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There’s a surprising variety of design possibilities for kokoshnik tiaras. Here are 5 drool-worthy examples and their stories.
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In a previous post, I talked about Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden’s stolen tiara. That tiara is in the style of a kokoshnik, so I thought I’d explain what that means and show you a few examples.
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Watch the 11-minute video summary instead!
The kokoshnik is a traditional Russian headdress. It’s shaped like a halo, widest above the forehead and a little narrower at the sides. If you’ve seen the golden halos of saints in Russian icons or other Christian art, you get the general idea. Here’s a Russian icon of Our Lady of Kazan from the 19th century:
The earliest versions of kokoshniks were covered with fabric and tied on with ribbons at the side. This version is from a painting by Viktor Vasnetsov – he was famous for his romanticized depictions of Russian history and folklore, including a super-famous painting of Ivan the Terrible you’d probably recognize. You know the one – Ivan’s throwing creeptastic side-eye, dressed in a fur cap and gold brocade tunic, and holding a staff with a pointy end, like he’s about to stab a bitch.
The kokoshnik was part of traditional Russian folk dress, along with the sarafan – a sort of jumper or pinafore with a blouse underneath. The kokoshnik made it to the Russian court in the 16th century, where boyars’ wives wore fancy versions studded with gems and covered with rich golden cloth. Catherine the Great had one, and her adorable granddaughter Alexandra Pavlovna was painted in one while wearing a sarafan.
Kokoshnik Tiaras Go Viral
The fashion really caught on in the mid-late 19th century, after jewelers adopted this traditional shape to make tiaras for the Russian imperial family. These tiaras were actually a clever piece of marketing for a royal family that was, in terms of bloodline, way more German than Russian.
By re-using a design from folk tradition, it’s like the Russian royals were saying, “Hey you, peasant—we wear kokoshniks, too. See? This means we all have a shared cultural history. We’re the same person, really. So think about that before you plan another bombing or revolt. You wouldn’t want to hurt you, would you?”
Here’s a fabulous kokoshnik tiara on Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna, as part of Russian court dress in about 1890. She’s adapted a fringe tiara to fit around the front of her kokoshnik:
Of the 14 tiaras in the Russian royal collection, four were kokoshniks (Munn; see source list at end). Soon, other European royals saw their Russian counterparts looking fly in their kokoshniks, and decided they wanted in on that action, too.
The trend hit maximum velocity in 1889 when Princess Alexandra of Wales specifically requested a kokoshnik tiara that looked like her sister Minnie’s—and by Minnie, I mean Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. We’ll talk about Alexandra’s tiara more below.
Today, you’ll find kokoshnik tiaras in the collections of Great Britain, Sweden, and Luxembourg, among others. But thanks to the ingenuity of designers like Cartier, Bolin, and Schmidt-Staub, the simple kokoshnik can look very different. Without further ado, here are five kokoshnik tiaras and the amazing women who wore them.
GRAND DUCHESS HILDA OF BADEN’S TIARA
Okay, so here’s an example of a kokoshnik tiara with a traditionally shaped frame, flat on the bottom and curved across the top. The space in the middle is empty, and there are stylized decorative motifs connecting the top and bottom of the frame.
It was created in 1907 or 1908 by the Baden court jeweler Hermann Schmidt-Staub. It belonged to Grand Duchess Hilda, and was probably commissioned when her husband inherited the title of Grand Duke.
The base has three rows of diamonds: one with rectangular diamonds, one with diamonds in a laurel wreath motif, and one with diamonds in intricate scrollwork. The arched top frame anchors a series of symmetrically draped garlands with diamond drops hanging between each. It contains 367 diamonds set in platinum and yellow gold (Scarisbrick).
A Bit about Its Owners
Hilda was born a princess of Nassau, but that title only lasted two years, since her dad lost his dukedom in the Austro-Prussian War. Luckily, he was filthy rich before his settlement with the Prussians, so Hilda was still a catch on the marriage market.
In 1885, she married Friedrich, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Baden (heir to the duchy). They had no children, which bothered Hilda and really bothered her mother-in-law.
In 1907, her father-in-law died and Friedrich (nicknamed Fritz) became the new grand duke. But their tenure only lasted a little more than a decade. She and Fritz lost their throne in the German revolution of 1918. Hilda kept this tiara and wore it to a bunch of the family events she attended during the long years of exile, including King Gustav of Sweden’s 80th birthday party in 1938.
