Today let’s chat about a formidable lady who was affectionately known to friends as “Mrs. Ronnie.”
The daughter of Scottish brewer, philanthropist, and MP William McEwan and Margaret Anderson, she was born Margaret McEwan in 1863. Hilariously, she would freely announce she’d “rather be a beeress than a peeress” and married the Hon. Ronald Greville in 1891. She quickly earned a reputation for her spirited personality and for throwing enormous parties.
Though she was quite a bit older than the Duke and Duchess of York, she became a good and loyal friend to both of them. When she passed away in 1942, she left her extensive collection of jewels to HM Queen Elizabeth “with my loving thoughts” in their entirety.
This short video entitled “Have You Heard About Mrs. Greville?” gives some more insights into her life.
Thanks to a delightful book called Counting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by William Shawcross, we have great insights into how the Queen Mum felt about Mrs. Greville and her jewels (and many other things!).
In fact, fact one of the first letters that Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon wrote to Prince Albert alludes to her. In a letter dated to 13 December, 1920, she wrote:
Dear Prince Albert,
Thank you so much for your letter. I am looking forward very much to Mrs Ronnie Greville’s party – though the thought of it terrifies me! I haven’t been to a proper dinner party for months and months, and have quite forgotten how to behave! I expect it will be great fun though…”
Notably, the new Duke and Duchess spent their honeymoon in 1923 in Mrs. Greville’s home Polesden Lacey in Surrey.
This photograph shows the Duke and Duchess on their honeymoon there.
We now jump ahead many years to September 1942 when she wrote to Osbert Sitwell (a write that she got to know through Mrs. Greville) of a recent visit she had with their ailing friend. Her letter reads:
“I saw Mrs. Ronnie about three weeks ago. She was at Braemar and quite miserable there. She came over to Balmoral, & it was too pathetic to see this little bundle of unquenchable courage & determination, quite helpless except for one very bright eye. I had not seen her for a couple of months, & was very shocked and sad at the change. But with all her weakness there was just the same tenacity of purpose, & I felt full of admiration for such a wonderful exhibition of ‘never give in’.
After she passed away that month, the Queen wrote another letter dated to Mr. Sitwell. It is dated to 27 September 1942 and gives a sense of Mrs. Ronnie’s sense of humour:
“I shall miss her very much indeed..she was so shrewd, so kind, so amusingly unkind, so sharp, such fun, so naughty (‘amn’t I naughty’), that must be very Scotch to say ‘amn’tI’, and altogether a real person, a character, utterly Mrs. Ronal Grenville and no tinge of anything alien”
The first mention of her jewels comes in a letter dated to 13 October 1942 when she wrote to her mother-in-law Queen Mary from Balmoral Castle. She says:
“…I must tell you that Mrs. Greville has left me her jewels, tho’ I am keeping that quiet as well for the moment! She left them to me “with her loving thoughts”, dear old thing, and I feel very touched. I don’t suppose I shall see what they consist of for a long time, owing to the slowness of lawyers and death duties, etc, but I know she had a few good things. Apart from everything else, it is rather exciting to be left something, and I do admire beautiful sones with all my heart. I can’t help thinking most women do!”…
There has been some conjecture that Queen Mary, who certainly loved beautiful stones with all her heart, may have had her eye on Mrs. Greville’s collection, so knowing that I read Queen Elizabeth’s letter a little differently. She must have had an inkling that there may be a case of ‘green eye’ on Queen Mary’s part!
Anyhow, the final letter I have to share before we dive into the jewels is from June 27, 1944. It is addressed to Princess Elizabeth and reads as follows:
My Darling Lilibet,
This is just a note about one or two things in case I get ‘done in’ by the Germans! I think that I have left all my own things to be divided between you and Margaret, but I am sure you will give her anything suitable later on – such as Mrs. Greville’s pearls, as you will have the Crown ones. It seems silly to be writing these sorts of things, but perhaps it would be easier for you darling if I explained about the jewels.
I am sure that you would find Cynthia Spencer & Dorothy Halifax very helpful over any difficult little problems & of course Granny!
Let’s hope this won’t be needed, but I know that you will always do the right thing, & remember to keep your temper & your word & be loving – sweet – Mummy.
It is a rather silly thing to be writing about! Note the allusion to Cynthia Spencer, Princess Diana’s grandmother (the lady below). They really were close!
And now, here are some of the key pieces of the collection known as the Greville Jewels:
The Greville Scroll Brooch, Cartier, 1929
We’ll start with this quite dainty and lovely brooch was made for Mrs. Greville by Cartier. It was worn numerous times by the Queen Mother, once even on a hat.
Since 2002, Queen Elizabeth has brought this brooch out a few times. More information can be found over at the always delightful blog, Her Majesty’s Jewel Vault.
Chandelier Earrings, Cartier, 1929
These beauties were apart of the exhibit Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration put on at Buckingham Palace in the summer of 2012. You can read about our visit and impression of those jewels here, if you like. Aren’t they stunning?
King George and Queen Elizabeth gifted these earrings to Princess Elizabeth when she married Prince Philip, and she wore them quite a bit in the ’50’s and ’60’s.
They haven’t made an appearance in awhile which is just all sorts of wrong. It’s about time they did, I say.
The Greville Peardrop Earrings, Cartier, 1938
These drops are comparatively dainty!
The Queen Mum kept these in her collection and also bequeathed them to Queen Elizabeth upon her death in 2002.
Ruby & Diamond Necklace, Boucheron, 1907
This necklace is not for the faint of heart and was passed along to Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her wedding. Princess Elizabeth modified the necklace slightly by removing two of the flower clusters to shorten it.
And voila, the necklace on an outing:
Since the Queen has taken to wearing higher necklines, this necklace hasn’t been worn in some time. It really needs a good dress to work around it! I think Sophie should be allowed to give it a go.
Marie Antoinette’s Emerald Necklace
There is some conflicting information about this one, so I’ll update this if I come across some more credible information. For now, let me tell you that it is believed that this emerald necklace, which once belonged to Marie Antoinette, was also included in the gift. It was also bequeathed to Queen Elizabeth upon the Queen Mother’s death, but as far as I know the Queen hasn’t worn it publicly. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The GrevilleTiara, Boucheron, 1921
Mrs. Greville had this tiara made by Boucheron out of diamonds that she had on a pre-existing tiara. I would love to find a portrait or picture of Mrs. Greville wearing it, but haven’t tracked one down yet.
According to Geoffrey Munn in Tiaras: A History of Splendour, Mrs. Greville had the tiara made by boucheron using stones from an old tiara. The order is dated to January 8, 1921 and this is how it orignally appeared:
The Queen Mum certainly made good use out of it, wearing it on numerous occasions and in oodles of portraits. She had it modified slightly in 1953, when she increased the tiara’s height by adding the pinnacles to the top. It really is fit for a queen and is more of a crown than a tiara.
It has since graced the head of the Duchess of Cornwall, who carries it with aplomb. This tiara needs a proper amount of hair to sit on and Camilla’s ‘do works, I think.
The Greville Diamond Necklace
Ok, this piece is a bit of a mystery to me still. Geoffrey Munn alludes to it saying that the gift included “a spectacular necklace of brilliant and baguette diamonds by Cartier.” Still working on tracking down a picture, and will post it when I do!
So, what’s your favourite piece? I’d be quite content with the chandelier earrings and would most likely take to wearing them in the bath!