This brilliant diamond Tiara has adorned the heads of several glamorous ladies with tragic endings. Designed by the consort of Queen Victoria, the piece grazed the heads of the Grand Duchesses of Hesse, descendants of his daughter Alice. Throughout the years, the Grand Duchesses had unhappy marriages and tragic deaths.
The Tiara was designed by Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, in 1861, for the wedding of his daughter Princess Alice to Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Unfortunately, Albert died before the wedding could take place, but the Tiara was gifted to Alice by her grieving mother. The Tiara was described by a newspaper as: “a very beautiful tiara of diamonds, composed of a rich bandeau, with foliage, spires, etc., from Messrs. Garrard … designed … by his Royal Highness the Prince Consort.”
The new Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine wore the tiara on her wedding day, and on other occasions throughout her short life. The couple had seven children, including Ernest (the heir), Victoria (mother of Queen Louise of Sweden and Lord Mountbatten), and Alix ( the ill fated last Empress of Russia). In 1878, the Grand Ducal family fell ill with diphtheria, Alice and her daughter Ella were the only ones not initially stricken. However, after the youngest daughter died, Alice was stricken with the disease while comforting her ill children. She died on the death anniversary of her father.
The next wearer of the Tiara was Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh, who married her cousin Ernest, son of Alice, in 1894. She wore the piece on many occasions, including the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Ernest’s brother in law.The marriage had been arranged by Queen Victoria, and the couple were very unhappy, but the old Queen refused to allow them to divorce because of their daughter. However, their marriage was annulled just a few months after the Queen died, and their daughter, Elisabeth, died of typhoid in 1903. Victoria Melita married her maternal first cousin, Grand Duke Kyril of Russia, but was banished from his country by the Tsar of Russia, her former brother-in-law, and only returned to Russia at the outbreak of WWI, when her husband lost all his wealth during the Russian Revolution.
The Tiara was worn by Ernest’s second wife, Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich. She wore it on many occasion after her marriage in 1905. The couple had two children; Georg Donatus and Louis. Ernest lost his throne after WWI, but still remained in control of his assets, including the magnificent Schloss Wolfsgarten, and the Tiara.
In 1931, Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus married Princess Cecilie of Greece. Cecilie was the great-granddaughter of Alice, through her grandmother Victoria. She was also the sister of Prince Philip of Greece, later Duke of Edinburgh as consort to Queen Elizabeth II. Georg Donatus and Cecilie have three children, and she wears the Tiara at quite a few events including celebrations around the Coronation of King George VI of Britain in May 1937.
In November, 1937, Eleonore, Georg Donatus, Cecilie (pregnant with her fourth child) and the couple’s two sons, are on board a flight to London, to attend the wedding of Georg’s brother, Louis to Margaret Geddes. However, Cecilie goes into labour during the flight, and the plane crashes after hitting a factory chimney, while trying to land, in Belgium. All the occupants of the plane are killed, but the Tiara and other family jewels, survive in a strongbox.
Photo: Hessische Hausstiftung / Hesse state archives
The next owner of the Tiara is Louis, whose wife, Margaret, is not pictured wearing the tiara. Louis and Margaret, the new Grand Duke and Duchess, adopt Princess Johanna, the surviving daughter of Georg and Cecilie. However she dies two years later of meningitis. The couple have no children, and Louis is the last Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. He appoints Moritz, landgrave of Hesse Kassel, a distant relative, as his heir. While other jewels went to the Geddes family after Margaret’s death in 1997, the fate of the Strawberry leaf Tiara was unknown. In 2002, the Tiara is photographed for Tiaras: A History of Splendor, a book by Geoffrey Munn. The credits are given to the “Hessische Hausstiftung”, a Foundation of the House of Hesse, which manages the family assets, including the Art, Castles, and Jewels still owned by the family.
This magnificent Tiara was made for Alice, who died of diphtheria, her daughter-in-law Victoria Melita had an unhappy marriage and lost her young daughter, and her two successors, who died in a plane crash. The Hesse Strawberry Leaf Tiara represented how fragile their gilded cage was. No matter how rich and powerful you are, fate has a way of finding you in the end.