So just why did Queen Victoria stop wearing the Imperial State Crown to public ceremonials? Why are there so many images of her wearing her Small Diamond Crown?
The answer lies in her complete devastation and withdrawal from public life after the death of her husband, Prince Albert at Windsor in December 1861. So crushed was Victoria by the death of her beloved that she wrote in her diary, ‘the world as a happy one had ended for me’.
Queen Victoria and her family immediately donned black mourning clothes and she continued to wear black for the rest of her life. Part of traditional Victorian widow’s weeds was a widow’s cap, which to begin with would have been black and plain. However once the initial 2 years of mourning had been observed the material used could be lighter in colour and more elaborately designed.
So deep was her grief that for many years she refused point blank to acquiesces to her government and family’s pleas to appear before her people. Although eventually, after a decade in perpetual mourning she made a public appearance at St Paul’s Cathedral to give thanks that her eldest son, the Prince of Wales had recovered from a life threatening illness.
Subsequent to this she began to consider attending ceremonials that would require her to wear the State Imperial Crown. Her difficulty was that the crown was not suitable to wear over her widow’s cap. It was for this reason that the Queen commissioned the Crown Jewellers, R S Garrard & Co to make her a light and comfortable crown that could be placed over her widow’s cap.
It is thought the design for the small diamond crown was based on the nuptial crown of Queen Victoria’s paternal grandmother, Queen Charlotte. The description of the crown according to The Royal Collection Trust is:
‘The crown comprises an openwork silver frame set with 1,187 brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds in open-backed collet mounts. The band is formed with a frieze of lozenges and ovals in oval apertures, between two rows of single diamonds, supporting four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, with four half-arches above, surmounted by a monde and a further cross-pattée.’
Queen Victoria first wore the crown to the state opening of parliament on 9 February 1871. From then on she used it frequently when required to attend formal occasions. She was often painted or photographed wearing the crown and so it is now instantly recognisable as part of her iconic image.
After her death in January 1901, it was placed on top of her coffin. In subsequent years it was worn by her daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra and later on by her cousin, Queen Mary. It is now on display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London where it proudly takes its place amongst the Crown Jewels of Great Britain.