When Hilda died in 1952, she left this tiara to her niece, born Princess Antonia of Luxembourg. Antonia had married Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria in 1921. Although the Bavarian royal family, the Wittelsbachs, also lost their titles in the 1918 revolution, Rupprecht remained a political force thanks to the deep loyalty of the Bavarian army.
If there were ever going to be a restoration, some thought Rupprecht would win out over a Hohenzollern thanks to his experience in the army. But Rupprecht had no intention of declaring himself the new kaiser—he wanted the people to do it for him. Like Cheap Trick, he wanted them to want him.
In the meantime, he and Antonia maintained a royal standard of living that included the Bavarian crown jewels. That is, until the Wittelsbach family sold some of those jewels in 1931, but that’s a story for another post.
As Hitler gained more and more power in the 1930s, Rupprecht and Antonia got nervous. They sent their kids to school in England so they wouldn’t have to join the Hitler Youth. Rupprecht and Antonia also refused to fly Nazi flags from their Munich palace, which is awesome because it pissed Hitler off to no end.
Here they are in 1935, about the time they realized shit was going to hit the fan:
In 1944, a group of German nobles tried to assassinate Hitler. If you’ve seen the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie, you know the deal. Hitler’s paranoia kicked into high gear. He thought Rupprecht and Antonia were part of that conspiracy (they weren’t). He put out the order to arrest them in Italy, where they’d fled to avoid a situation exactly like this.
Rupprecht evaded Hitler’s goons, but poor Antonia and the kids were rounded up.
She spent the war on the verge of death in a prison hospital, and the kids were bounced between concentrations camps until they were liberated in 1945. Antonia never returned to Germany and died in Switzerland in 1954.
Antonia’s daughter, Editha, inherited the kokoshnik tiara. She lived in Italy with her husband, a man she’d met during their quasi-exile in the run-up to World War II. Once liberated from a concentration camp, she went back to Italy to find him and marry him. They had three daughters, one of whom she named Antonia, after her mom. But her life had its share of tragedy, too. She and her husband were in a serious car accident in 1954, on the eve of her youngest sister’s wedding. She survived; her husband didn’t.
The shock was enough to kill Antonia, who had never really recovered from the Nazi prison hospital. I can’t imagine this tiara was much comfort to Editha, having lost her mother and the man she loved.
Editha remarried five years later, to another non-royal. At some point, she put this tiara up for sale. We know it was auctioned in 1973, but we don’t know if it was Editha who sold it, or if it had already passed into someone else’s hands.
The tiara appeared at auction again in 1984, when the Baden State Museum (Badisches Landesmuseum) bought it. That’s where it stayed until 2017, when some total asshole stole it.
The Westminster Enamel Tiara
Here’s an example of a kokoshnik tiara that looks a lot more like the original fabric versions—solid and colorful, except this time, gleaming enamel replaces the fabric seen in the original versions.
Joseph Chaumet created this tiara in 1911 using platinum, gold, enamel, and diamonds. The flowers are forget-me-nots set on a background of blue pliqué-a-jour enamel. It contains a total of 280 brilliant-cut diamonds, mounted in platinum and gold. The second Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, bought it from Chaumet for £375. Diana Scarisbrick,who wrote the Christie’s lot essay when it came up for auction, describes it as “combining Russian grandeur with Parisian elegance” (Christie’s).
Yeah, that sounds about right.
A Bit about Its Owners
The Duke of Westminster, the aforementioned Hugh Grosvenor, gave it to his wife, Constance Edwina Cornwallis-West (called Shelagh). The reason? She needed something kick-ass to wear during the endless string of parties and balls celebrating George V’s coronation in 1911. The Westminsters’ party was one of the most decadent; Crown Princess Marie of Romania reported seeing Gainsborough’s famous The Blue Boy hanging on the wall.
But who, you ask, were these people?
Shelagh’s father’s family had a noble background—they were descended from the Earl de la Warr (Delaware). Growing up, she and her family lived near the Grosvenors (aka the dukes of Westminster). Shelagh and the first duke’s grandson, nicknamed Bendor, were childhood sweethearts. Her little sister, Daisy, conducted a mock wedding ceremony for them as kids, complete with the butler and housemaid as witnesses.
