Countess of Avon’s Tiara

Clarissa Eden, the Countess of Avon passed away earlier this week, at the age of 101! The niece of Sir Winston Churchill and widow of the Prime Minsiter Sir Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon, the illustrious Countess lived a long and eventful life, and thus we are taking this opportunity to feature her spectacular Pearl and Diamond Tiara!

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But first, lets learn about the Countess of Avon! Born Anne Clarissa Spencer Churchill in 1920, she was the only daughter of Major John Strange Spencer Churchill, son of Lord Randolph Spencer Churchill and Jennie Jerome, and Lady Gwendoline Theresa Maria Bertie, daughter of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, making her the niece of Sir Winston Churchill. Educated at Kensington Preparatory School and then at Downham School, Hatfield Heath, she studied art in Paris and also visited Tuscany and Romania in addition to ‘coming out’ in the London Season of 1938, studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. After studying philosophy at Oxford, she decoded ciphers in the Communications Department of the Foreign Office while living in a roof-top room at the Dorchester Hotel, which she obtained at a cut-price rate because of its vulnerability to bombing, alongside stays at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country home. In 1952, she married Sir Anthony Eden, the then Foreign Secretary, who became Prime Minister in 1955, after the resignation of Sir Winston, serving until 1957. Sir Anthony was raised to the peerage as Earl of Avon and Viscount Eden in 1961, which became extinct on the death of his son from his first marriage, the 2nd Earl, in 1985. After the Earl’s death in 1977, the Countess moved to London and remained active in Society Life, taking part in a television documentary by Cherie Blair in 2005 about prime ministers’ wives and published her memoir ‘From Churchill to Eden’ in 2007. The Countess was the second oldest spouse of a Prime Minister and outlived the five British prime ministers’ spouses who came after her.

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An Edwardian Diamond Tiara, topped with upright pearls, the provenance of this piece is unknown, but it may come from either the Churchill, Abingdon or Eden families and may also have been a loan. One of the first times the then Lady Eden was pictured wearing the Pearl and Diamond Tiara was in April 1955, at Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Farewell Dinner at 10 Downing St, following which Sir Anthony became the Prime Minister. There was an amusing incident during the Dinner:

The Duchess of Westminster had put her foot through Lady Avon’s train, causing the monarch’s consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, to remark, “that’s torn it, in more than one sense”

Lady Eden was pictured wearing her Pearl and Diamond Tiara in a portrait around the same time, as she is wearing the same gown and jewels worn to Winston Churchill’s Farewell Dinner, including a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond star Brooch.

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A few months later, Lady Eden wore the Pearl and Diamond Tiara for a Gala Performance hosted by the British Government at Covent Garden during the Portuguese State Visit to Britain, which was one of only two incoming State Visits, the other being the Iraqi State Visit in 1956, during Sir Anthony’s tenure at Prime Minister. If the piece belonged to the Countess of Avon and remained in her collection through the past few decades, it is possible that the Tiara may appear at Auction in the next few years.

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