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Royal British Tiaras: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara

I bet you think that the current Queen, Elizabeth the II is the longest living British royal. And you'd think wrong. She's the longest reigning royal. But the longest living royal, a princess who was a first cousin twice removed and the great aunt to Elizabeth, holds the honor. Her name was Alice and she lived to be almost 98 years old. And this is the story of her favorite tiara.
Royal British Tiaras: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara
Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara

I bet you think that the current Queen, Elizabeth the II is the longest living British royal princess. And you’d think wrong. She’s the longest reigning royal. But the longest living royal princess, a woman who was a first cousin twice removed and the great aunt to Elizabeth, holds the honor. Her name was Alice* and she lived to be almost 98 years old. And this is the story of her life and her favorite tiara: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara.

Princess Alice with her parents, Prince Leopold and Princess Helena.

Alice was born February 25th, 1883 in Windsor Castle to Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Since she was a direct descendant of Queen Victoria, she was automatically princess. She also inherited something else from her grandmother. Something not as pleasant as her title – she was a carrier of the gene for hemophilia, a disease that took her father from her merely a year after she was born.

With the exception of losing her dad at such a young age, it seems that she had a relatively uneventful childhood (for a princess) and went on to marry her second cousin once removed, Prince Alexander of Teck, in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on February 10, 1904. They had three children, one of which died at age 5 mos., another died in a car crash at the age of 20 and a surviving daughter, Lady May.

Royal British Tiaras: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara
Princess Alexander of Teck at the coronation of her cousin, King George V of the United Kingdom.

Alice and her husband lived in and visited much of the world. After her husband renounced his Teck name (as all of the British Royals did in 1917), they assumed the titles of Earl and Countess of Athlone and they lived in an apartment in Kensington Palace, with a country house in West Sessex. The Earl was appointed to several positions during his lifetime, including Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 1924 – 1931, and Governor General of Canada during WWII. Princess Alice even served during the war, acting as Honorary Commandant of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division and president of the nursing division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. Portrait by Philip de László, c. 1929

All the while, she was wearing this amazing tiara to state events, and it appeared that it was, if not her only important tiara, her favorite. It’s unclear who ordered or made the tiara, but it’s constructed of at least seven yellow diamonds, most of which dangle in bezel settings from the top of the tiara. The rest of the tiara is comprised of diamonds set in a “palmette” or palm frond pattern, with a row of bezel set diamonds at both the top and the bottom of the tiara.

Royal British Tiaras: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara

What’s truly amazing to think about is that Alice and her tiara saw six different sovereigns reign (Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II), and attended four different coronations (Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II)! She wrote her memoir, entitled For My Grandchildren, in 1966 and passed away in her sleep in 1981, just 52 days shy of her 98th birthday. And just as her wedding, her funeral took place in St. George’s Chapel with all members of the royal family in attendance. She’s buried next to her husband and son, directly behind her famous grandmother.

Royal British Tiaras: Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara

And the Diamond Palmette tiara? It was passed down to her daughter, Lady May, upon Alice’s death, but Lady May chose to auction it off in December of 1984 via Christie’s. It sold for $33,696 to an undisclosed buyer. What do you think of it? Would you wear it? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

*There seems to be some confusion since we published this piece about how Alice was the oldest princess and which Alice we’re speaking about. Hopefully we can clear it up here. Yes, there were British royal women who at some point held the title of Princess that lived to be older than our Alice (the Queen Mum was older, as was Alice, Duchess of Gloucester). But none of them were born into their role. That’s the difference. The Alice in today’s story was Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and thus born into her royal role, serving as an official princess longer than the other two, which was the point we were trying to make.

Comments

12 Responses

  1. Love reading your work, the research so interesting and, the just fabulous Tiaras, give me something to dream about.
    Lifted my spirits in these strange Lockdown times.
    Thanks so much. Best regards from Melbourne

  2. I think this tiara should not have been auctioned off. It should have remained in the hands of the family. Perhaps displayed where others could enjoy.

    1. I’m sure they would have loved to do that, but many of these families have run out of money and often need the funds to keep going. They have to sell off the assets they have, and jewels usually go first.

  3. The Tiara is elegant and stunning. Princess Alice was a remarkable woman who was ahead of her time. What a wonderful woman she was. Auctioning off the family tiara was a very dumb move. One does not give away such a priceless heirloom.
    The Cambridge Lovers Knot Tiara that Princess Diana wore so beautifully is my favorite tiara.

  4. Your articles are always well researched and well written and I’ve enjoyed reading them. This is not one of my favourite tiaras but I imagine with that design it sparkles like crazy. Princess Alice certainly aged gracefully didn’t she? Thanks for the articles!

  5. I personally think Princess Alice’s Diamond Palmette Tiara is very pretty. It looks like it is of the Art Deco piece. I don’t believe it is as from the dates you gave it could not be from the time of Art Deco. I like the fact that it could be worn down on the forehead or further up the head. I thought it was a very interesting piece and I thought it was such a shame Princess Alice’s daughter Lady May had it auctioned off. Really a shame.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Leigh

    1. Hi, Leigh. Thanks for the kind words. I’m not sure the I attributed the tiara to any particular dates. All I’ve ever read stated that there wasn’t an exact line on the provenance or creation date. But it sure does have an Art Deco look to it!

      1. I think this tiara is one she talks about having borrowed from a friend in her autobiography. She said she borrowed a tiara from Lady Clifford, wife of Sir Hugh Clifford, who was the former Elizabeth de la Pasture (novelist). This was in the year of the coronation of George V, 1911.

        1. I’m not sure about it being borrowed. All signs point to her ownership of it, as she passed it down to family and it was her descendants that later sold it off. This tiara was in her possession for four different coronations.

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