For years afterward, Shelagh and Bendor called each other “wife” and “husband.” But as teenagers, their families refused to let them get married. So they waited until Bendor’s grandfather kicked the bucket, then they swapped rings in 1901. Here he is in 1903:
They went on to have three kids together, two girls and a boy. Little sis Daisy didn’t do too badly, either—she married a super-rich German prince and befriended Kaiser Wilhelm II.
But all was not well in the Westminster marriage. Shelagh liked being the center of attention, always playing the society hostess. Bendor was more conservative and didn’t like the expensive and frivolous lifestyle Shelagh and Daisy were so well known for. Neither one, it seems, wanted to change or compromise. Here’s a famous portrait of Shelagh from 1906. I can only imagine what wearing that corset felt like.
When Bendor and Shelagh’s only son died in 1909, the marriage was basically over. Four years later, in 1913, Hugh offered Shelagh a yearly allowance if she’d agree to a separation. “Nope,” she said. “I’m still good with the castles and the tiaras and our daughters, thanks.”
During World War I, they kept themselves busy with fighting (him) and nursing (her). He worked on a prototype for an armored Rolls-Royce, which sounds pretty cool. They finally divorced after the war in June of 1919, but he kept the tiara (ouch).
Later, Shelagh remarried to an RAF officer. Bendor shacked up with Coco Chanel. He also married three more times, to Violet Mary Nelson, Loelia Mary Ponsonby, and Anne Winifred Sullivan. He never had a son, and his title passed to a cousin.
When Bendor died in 1953, the tax on his estate totaled a whopping £18 million, a Guinness world record at the time. To make that payment, the new duke’s family had to sell some of the estate’s artwork and jewels. This tiara may have been one of those sacrifices.
We’re not clear on the date it was sold or who bought it, but it reappeared on the market in about 1995, mislabeled as a Fabergé tiara. Tiara expert Diana Scarisbrick matched it to a design in the Chaumet ledgers, proving its provenance.
Weirdly enough, the buyer was yet another duke of Westminster. The sixth duke, Gerald Grosvenor, was a billionaire who personally owned an assload of London real estate in Belgravia and Mayfair. In 1978, he had bought the Bagration tiara for his new wife, Natalia (who has a humdinger of a story about her ancestors – we’ll cover that one in a future post). The gift must have gone over like gangbusters because this enamel tiara joined the family collection once more.
But in this case, history really did repeat itself. Grosvenor put this enamel tiara up for auction ten years later, in November of 2015. I’m not sure why, since the Sunday Times estimated his wealth one year later at about $13 billion (yes, that’s with a“b”). It’s not like he needed the money, so maybe he was just really antsy to clean out the closet. Or maybe there’s some unknown curse on this tiara that we just don’t know about.
The tiara sold for 677,000 CHF to an anonymous buyer who was not me.
UPDATE: We know where it is! This tiara is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science – at least it was as recently as summer of 2018. The museum has a permanent collection of Faberge items from the McFerrin Fabergé Collection, the largest private collection of Fabergé items in the world (600+ items). Holy mother of God, I need to get to Houston. So that anonymous buyer was apparently Arthur and Dorothy McFerrin!
Queen Alexandra’s Kokoshnik Tiara
Here’s an example of a kokoshnik tiara that’s composed entirely of diamonds. Boom. How do you like them apples? It’s literally a wall of diamonds. On your head. I can’t even, you guys.
This tiara consists of 61 platinum bars that hold 488 diamonds (Field). It first belonged to Alexandra, Princess of Wales. It was a gift for her 25th wedding anniversary, presented by a group of British noblewomen. Alexandra knew the gift was coming, though—she’d specifically requested the kokoshnik shape. The noblewomen carried her request straight to Garrard, who created this beauty. It remains one of my all-time favorites.
A Bit about Its Owners
Alexandra was a Danish princess, born into a relatively poor family (for royalty). As kids, she and her sisters often sewed their own clothes. Later, when her father became King Christian IX of Denmark, they got a serious lifestyle upgrade. But none of them lost their unique ability to laugh, have fun, and play practical jokes on each other.
I’m not kidding. If royalty had a family fit to star in Punk’d, this is it.
From squirting each other with garden hoses to turning cartwheels in corsets to blowing cayenne pepper into the faces of ladies-in-waiting with big noses, this family (and their kids and grandkids) did it all.
