for the study of some particular form of art, learning or history”.

The government feature on the tiara
The government has now permanently assigned the tiara to Historic Royal Palaces, which manages Kensington Palace and other palaces, for “retention and display at Kensington Palace in accordance with the condition attached to the offer.”

The Fife family is also assumed to be in possession of another major tiara, Queen Victoria’s Emerald and Diamond Tiara. Which is interesting, considering this recent tweet from Historic Royal Palaces:


That would be sight to see, if we're talking about the real deal and if it might be shown at the same time as the Fife. We'll see what happens.