Today marks the 110th Anniversary of the Birth of Elizabeth, the 5th Countess of Leicester, who was born on this day in 1912! The illustrious aristocrat who was an enterprising businesswoman and a Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen, the Countess was a fascinating figure, so today is the perfect opportunity to feature the Countess of Leicester’s Chaumet Diamond Tiara!
But first, lets learn about the Countess! Born Lady Elizabeth Yorke as the only daughter of the 8th Earl of Hardwicke and Ellen Russell, she married the Hon. Thomas Coke, the third-in-line to the Earldom of Leicester in 1931. The couple had three daughters: Anne Tennant, Baroness Glenconner, Lady Carey Basset, and Lady Sarah Walter, but no sons so the earldom eventually went to a cousin. After working for the Red Cross in Cairo at the start of World War II, she drove an ambulance in England for the duration of the war while being in charge of land girls in North Norfolk. After becoming the Countess in 1949 and gaining the family seat of Holkham Hall in Norfolk, she founded Holkham Pottery in 1951 which at its height employed nearly 100 people as the largest light industry in North Norfolk. The Countess held the office of Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen from 1953 to 1970, and in 1965 was invested as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO). The Earldom, Holkham Hall, and the Tiara went to the 6th Earl after the 5th Earl’s death in 1976, though the Countess continued to reside on the Holkham Estate, where she passed away in 1985.
Made by Chaumet in Paris around 1885, during the tenure of the 2nd Earl of Leicester, the Tiara, which features Diamond Palmettes in a Belle Epoque Empire Style, was likely made for his second wife, Georgina, Countess of Leicester. The Tiara was probably worn for countless social occasions by her and subsequent Countesses through the decades but was not publicly pictured until the middle of the 20th century.
The first publicly available pictures of the Chaumet Tiara came in the 1950s, when the 5th Countess of Leicester became a Lady of the Bedchamber to the new Queen. The Countess was photographed in the Tiara by Cecil Beaton, and also wore it to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, where her daughter, Lady Anne, was a Maid of Honour, as well as for the Coronation Galas and Balls.
As a Lady-in-Waiting, the Countess of Leicester joined the Queen in receiving Heads of State on State Visits, like for the Portuguese State Visit in 1955, and also joining the Queen on State Visits abroad, like the State Visit to Germany in 1965, which included many occasions to wear the Tiara. The Countess also wore the Chaumet Tiara at numerous family occasions, like the Coming Out Ball of her younger daughter, Lady Sarah, in 1962. While the Diamond Necklace usually worn by Lady Leicester with the Tiara was worn by her daughter, Lady Anne, for her Wedding to Lord Glenconner it appears that none of the daughters were pictured wearing the Tiara.
In comparison to other Ladies-in-Waiting like the Duchess of Grafton or Lady Susan Hussey, the Countess rarely accompanied the Queen to the State Opening of Parliament. Notable acceptions were in 1964 and for the State Opening in 1970, when the Countess can be seen wearing the Chaumet Diamond Tiara.
The Chaumet Tiara remained with the Coke Family and was worn by Lady Laura Coke, daughter of the 7th Earl, for her Wedding to Jonathan Paul in 1993. The Chaumet Tiara was also worn by Polly Whately when she married Viscount Coke (the current Earl) in 1996. The Tiara was also exhibited at the ‘LVMH – Les Journees Particulieres’ Exhibition in Paris in 2011. There is no doubt we will continue to see this splendid Heirloom for years to come!