In addition to a sense of humor, they also had a knack for landing thrones. Take, for example, Alexandra’s sister—she became Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia.
See that rack of carbon on her head? That’s what inspired Alexandra’s request for this tiara. Here’s Alexandra, wearing this tiara for her son’s wedding in 1893:
Both Alix and Minnie had their fair share of heartbreak, but I’ll save Minnie’s story for another post. As for Alix, her major source of heartbreak was her husband, Bertie (the future King Edward VII). Dude just couldn’t keep it in his pants. He cheated on her with a dizzying array of aristocrats and actresses. That doesn’t mean he didn’t love her. It doesn’t mean she didn’t love him. It’s just a fact that tends to depress modern readers. “He loved me most,” Alix said later (Fryer et al, 64) . Make of this what you will.
But Alix had a lot more going for her that had nothing to do with her husband. She loved dancing, hunting, dogs, ice skating, and riding horses. She loved painting and woodworking and photography. Woodworking? Yeah, that’s right. I said woodworking.
Also, thanks to a divisive conflict between her home country of Denmark and Prussia, she had strong feelings about the unification of Germany (hated it) and the kaiser (hated him). In 1890, when Britain was about to trade their North Sea island of Heligoland for Germany’s colony of Zanzibar, Alix wrote to her ministers and said, “Don’t do it. Bad idea. Seriously. Those guys are assholes.” The ministers didn’t listen, the exchange happened, and then Germany used Heligoland to fortify their navy and generally cause asshattery and mayhem during WWI.
When Alix died in 1925, this tiara passed to her daughter-in-law, Queen Mary. When Mary died in 1953, she left it to her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. The present queen wears this tiara a lot…almost as much as I wear my double strand of imitation pearls.
It was in especially heavy rotation in the 1960s. In 1961, for example, she wore it to the Vatican with a black veil to meet Pope John XXIII. I think Prince Philip likes this tiara; look at his cheeky little grin in the picture below. Five bucks says he was getting handsy in the hallway before being announced:
Here’s another image of the queen in this tiara, from a 2005 visit to Canada:
Elizabeth Feodorovna’s Emerald Kokoshnik
Here’s an example of a kokoshnik tiara that’s filled in with stamped silverwork and set with gems.
This tiara’s frame is made of gold and silver, traced with geometric patterns. Set into the frame are diamonds and seven domed emerald cabochons. Beneath the frame’s geometric inserts are tiny lilies of the valley, a symbol of love and luck.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t work.
The Russian court jeweler, Bolin, created it in 1884 for Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia. It was a wedding present from her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, in order to display the emeralds he’d inherited from his mom.
A Bit about Its Owners
Elizabeth, nicknamed “Ella,” was born a princess of Hesse and by Rhine. Her little sister, Alexandra, would grow up to marry Tsar Nicholas II and become the last tsarina of Russia. But Ella was the first to marry into the Romanov clan. Fun fact: since Sergei was Nicholas’s uncle, that made Ella not only Alexandra’s sister, but her aunt by marriage. You know what they say…incest is best.
As a couple, Ella and Sergei were a strange match. Ella was warm, social, and artistic. Sergei was aloof and intense, deeply devoted to the Orthodox faith, and very well read. Ella’s grandma, Queen Victoria, had been hell-bent on preventing their marriage because she didn’t trust Russia or Russians. “Don’t do it,” she said. “This is going to bite you in the ass.” In the long run, she was right.
Ella and Sergei had no kids of their own, but they became foster parents to their orphaned niece and nephew. Their nephew, Dmitri, tended to give them higher parenting marks than their niece, Maria, who resented Ella for pretty much the rest of her life.
Everything changed in 1905, when an anarchist assassinated Sergei by throwing a bomb at his carriage. The incident transformed Ella. She gave up her position in society, along with her beautiful clothes and jewels, and founded the Order of Saints Martha and Mary. For the rest of her life, Ella lived as a nun and worked to help the poor.
In 1917, Russia convulsed in revolution—twice. Ella thought the Bolsheviks would ignore her because she was a nun. She was wrong. In 1918, the Bolsheviks arrested her and took her to Alapayevsk with seven friends and family members. They were all murdered on the night of July 16/17.
