The Fleur-de-Lys is the most impressive tiara that the Spanish royal family possesses — in fact, the long time family nickname for the piece is “La Buena,” or “The Good One.” Through decades of upheaval, they’ve managed to hang on to the good one, and it’s graced the heads of four of the first ladies of the land.
Four women have ever worn this tiara in public. The first was Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, better known to history as Queen Ena of Spain whose portrait I have restored and Colourised above. When she married King Alfonso XIII in 1906, this tiara was her gift from her new husband. The all-diamond diadem had been made for the new queen by Ansorena, and she wore it on her wedding day.
The piece was originally fashioned as a coronet or closed circlet, but shortly afterward, Ena had the tiara converted into the more open form we’re used to seeing today. The conversion allows the tiara to be worn either open or closed, though it’s not been worn as a closed circlet since Ena’s youth time.
The tiara features three large fleur de lys motifs – a symbol of heraldry and of the House of Bourbon. It is studded with large round diamonds and set in platinum, which is said to be the lightest of metals for the wearer to use.
Ena was quite generous with her jewel collection, frequently loaning major pieces to family members, including her daughters. But not La Buena — that one was reserved for her own personal use. In fact, she only loaned the tiara to one person during her lifetime: her daughter-in-law, María Mercedes, the Countess of Barcelona. Had the revolutions and civil wars of the early twentieth-century not resulted in a temporary cessation of the monarchy in Spain, María Mercedes would have become queen in 1941. Instead, she and her husband, Infante Juan, never ascended to the throne; their son, Juan Carlos, would eventually become the next Spanish king. But Queen Ena offered her daughter-in-law the chance to wear a queen’s tiara anyway, lending it to her to wear at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, among other occasions.
When Ena died in 1969, she bequeathed the tiara to her son, the Count of Barcelona. But she did so with a caveat: the tiara was earmarked specifically for the use of Spanish queens. (Also reserved for the use of the Spanish queen in Ena’s will, are Ena’s diamond collet necklace, a pair of diamond earrings, a pair of diamond bracelets, and a number of pearl pieces, including a copy of the famous La Peregrina pearl pendant.)
The next wearer, accordingly, was Queen Sofia, the wife of the former King Juan Carlos. She has worn the tiara, which somehow manages to be both imposing and delicate at the same time, on important occasions throughout her husband’s reign.
Since the abdication of King Juan Carlos, La Buena was passed on to Queen Sofia’s daughter-in-law, the now Queen Letizia.