My favorite author and socialite Her Grace Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (also known as Debo) died on this day two years ago. The youngest of the infamous Mitford sister, she married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941, unexpectedly becoming Duchess of Devonshire in 1950, after the deaths of her father- and brother- in-law. Deborah is most well known for preserving the Devonshire’s family seat, Chatsworth House, and turning it into a major tourist attraction. Today we will take a look at some of the glittering tiara’s she wore during her tenure as a Duchess.
Devonshire Palmette Tiara
Made for Louise, Duchess of Devonshire (also known as the Double Duchess) in 1893, the piece is composed of 13 palmette motifs separated by lotus motifs, set on a base of three rows of diamonds, by jeweler A.E. Skinner. This tiara was first seen on Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire at the 1911 Coronation of King George V, when she was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary. She also wore it for an official portrait during her husband’s tenure as Governor General of Canada. Debo wrote in her autobiography:
My grandmother-in-law, Evelyn Duchess of Devonshire, was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary for forty-three years from 1910. Together they weathered long hours of tiara’d evenings, including those during the fabulous Indian Durbar in Delhi in 1911. The magically beautiful but relentless program, carried out in torrid heat, was exhausting for all concerned, and after one particularly lengthy evening Granny Evie was heard to say, ‘The Queen has been complaining about the weight of her Tiara…The Queen doesn’t know what a heavy tiara is.’ Evelyn knew what she was talking about. The larger of the two Devonshire diamond tiaras in indeed a whopper.”
In 1953, at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Palmette tiara was seen on Mary, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (daughter-in-law of Evelyn), who was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Elizabeth II. She wore it in a portrait by Cecil Beaton, to State Opening’s of Parliament in the 1950 and 60s, as well as during a State Visit to the Netherlands in 1958. She continued to wear the tiara until she retired as Mistress of the Robes in 1965.
While, Debo wasn’t pictured wearing the Palmette tiara during the early years of her tenure, she describes occasions when she wore it in her autobiography:
I remember going to…an entertainment in London in the early 1960’s, by myself as Andrew had an engagement elsewhere. With…confidence I wore the big tiara…When I ran out of partners and wanted to go home, I went out to look for a taxi. It never occurred to me that it might not be a good idea to stand alone in the street, long after midnight, with a load of diamonds around my neck and 1,900 more glittering above my head. Another memorable evening we were staying at Windsor Castle for a dance given by the Queen. I came down to dinner, got up as I thought our hostess and the other guests would be, the big tiara firmly in place. To my horror none of the other women wore theirs. It is far worse to be overdressed than underdressed a I sat through dinner wishing I was anywhere else. When the dancing began, I took it off, put it under a chair and enjoyed myself enormously. I suppose Windsor Castle in the only house where you could be sure of finding the blessed thing still there at bedtime.”
However, Debo was pictured wearing the Tiara in 2000, at her 80th birthday party, when she also wore Louise, Duchess of Devonshire’s dress worn to the famous 1897 Diamond Jubilee Ball. The tiara passed to her daughter-in-law, wife of the current Duke, after her Debo was widowed in 2004.
Devonshire Honeysuckle Tiara
Made in the 1870, the Devonshire Honeysuckle tiara features seven honeysuckle elements over a diamond base. Other diamond elements can be added to the tiara, and the honeysuckle elements can be worn as brooches. It was made for Lady Louisa Cavendish, daughter of the 7th duke, but Evelyn, the 9th Duchess of Devonshire was the first Duchess pictured in the piece, wearing it for official portraits and as a stomacher (with the family’s diamond rivierés) during the 1911 coronation. Her successor, Mary, Duchess of Devonshire rarely wore the piece.
This was Debo’s most frequently worn tiara, since the Palmette tiara was often worn by Mary, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, as she had a grander role. Debo wore the Honeysuckle tiara at the 1953 Coronation with a robe once worn by the famous Georgina, 6th Duchess of Devonshire. She described it as:
…Moucher [Mary Devonshire] was to have the robes that had been carefully put away by Granny Evie in 1937 after King George VI’s coronation. Chatsworth, as always, came to the rescue. There were a number of tin boxes…In the vain hope of finding something for me, we started going through them and, lo and behold, from beneath a ton of tissue paper in the box that had held Moucher’s, appeared a second crimson peeress’s robe. The velvet is of exceptional quality, so soft your fingers hardly know they’re touching it, and of such pure brilliant crimson as to make you blink.”
Debo wore the tiara at events during the 1950s and 60s, wore it as a necklace for a photoshoot, and also wore the honeysuckle elements as brooches.
The Honeysuckle Tiara is the only tiara to have been worn by the current Duchess, Amanda, who wore it at her wedding to Debo’s son in 1967. It will most likely be seen next on Laura, Countess of Burlington, daughter-in-law of the Duke and Amanda.
Made in 1856, the tiara was described by Debo as: “This set consists of seven monumental pieces of jewelry which, until you look closely at them, might have been pulled out of the dressing-up box. They are a bizarre combination of antique (Greek and Roman) and Renaissance cameos and intaglios carved from emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and semi-precious stones – cornelian, onyx, amethysts and garnets – set in gold and enamel of exquisite workmanship by C.F. Hancock of London. They were commissioned by the dear, old extravagant 6th Duke of Devonshire, ‘the Bachelor Duke’, for his niece, Countess Granville, to wear at the coronation of Tsar Alexander II in Moscow in 1856. This tiara and its companion necklace, stomacher, and bracelet are very prickly to wear. I know because I put them all on for a Women’s Institute performance when I was cast as ‘The Oldest Miss World in the World.’” Debo only wore it once, for the aforementioned Women’s Institute performance as ‘The Oldest Miss World in the World.’ UPDATE: The Parure was featured in a video as part of a series by Sotheby’s on the magnificent collection at Chatsworth. Watch the Duke and Duchess describe its amazing history here-
UPDATED- In 2017, Lady Burlington wore the necklace from the Devonshire Parure for a Vogue photoshoot promoting “House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth” an upcoming exhibition at Chatsworth.
Replicas of all three of the Devonshire Tiaras are on display at the “House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth” exhibition at Chatsworth which runs from march 25th to October 22nd.
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