In 1908—after Sergei’s assassination but before the revolution—Ella had given this tiara to her niece and foster daughter, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. It was a wedding present, celebrating Maria’s marriage to Prince Wilhelm of Sweden. But like everything else in this story, that marriage went to hell in a handbasket, ending in divorce in 1914. Maria blamed Ella for forcing her into the marriage. But from Ella’s point of view, she probably wanted to see Maria settled so she could devote herself to religious life.
Maria brought the tiara back to Russia after her divorce. In 1917, while living in Tsarskoe Selo with the abdicated tsar and his family, she reconnected with a man she’d known as a child—the son of the palace commandant, a man named Prince Sergei Putiatin. They were married that September. Together, they fled the Bolshevik revolution with an old Swedish ID document of hers. Proving that necessity is the mother of invention, she hid the document in a bar of soap, then flashed it at the Ukrainian border to get them the hell out of Dodge.
Later, in Paris, Maria opened a Russian embroidery shop called Kitmir to make ends meet. Who showed up to place an order but Coco Chanel! Maria’s brother, Dmitri, was having an affair with her—but it wasn’t total bliss. His Facebook status would have been set to “It’s complicated” because Coco Chanel was also sleeping with the Duke of Westminster (you know, from the second tiara story in this post). In any case, Maria had to sell some jewels to get the cash to hire enough staff to fill Chanel’s order for embroidery.
Maria put out the word that she had Ella’s emerald tiara and would part with it for the right price.
The lucky buyer? A king who needed to found a dynasty, stat.
We’ve got another Maria here, folks. This Maria was born a princess of Romania, with the adorable nickname of “Mignon.” In 1922, she married King Alexander of Yugoslavia, who gave her Ella’s emerald tiara as a wedding present.
Now, before you go thinking what a cute couple they make, let’s think about why Maria looks a little shell-shocked here. Maybe it was wedding stress, or maybe she did a little homework on her husband’s family. King Alexander’s father had hired a terrorist group to murder the previous king and queen of Serbia. Dad and his goons had dragged the royal couple out of their panic room, shot them, mutilated them, disemboweled them, and tossed the bodies off a second-floor balcony.
Seriously, you guys, Balkan history has more violence, treachery, and murder than The Sopranos and Game of Thrones put together. Maybe that’s why Maria looks a little zonked in the photo above.
So, you may have noticed that I said Alexander’s dad had murdered the previous king of Serbia…but I described Alexander as the king of Yugoslavia. What gives? Well, Alexander had originally been the crown prince of Serbia. But in 1918, as part of the post-World-War-I garbage fire cleanup process, Serbia was folded into a new country called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, otherwise known as Yugoslavia.
Maria adapted well to life as a Balkan queen. Her skill-set clearly included looking royal as fuck, as demonstrated above. While she did things like paint and sculpt, along with charity work and the occasional PR bit with Western newspapers, her husband became kind of a dick.
Elections? Rigged. The Cyrillic alphabet? Not anymore. Alexander made changes that pissed a lot of people off. He gave zero fucks. He actually said: “If you want to have serious riots in Yugoslavia or cause a regime change, you need to kill me. Shoot at me and be sure you have finished me off, because that’s the only way to make changes in Yugoslavia.”
So that’s exactly what they did.
On October 9, 1934, Alexander was visiting Marseilles, France. A gunman fired ten shots at Alexander’s car, killing him instantly. Maria was now a widow, and her son, Peter, was now the king.
Maria hung around long enough to see him settled under the care of his regent, Prince Paul (his dad’s cousin). Then, in 1941, she ghosted. She said, “I’m going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is NOT my idea of a swell time!”
Just kidding, she didn’t say that. I couldn’t resist the Indiana Jones reference. But she may have thought it, because she moved to England and never returned to Yugoslavia.
Peter came of age in a time when rulers were forced to take sides for or against Hitler. When World War II broke out, his regent, Prince Paul, did his damnedest to keep Yugoslavia neutral. He knew the country couldn’t hold out against either the Axis or the Allies—neutrality was the only answer. But it just wasn’t possible. Bowing to immense internal pressure from Serbia, the largest ethnic and territorial component of Yugoslavia, Paul allied with Hitler.
In retaliation, the Brits backed Peter in a coup and ousted Paul from power.
