Today marks the 140th Anniversary of the birth of Nancy, Viscountess Astor, the fascinating American Heiress who became the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat in the British House of Commons. It is also the Birth Anniversary of her husband, the 2nd Viscount Astor, with whom she shared a birthday. To mark the Anniversary (ahead of the Centenary of her taking her seat later this year), we are taking a look at her illustrious Astor Tiara-
Created by Cartier around 1906, the Tiara features the legendary 55.23 carat Sancy Diamond, which comes from India, and was earliest recorded with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, passing to his cousin King Manuel I of Portugal and being taken by António, Prior of Crato when he fled Portugal, selling the diamond to Nicolas de Harlay, the Seigneur de Sancy, who loaned it to King Henry III of France to decorate his cap and as security for financing an army. Reportedly, a messenger carrying the Diamond never reached his destination, but de Sancy was convinced that of the man’s loyalty and searched his murdered body, where the jewel was found in his stomach. The Sancy Diamond was sold to James I around 1605, described in the Tower of London’s 1605 Inventory of Jewels as “…one fayre dyamonde, cut in fawcetts, bought of Sauncy,” and briefly set into his Mirror of Great Britain. It eventually came into the possession of the future King James II, who was forced to sell it in exile Cardinal Mazarin in 1657, who bequeathed the diamond to the latter’s cousin, King Louis XIV of France in 1661. The Sancy Diamond remained a part of the until the French Revolution and the famous theft of the Royal Treasury in 1792, when it was stolen along with many famous diamonds. The Sancy was in the collection of Vasiliy Rudanovsky until 1828, when it purchased by Prince Demidoff for £80,000, and then sold to Indian Industrialist Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy for £100,000 in 1865, and sold the following year and being exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1867 before disappearing for a few decades.
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In 1906, the Sancy Diamond was bought by William Waldorf Astor, the 1st Viscount Astor, the American-born British socialite, from famous Russian collector A.K.Rudanovsky, and gave it to his new daughter-in-law, Nancy Langhorne, a divorced mother of a young son who he apparently disapproved of, but nevertheless gifted her a Cartier Tiara with the Sancy Diamond and the magnificent Cliveden Estate (where Meghan Markle stayed the night before her wedding to Prince Harry on this day last year). Mrs Astor, as she then known, became a prominent society hostess, wearing the Tiara at a plethora of grand occasions during that period.
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In 1919, he husband succeeded his father as the 2nd Viscount Astor, and was forced to forfeit his seat in the House of Commons, which was contested and won by his wife, who became the second woman elected to the House of Commons and the first woman to take her seat. Lady Astor wore the Astor Tiara for a variety of portraits and Galas, including the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 and the State Opening of Parliament in 1948. A prominent hostess at Cliveden and No. 4 St. James’s Square in London, Lady Astor was known for being a lavish hostess, though she did have her enemies, including Sir Winston Churchill, with whom she had this famous exchange with Lady saying, “If I was your wife, I would poison your coffee,” and Sir Winston snorted back, “If I were your husband, I would drink it.”
In 1935, Lady Astor loaned the Tiara to her niece Nancy Tree Lancaster, the influential tastemaker, for King George V’s Silver Jubilee Ball at Buckingham Palace, apparently during the middle of a rift, she she recounted:
Nannie loaned me some of the Astor diamonds for the ball. We were in the middle of one of our fracases then and I was not speaking to her, so when she very kindly offered to loan me the diamonds, I said I would wear them only if it meant a temporary truce and did not mean I would have to speak to her afterwards. Magnanimously, she agreed, and I sallied forth wearing a huge tiara which had the famous Sancy diamond at its center.”
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Lady Astor passed away in 1964, and the Astor Tiara remained with the family until 1978, when her grandson, the 4th Viscount Astor, sold the Sancy Diamond to the Louvre Museum for $1 million, and where it is exhibited with many of the French Crown Jewels in the Galerie D’Apollon. The Cartier Tiara might still be in the possession of the family, with a different center,