Today marks the 160th Anniversary of the Death of Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent, who died on this day in 1861! The Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld Princess who became the Princess of Leiningen before marrying the Duke of Kent and becoming the mother of Queen Victoria, the Duchess was at the centre of splendid courts for her entire life. To mark the anniversary today, we are featuring her splendid Diamond Brooch!
Featuring diamonds in an ornate design, the Duchess of Kent was notably pictured wearing the brooch in a portrait by the famous painter, Franz Xaver Winterhalter. The provenance of the Brooch is unknown, but it must have been an important piece to have been depicted in the portrait. After her death, Queen Victoria wrote to her uncle, King Leopold I of Belgium, ‘We have an immense deal to do… but to open her drawers and presses, and to look at all her dear jewels and trinkets in order to identify everything… is like a sacrilege…’ The executor of the Duchess’ will was her son-in-law and nephew, Prince Albert, who was responsible for diving up her jewels before his own death a few months later. (A huge thanks to Beth of HFJCMB for her help in finding much of this information)
In 1863, Queen Victoria gave a ‘pin’, which the Duchess of Kent had left to Prince Albert, as a wedding gift to Princess Alexandra of Denmark on the eve of her wedding to the Prince of Wales, which may or may not have been the Duchess of Kent’s Diamond Brooch (Another thanks to the wonderful Beth). The new Princess of Wales often wore a large Diamond Brooch of mystery provenance, that is stylistically similar to the Duchess of Kent’s Brooch, usually with her Wedding Gift Tiara, as well as her Kokoshnik Tiara and Amethyst Tiara, most notably at the Wedding of her daughter, Princess Louise, to the Duke of Fife in 1889 and at the Wedding of her son, the Duke of York, and Princess May of Teck in 1893.
From the 1870s, the Princess of Wales also affixed the Diamond Brooch as the centrepiece of a very grand and versatile diamond necklace, which included a variety of diamond elements and brooches, as well as her Diamond Chandelier Earrings, which were originally a part of Queen Victoria’s Turkish Diamond Parure. This was usually worn with her Wedding Gift Tiara as well as many other diamonds necklaces and brooches, including a series of diamond stars which were a gift from the Prince in the 1860s.
Even after gaining access to the Crown Jewels and other royal heirlooms after finally becoming Queen in 1901, Queen Alexandra continued wearing her grand diamond brooch, most notably as a brooch at the State Opening of Parliament in 1901, as a necklace at the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, as well as the Wedding of Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and Princess Margaret of Connaught in 1905. After her death, the brooch, and the necklace, vanished from public view. While the Diamond Chandelier Earrings are now in the Norwegian Royal Collection, the fate of the Duchess of Kent’s Brooch and other elements is unknown, though they may still be in the British Royal Vaults or might have been remade into Queen Alexandra’s Diamond Circlet.