“Oh hell no,” said Germany. When the Third Reich attacked, Yugoslavia lasted all of a week. On his way to exile, Prince Paul facepalmed and was all, “Goddamn it, you guys, I told you that’s what would happen.”
Peter fled the palace by climbing down a drainpipe and set up his government in exile in London. After the war, when Communist forces took control of the country, Marshal Josip Tito deposed Peter permanently. This poor guy had no crown, no country, and nowhere to go.
But he still had his mother’s tiara.
In 1949, Peter moved to the United States and left the tiara with Van Cleef & Arpels in New York as collateral for a $20,000 loan. It’s still there. They have since removed the cabochon emeralds and replaced them with paste stones. What did they do with the originals that had once belonged to Empress Maria Alexandrovna? Your guess is as good as mine. Peter died in 1970 in Denver, Colorado, of cirrhosis of the liver. He’s buried in Libertyville, Illinois, which is pretty ironic considering the story of his life.
He was the only European monarch to ever be buried on American soil. In 2013, his body was repatriated to Belgrade at the request of his son.
Crown Princess Cecilie’s Kokoshnik Tiara
Here’s an example of a kokoshnik tiara that’s filled in with latticework anchored between the top and bottom of the frame. The top and bottom of the frame feature diamond laurel motifs, with smaller diamonds standing at attention, evenly spaced along the top of the frame.
This tiara was most likely made by Fabergé. It’s shown with the three detachable brooch-like “elements” that attach to the front for more visual interest. Without these elements, you could, say, apply a fabric backing to the latticework that matches your outfit.
NOTE: This post has been updated with a new image of this tiara – and a confession! The image I had originally posted above, of the so-called “shamrock” tiara, is actually a different tiara than the one above. Turns out, there’s a lot of confusion online between the shamrock tiara and the tiara above. They’re extremely similar, but the quatrefoils in the lattice face different directions and the laurel leaves in the top and bottom frames are stylistically different. I’m super-embarrassed that I didn’t see it right away, but glad I can correct my mistake!
A Bit about Its Owners
Cecilie got this tiara as a wedding present when she married Kaiser Wilhelm II’s oldest son, Crown Prince (wait for it) Wilhelm. Although it’s unsigned, Fabergé almost certainly created this tiara, a natural choice when you have as much Russian ancestry as Cecilie. Her mother was a Russian grand duchess, Anastasia Mikhailovna, as was her great-great-grandmother on her father’s side, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna.
In an age when the average woman was five feet, give or take, Cecilie was almost six feet tall. Combine that height with a shockingly thick head of hair, often styled in a Gibson-girl pompadour, and it’s no wonder German society fell for her. I mean, holy crap, you guys…look at that hair. They don’t make enough Aveda volumizing tonic in the world to get my hair to do that.
Cecilie was a fantastically beautiful fashion plate with an instinctive knack for PR who took German society by storm. Her sister-in-law, the kaiser’s only daughter, thought Cecilie was the bee’s knees.
If only her husband felt the same way…
He chatted her up at her brother’s wedding in June 1904. Three short months later, they were engaged. They had a beautiful June wedding in 1905, and in 1906, their first son was born.
But behind the scenes, their personalities clashed.
Wilhelm was a controlling womanizer, but Cecilie wasn’t the type to sit back and take it. If you believe the gossipy Catherine Radziwill, Cecilie knew what she was in for. According to Radziwill, before the wedding, during a trip to Fiesole, Wilhelm kicked a dog on the street just to keep her from petting the dirty animal. Cecilie scooped up the dog, bought it from its owner, and took their carriage home herself, leaving Wilhelm in the street, alone.
First of all, if this story is true, YOU GO, GIRL. Also, we need to have a little talk about warning signs and which direction you should run when you see them.
Another gossipy episode from Radziwill says that, after their marriage, Wilhelm caught her reading a letter from a male friend and beat the shit out of her with a riding crop.
Cecilie ran away, intending to leave him. She made it to the last train station on German soil before the Swiss border…then the army caught up with her and brought her back to Wilhelm. I hate it when that happens.
Although they continued to pop out the kids, any romantic feeling between them was dead and gone. They had six kids total, including one baby girl with Down syndrome.
The German revolution in 1918 toppled the Hohenzollerns from their throne. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, but Cecilie was allowed to stay in Germany with her kids, where she adapted to life as a private citizen. Her husband wasn’t allowed back until 1923.
