All About Princess Diana's Wedding Tiara

Diana's older sisters, Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, both wore the Spencer family heirloom for their weddings.
joyce chen wedding news expert the knot
by Joyce Chen
joyce chen wedding news expert the knot
Joyce Chen
Wedding News Contributor
  • Joyce writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in celebrity wedding features and pieces on wedding trends and etiquette
  • Joyce conducts interviews with real couples about how they’ve adapted to the challenges of wedding planning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
  • In addition to The Knot Worldwide, Joyce also regularly contributes writing to Architectural Digest, Paste magazine, Refinery29, and TODAY.com
Updated Nov 02, 2021

A big reason Princess Diana has remained such a subject of intrigue among fans of the royal family over the years is that she has adamantly done things her own way. Case in point: for her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles, she chose a Spencer family heirloom, the Spencer tiara, over a precious royal family diadem and gift from her mother-in-law (the Queen), the Queen Mary's Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara.

The Spencer tiara had been in the family for quite some time at that point. Comprised of a few different family jewels, the central part of the diamond bandeau tiara was a wedding gift from Lady Sarah Spencer to Cynthia Spencer, Countess Spencer (Diana's grandmother) on her wedding day in 1919. It wasn't until the 1930s that the family enlisted the help of fine jeweler Garrard to remount the tiara with new elements, making it the iconic tiara it's become today—arguably just as iconic as Diana's ivory silk taffeta wedding dress with puffed shoulders and a 25-foot train.

Which Tiara Did Princess Diana Wear on Her Wedding Day?

The central part of the Spencer tiara is a heart-shaped piece that Diana's grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, received as a wedding present for her 1919 marriage to Albert, Viscount Althorp, the future 7th Earl Spencer. The ends of the diamond-encrusted tiara are said to have come from a piece of jewelry that once belonged to Frances Manby, the last known Viscountess of Montagu. That particular piece of jewelry was passed down to Lady Sarah Isabella Spencer (Albert's great-aunt) and then eventually gifted to Cynthia and Albert following Lady Sarah's death.

In the 1930s, Garrard constructed the Spencer tiara in its current form using those disparate pieces, using with diamonds shaped into tulips and stars framed by several elegant scrolls. The Princess of Wales' extraordinary, memorable 153-yard tulle veil, embroidered with 10,000 hand-sewn pearls, completed the look.

Who Else Has Worn the Spencer Tiara?

Even though Princess Diana may be the most famous person to have worn the Spencer tiara, she was definitely not the first—or the last. Her two older sisters, Lady Sarah Spencer (now Sarah McCorquadale) and Lady Jane Spencer (now Jane Fellowes) both wore the Spencer tiara for their weddings in 1980 and 1978, respectively. It should be noted, however, that their mother, Frances Shand Kydd, did not wear the diamond tiara when she married into the family in 1954. Following Princess Diana's head-turning entrance at St. Paul's Cathedral, the Spencer tiara was then worn in two more weddings: by Victoria Lockwood, who married Diana's brother Charles (the 9th Earl) in 1989, and again in 2018, by Celia McCorquodale, Princess Diana's niece (and Lady Sarah's daughter). It was the first time the tiara was worn since Diana's death.

Surprising Facts About Princess Diana's Wedding Tiara

Princess Diana's wedding headpiece is now the stuff of royal family legend, even though it technically never belonged to the royals. The sparkly Spencer tiara has become inextricably linked with Diana's transition from Diana Spencer to Diana, Princess of Wales, even though others have worn the family tiara since (and even though both of Diana's sisters wore it prior to her 1981 wedding). Diana wore the Spencer tiara for various important occasions throughout her marriage to Prince Charles, and it remains in the Spencer family now.

She preferred the Spencer tiara to the Cambridge Lover's Knot.

There have been many theories floating around with regards to Diana's decision to don the Spencer family heirloom over the Queen's gifted Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara. One practical reason may have been that the Cambridge tiara was simply too heavy to wear for such a full day, and that Princess Diana preferred to err on the side of comfort with the lighter Spencer tiara. (She was known to complain to Prince Charles about getting headaches when wearing the Lover's Knot tiara.) Another, more gossipy speculation is that Diana wanted to make it a point to assert her own identity on her big day; fans of The Crown will no doubt back this theory.

Diana returned the Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara following her divorce from Prince Charles.

When Princess Diana and Prince Charles' marriage fell apart in the early 90s, she was obligated to return the Cambridge Lover's Knot tiara to her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. But the behemoth diamond tiara has found a second life through Diana's daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge: Kate wore the Lover's Knot for the first time in December 2015, for that year's Diplomatic Reception, and immediately drew comparisons to the late Princess Diana. It has since become the Duchess's so-called "favorite" tiara, as she has worn it to numerous state affairs.

There's a reason why Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle didn't wear the Spencer tiara.

Even though it may seem to make sense that either or both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle wear the Spencer tiara to pay homage to their late mother-in-law on their wedding days, practically speaking, that was never an option. Traditionally, in royal weddings, brides wear jewelry from their husbands' families. So in the case of both Kate and Meghan, borrowing a royal tiara from the Queen made perfect sense. Hence, Kate wore the Cartier Halo tiara for her wedding to Prince William in 2011 and Meghan wore the Queen Mary Bandeau tiara for her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry. Both women, after all, were marrying into the Windsor family.

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