Plunket Tiara

The late Queen had one of the world’s largest jewellery collections, and wore her heirloom and newly acquired Tiaras for hundreds of occasion during her long life and reign, but exactly 50 years ago today, the Queen had to borrow this Tiara after her own broke en-route to attend the Fanfare for Europe Gala to celebrate Britain’s entry into the European Union.

The Barons Plunket are an Anglo-Irish Family, of which the 5th Baron Plunket was the Governor of New Zealand, and an older family Tiara was worn by his wife, Victoria, Baroness Plunket, the daughter of the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, during his tenure in New Zealand. The 6th Baroness was the illegitimate daughter of actress Fannie Ward and the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, but was not pictured in the Tiara before the couple’s tragic death in a plane crash in California in 1938. 

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Thus, the 7th Baron succeeded to the title young, growing up close to the Royal Family, raised by his aunt, the Hon. Helen Rhodes, whose son married the Hon. Margaret Rhodes, a niece of the Queen Mother. Lord Plunket was temporary Equerry to King George VI, before becoming the Equerry to Queen Elizabeth II and Deputy Master of the Household of the Royal Household from 1954 to 1975, presiding over many a royal occasion. Lord Plunket was Trustee of the Wallace Collection and of the National Art Collection Fund, and also advised for Princess Margaret to acquire the iconic Poltimore Tiara.

Despite never being married, Lord Plunkett made the decision to sell the older heirloom family Tiara and acquire a newer one, presumably to be worn by his two sisters-in-law. Of fairly modern design, the Tiara was bought by the 7th Baron Plunket at some point in the 1960s, from Wartski in London, where a model had been photographed wearing the piece as part of a campaign in 1966. (h/t to a follower) Earlier, the Tiara was also worn by a model on the cover of Tatler in December 1959.

After spending Christmas with the Royal Family at Windsor Castle, the Queen and Duke likely got ready for the Gala at the Castle, rather than going to Buckingham Palace, before driving to London to attend the Fanfare for Europe Gala at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The Queen wore cream gown with the Duchess of Gloucester’s Pendant Earrings, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Necklace and presumably the Vladimir Tiara, a combination she had worn with that same gown just a few months earlier, during the Luxembourg State Visit to Britain.   

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Presumably on the journey from Windsor to London, the Vladimir Tiara somehow broke, and with no time to get the the Tiara repaired nor return to Windsor or to Buckingham Palace to get a replacement, it was decided that the Queen would borrow this Tiara from Lord Plunket, who lived close to Covent Garden and took it out of the safe in time for the Queen’s car to arrive, hurriedly popping it on in time to arrive at the Royal Opera House. The incident was confirmed by the Hon. Mrs Shaun Plunket, sister-in-law of Lord Plunket, who wrote to Cynthia of RJWMB:

It was indeed their family’s tiara; the queen’s tiara had somehow broken that night en route to the event; Lord Plunket (Shaun’s older brother) lived around the corner and dashed home to retrieve his own tiara for her to wear. Voilà.

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When the Queen arrived at the Gala, she and the Prime Minister were met by protesters who booed Britain’s Entry into the EEC (now the European Union), a foreboding sign of times to come. Ahead of the Gala, the Queen was also met by several former Prime Minsters and their wives, including Lady Douglas-Home, bejewelled in their Tiaras, as well as her Mistress of the Robes, Fortune FitzRoy, the Duchess of Grafton, wearing her own borrowed Pearl and Diamond Tiara. 

The Queen did not forget Lord Plunket’s loan of the Tiara and he was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in the next year’s New Years Honours just a year before he passed away of cancer in 1975, at the age of 53. The Queen unusually attended both his funeral at the Chapel Royal and his memorial service at the Guards’ Chapel and allowed his burial in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, while also building a memorial to her friend in Windsor Great Park. The current location of the Tiara is unknown, as is whether it remains with the current Lord Plunket, the son of the aforementioned Hon. Mrs Shaun Plunket, or if it has been sold. We seem to recall an image of an identical tiara on display a few years ago but could not find that when we began writing this article.

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