Later, during World War II, her oldest son was killed in action in France. When 50,000 people showed up at his funeral, Hitler freaked the fuck out and banned all Hohenzollern princes from fighting at the front. Nobody puts Baby (read: Hitler) in a corner, least of all a deposed dynasty no one was supposed to like anymore.
Both Cecilie and Wilhelm survived the war, although they did have to flee from the Red Army in 1945. Wilhelm died in 1951. Cecilie died in 1954 and was buried next to Wilhelm in the cemetery at Schloss Hohenzollern.
The tiara stayed in the family. Cecilie’s daughter, named Cecilie Viktoria, wore it when she married one of the “Monuments Men,” Clyde Harris of Amarillo, Texas in 1949.
Wait, what? The granddaughter of the kaiser married an American and moved to Texas? Yes. Yes, she did, and it’s a fantastic story.
They met at Wolfsgarten, the Hesse family’s hunting lodge. Cecilie Viktoria and her mother had fled there from Potsdam to escape the approaching Soviet army in 1945. Clyde Harris was stationed there to catalog the castle’s artwork and other valuables.
Later, Harris investigated a jewel theft and helped the Hesse family recover a valuable Holbein painting. Cecilie Viktoria volunteered to help because (a) she spoke perfect English, (b) was very familiar with Wolfsgarten and the Hesse family history, and (c) knew a little something about royal jewels.
They clicked right away, but at first it seemed like there were just too many obstacles for a romantic relationship. First off, Clyde didn’t think he could ask a princess to marry him. Even worse, his parents were ticked that, after all the blood and sweat and tears of World War II, he wanted to marry a German.
So Clyde and Cecilie Viktoria wrote to each other for three years, according to their daughter (Source: NewsOK.com). In the meantime, he went back to Amarillo, Texas and started an interior design business. At one point, both of them were engaged to other people. But when Clyde’s fiancée broke it off, Cecilie Viktoria was the one to comfort him.
A few years later, Clyde went to Europe on a business trip. He contacted Cecilie Viktoria, who met him at the train station. One look was all it took for them both to know—this was love. They got married ten days later.
Let that be a lesson to all those bridezillas out there, who stress over every detail about napkins and flowers and hair. A Hohenzollern princess, born and raised in the lap of luxury, gave no fucks and arranged her wedding in ten damn days. When you’re in love, the details will fall into place. If they don’t, maybe those things don’t matter very much after all.
After the wedding, Cecilie Viktoria told reporters she didn’t mind giving up her title: “I’ve got a better title,” she said. “It’s ‘Mrs. Harris.’ ”
Say it with me now…aww. She also said, “I’m going to be a real American and I’m going to love Texas” (Source: MilwaukeeSentinel).
Clyde and Cecilie Viktoria had one daughter. I don’t think anyone knows whether Cecilie Viktoria inherited this tiara, or whether she’d just borrowed it for her wedding. Maybe it actually stayed with one of her brothers in Germany? UPDATE: This tiara was up for sale! It was auctioned off by Sotheby’s on May 14, 2019. Click here to find out how much it sold for.
Since this is as close to a happy-ever-after as we’re gonna get, I’m going to end this post here. Thanks for reading this epic post on kokoshnik tiaras – I hope you liked it!
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Non-book sources (like web articles and online auction information) are all cited and linked within the text.
- Tiaras by Geoffrey Munn (affiliate link)
- Tiara by Diana Scarisbrick (affiliate link)
- The Queen’s Jewels by Leslie Field (affiliate link)
- The Story of My Life by Queen Marie of Romania (free via Archive.org)
- Lives of the Princesses of Wales by Mary Beacock Fryer, Arthur Bousfield, and Garry Toffoli (affiliate link)
- Antonia von Luxemburg by Jean-Louis Schlim (affiliate link)
- Queen Alexandra by Georgina Battiscombe (affiliate link)
- Memoirs by Prince Christopher of Greece (affiliate link)
- Ella: Princess, Saint and Martyr by Christopher Warwick (affiliate link)
- Education of a Princess by Marie, Grand Duchess of Russia (affiliate link)
- The Disillusions of a Crown Princess by Princess Catherine Radziwill, also known as Count Paul Vassili (free via Google Books)
- Music, post audio: “Bleu” by Komiku. Generously made available via FreePD.com.
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