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Kings and Queens wear crowns.  Great Lords wear coronets.  Emperors wear diadems.  Princesses, of course, wear tiaras.  Ferrebeekeeper could not let princess week pass without featuring a beautiful historical head-dress worn by a princess. The Iranian crown jewels (which are too-my eyes the most stylish) did not quite suit the theme and so I chose to look to Great Britain. Princess Margaret, late sister to the Queen of England was simultaneously a classic princess and a scandalous modern one.     This is her signature tiara, which she wore on her wedding to a photographer, or in the bathtub (to impress on people that she was a classical princess and a scandalous modern one too).

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Although the Poltimore tiara is emblematic of the nineteen sixties because of princess Margaret and her jet-setting (but slightly sad) lifestyle, the Poltimore tiara is actually Victorian crown.  It was originally made by Garrard for Florence for Lady Poltimore, wife of Baron Poltimore, in the 1870s.  Because of the jeweler’s ingenuity, it can be broken apart into brooches and a necklace, and the full tiara set also includes a little screwdriver.  Aside from the screwdriver, which I perhaps should not have mentioned first, the tiara is all diamonds set in gold and silver floral scrollwork patterns.

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Of course this history doesn’t really get us closer to answering the question of why princesses wear tiaras to begin with.  Since the dawn of time, a glistening hat has betokened status, but why?  The ancients believed that the form of a crown—rays emanating from the head denoted celestial importance—divinity and the Christians likewise elided the form with the halo of saints and angels, however it is possible there is an earthlier answer.

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After her death, Princess Margaret’s heirs auctioned off the Poltimore tiara for more than a million pounds.  Nothing shows off status like being able to wear decades worth of a person’s income to a party, and aside from its obvious prettiness (and the fame of its most famous owner), the Poltimore tiara wasn’t even really a valuable tiara….

The Coronet of Margaret of York

The Coronet of Margaret of York

Two years ago, Ferrebeekeeper featured the crown of the renowned king Henry VIII of England. To my eyes it has been the prettiest crown so far featured here…but it’s fake, of course. All of the real historical medieval crowns from English history were melted down and sold in the aftermath of the English Civil War (which ended in 1651) when Oliver Cromwell and the protectorate took over the United Kingdom and ruled with a puritanical iron fist. Well, technically all of the actual medieval crowns from English history were destroyed…except for two. Above is the finer of the two, the coronet of Margaret of York, who, though never a queen, became duchess of Burgundy, one of the richest and most important ducal territories in all of Europe. This crown survived England’s tumultuous history by the simple expedient of not being in England (which sort of describes Margaret of York as well).

Anonymous portrait of Margaret of York, ca. 1468, Louvre

Anonymous portrait of Margaret of York, ca. 1468, Louvre

Margaret was born the daughter of England’s most powerful lord, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, who served as lord protector of England during the madness of Henry VI (the pious but weak king who briefly ruled both France and England). Two of Margaret’s brothers were kings of England– Edward IV and Richard III (famous forever as a Shakespeare villain, whose remains were rediscovered 3 years ago under a parking lot in England). Margaret’s personal history of conniving nobles, kings, wars, alliances, betrothals, marriages, murders, horsing accidents, scurrilous sexual rumors, and complex treaties would make George. R. R. Martin pull out his beard in frustration, although Wikipedia amazingly manages to summarize it all in approximately 3 incomprehensible pages. When Margaret was married to Charles the Bold (whose untimely death precipitated two centuries of major wars) she wore this coronet. Burgundy was known for its wealth and extravagance. During her wedding the city was decorated with ornamental pelicans which spewed wine on the crowds!

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Margaret’s coronet is tiny—a mere 12 centimeters (five inches) in diameter and height, but it is richly “ornamented with multi-coloured enamel, pearls, gems set in white roses, a diamond cross, the coats of arms of England and Burgundy, and letters forming the name: margarit(a) de (y)o(r)k. Margaret of York.” The reason the beautiful object has survived history in such good shape is that Margaret visited the Imperial city of Aachen in the summer of 1474 and donated her coronet to the statue of Mary in the great cathedral there. The little crown has remained in the cathedral’s treasury for the ensuing 541 years. It should be noted that the meticulous Germans have also kept the original leather case (which makes the crown more valuable for serious collectors?).

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