A Hesse Horror – The Hesse Strawberry Leaf Tiara

I love the history of jewelry pieces, I wrote about cursed jewels on a Friday the 13th. While it’s fun to scare ourselves during the Halloween season, some jewels have had very real tragedies associated with them. We can take a look at one of the most terrifying tiaras.

I love to get spooky during October, where I live it gets cooler, crisper, and starts getting dark earlier. It is prime for some haunts and I live for it. So, as a jewelry lover, you know that I have been intrigued by haunted and cursed jewelry! Let’s get into some ghoulish, but gorgeous gems!

THE STRAWBERRY LEAF TIARA

It is always a shame when something so tremendously beautiful is linked to so much darkness. It’s neat for storytelling, but the people whose lives were touched with suffering after donning this gorgeous tiara may not think that “neat” is the right word choice.

THE ORIGINS

Black and white image of a royal woman in an off the shoulder court gown, wearing a tiara.
Grand Duchess Alice of Hesse and by Rhine

Prince Albert (married to Queen Victoria) was a bit of a jewelry fan himself, so when their third daughter became engaged he set to designing a gift for her himself. Unfortunately, the tragic associations with this tiara began before her wedding actually occurred. Prince Albert passed away, but Queen Victoria was sure to alert her daughter that Prince Albert had designed it with the House of Garrard (the Royal Jewellers) before his passing. The tiara was described “as a very beautiful tiara of diamonds, composed of a rich bandeau, with foliage, spires, etc..”

It is often claimed that Princess Alice wore the tiara on her wedding day, but my understanding is that she wore a floral wreath and returned to her mourning attire after the ceremony. Alice brought the tiara with her to Hesse in her new married life. She was seen wearing it with some regularity during her life and eventual role as Grand Duchess consort of Hesse and by Rhine. Princess Alice was the first of the children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to die (17 years to the day after her father), at 35 while nursing her family through diphtheria. Three of her children also died tragically.

A FAMILY TORN APART

A black and white image of a woman in profile, dressed in black, wearing a tiara.
Grand Duchess Victoria Melita of Hesse and by Rhine

The tiara next resurfaced with the Grand Duchess Victoria Melita, a niece who married Alice’s son Ernst. They had an unhappy marriage and wanted it ended, however, Queen Victoria would not allow it because they shared a child. Upon the death of the Queen, they were divorced but a mere two years later the child died of typhoid.

Ernst remarried; his new bride Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich also wore the Strawberry Leaf tiara. They had 2 children together, Georg Donatus and Louis. The Grand Duchess was often pictured in the tiara and it was along with the belongings that they kept when the monarchy ended in 1918.

A black and white image of a woman in courtly attire wearing a tiara.
Grand Duchess Eleonore of Hesse and by Rhine

A short time before Ernst passed away, Eleonore lent the tiara to her daughter-in-law, the Hereditary Grand Duchess Cecilie (The sister of the future Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip). Grand Duchess Cecilie was pictured in the Strawberry leaf tiara at a number of affairs, including the Coronation of King George VI in London, and a series of portraits.

A black and white image of a woman's face in profile, wearing a tiara.
Hereditary Grand Duchess Cecilie of Hesse and by Rhine

One month after the death of Ernst, in November of 1937, the Hesse family found tragedy once more. The family got on a plane bound for London to attend the wedding of Prince Louis to Margaret Geddes. The Grand Duchess was heavy with child and went into labor during the flight. The pilot attempted to land the plane in Belgium, they instead crashed and were all killed.  They had brought the tainted tiara onboard with them, which turned out to have been a horrific decision. The Strawberry Leaf tiara was found in a lockbox that turned up in the wreckage of the plane, along with other royal jewels.

THE AFTERMATH

After the death of his family, Prince Louis came and collected the belongings that he had suddenly inherited, along with his one surviving niece. The Strawberry Leaf tiara was among his inheritance. His niece lived in his care for two years and then she died of meningitis.

Prince Louis’ wife was not known to wear the tiara, though she may have. The tiara has never made a resurgence into regular wear by any of the families who have owned it. It now resides with the Foundation of the House of Hesse along with the other remaining assets of the family. It was exhibited in 2002 at the ‘Tiaras: A History of Splendor’ exhibition in London. Perhaps wisely, none of the current Hesse family members have been seen in the tiara.

It may be a combination of bad luck, poor life expectancies, and/or weaker medical care, but I would not risk it on my family.

What do you think? Is the Strawberry Leaf tiara carrying a curse, or maybe haunted? Is it all just a bunch of coincidences that gave it a bad name? There are always many versions of these tales, if you have heard a different one we would like to hear that too! We’d love to hear your thoughts, let us know in the comments.

Happy Halloween, PriceScopers!

Written by Kayti Kawachi

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