The Maltese cross tiara, now at the disposal of Queen Sonja of Norway, consists of a circular bandeau of diamonds onto which four diamond Maltese crosses have been mounted. According to what the royal family’s walking encyclopaedia Princess Astrid told me the tiara was made for Queen Alexandra of Britain as a lighter and simpler alternative to the so-called State Diadem (now called simply the Diamond Diadem) which had been made for George IV.
It was thus made to resemble the heavier, more formal piece, but four fleurs-de-lis replaced the national symbols in the originals. In the first photo Queen Alexandra wears the tiara together with Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown.
What complicates the matter is the existence of an 1856 Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria of Britain wearing a very similar tiara. This was according to Geoffrey C. Munn’s book Tiaras: A History of Splendour (2001) an 1853 remodelling of the so-called Regal Circlet which had been made for her aunt Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV.
However, this cannot possibly be the same tiara as is now in Norway, as Queen Victoria’s was dismantled in 1937 and the stones reused for the crown of Queen Elizabeth. The frame is now in the Museum of London.
Upon Queen Alexandra’s death in 1925 the Maltese cross tiara was one of the two tiaras inherited by her youngest daughter, Queen Maud of Norway. She wore it frequently in her later years, but had the fleurs-de-lis removed so that it should not look too similar to the British State Diadem.
Many have wondered why Crown Princess Märtha never wore any of her mother-in-law’s tiaras. According to what Princess Astrid told me the reason is as follows: Queen Maud used to take most of her jewels with her when she went to England every autumn and also did so in 1938. The Queen died during that stay and her jewellery was put in storage at Windsor Castle.
It remained there during the Second World War and it was only in connection with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 that Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha brought the chests back to Norway. As the Crown Princess was by then already mortally ill and died ten months later (57 years ago yesterday) she never came to wear any of Queen Maud’s jewels.
Following Crown Princess Märtha’s death her three children decided not to divide their grandmother’s jewellery until Prince Harald had married, meaning that it was not done until late in the autumn of 1968.
Princess Ragnhild then inherited Queen Maud’s big diamond tiara which had been a wedding present in 1896, while the diamond and pearl tiara which had also been a wedding present (and was stolen in 1995) went to Crown Prince Harald, who also inherited the Maltese cross tiara and the delicate so-called Fan tiara. Princess Astrid got the turquoise crown which had been made for Queen Alexandra and a small diadem which can be worn either with ruby flowers or diamond wings.
Queen Sonja has had the Maltese cross tiara altered and mostly chosen to wear only the bandeau without the crosses. The bandeau has also been shortened and a pair of earrings made out of some of the elements. One of the crosses is often worn as a brooch and occasionally the Queen has chosen to wear the bandeau with three of the crosses placed next to each other in front, which is in my opinion not a very successful solution.
During the state visit of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik in 1992 and again during the state visit of King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia in 1993 the bandeau (without crosses) and the earrings were lent to Princess Märtha Louise – two of only three occasions when she has worn another tiara than the one given to her by King Olav on her eighteenth birthday.
POSTSCRIPT: The information in this blogpost, which was given me by Princess Astrid, is confirmed by Hugh Roberts’s new book The Queen’s Diamonds (London, Royal Collections Publications, 2012), which says (page 168): “In the early months of her widowhood, the Queen [Alexandra] had the stone [Cullinan VI] incorporated (detachably) into a new circlet, made as a substitute for the Diamond Diadem [...], which had passed to Queen Mary on King Edward’s death”. In a footnote on the same page we read: “Garrard RL2, fol. 155, Queen Alexandra, 14 November 1910: ‘1 Marquise brilliant (piece of the Cullinan) 1 round brilliant & 84 brilliants furnished as a Royal Circlet composed of bandeau surmounted by 4 crosses patées & 4 fleur de Lys, the crosses & Fleurs de Lys form separate Brooches & 3 large brilliants can be removed at pleasure £326’. The circlet was bequeathed by Queen Alexandra to her third daughter, Maud, Queen of Norway, minus Cullinan VI and the ‘round brilliant’ (QAJ c.1920, fol. 1)”.
The photo of Queen Alexandra is by W. & D. Downey, the photo of Queen Maud is © Sjøwall.