Mrs Greville owned Polesden Lacey from 1906 and donated it in her will to the National Trust in 1942. Her wealth was inherited from her father William McEwan, the Edinburgh brewer. She was a hostess to royalty and the famous of the day and to mix with the great acquired possessions befitting her role including some remarkable jewellery. Unfortunately all the papers on her and her life that would have been so fascinating today were destroyed on her death on her orders. However some details can be reconstructed.
In her will she made certain bequests,a legacy of £20,000 to Princess Margaret sister of our present queen, £25,000 to Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, to ‘goddaughter Rosalind Cubitt’, a gift of £500, her cultured pearls and ‘all my wearing apparel including my laces and furs and all my trinkets’, but to the Queen Mother, then ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth…with my loving thoughts all my jewels..’
This last bequest is of particular interest as it shows the degree of affection and friendship between Mrs Greville and the late Queen Mother who with her husband had spent part of their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey back in 1923, long before they had ever imagined that they might be king and queen. Mrs Greville was much older than the Queen Mother by some 38 years but there was a great friendship with birthday presents and gifts which continued through her life. Through the gift of her jewellery we can to this day have a small insight into Mrs Greville – her jewellery appears presently adorning our royal family. We concentrate on three items, a tiara, a necklace and some earrings.
The Queen Mother, then queen, first wore her tiara in 1947. Mrs Greville had bought it from the French ‘House of Boucheron’, renowned for its jewellery but several diamonds were added by Cartier to give it additional height. The tiara remains in the royal collection and the photo shows Camilla wearing the tiara at a banquet given for the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Uganda.
The association with Camilla introduces an interesting connection with Polesden Lacey. Mrs Greville’s husband Ronnie was a close friend of George Keppel and very close to the royal circle of Edward VII. Alice, George Keppel’s wife, was amongst Mrs Greville’s friends and became the favourite mistress of Edward VII from around 1898 to the end of his life. One of Alice ‘s daughters Sonia married Roland Cubitt a descendant of Thomas Cubitt (the architect of the previous house at Polesden Lacey). Mrs Greville was godmother to one of their daughters, Rosalind Cubitt who is the mother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. And now we see Camilla wearing part of Mrs Greville’s jewels.
Another part of the Greville jewellery was a five strand necklace reputed to have once belonged to Marie Antoinette called the Greville Collier and this was worn by the Queen Mother at a state visit by King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark in 1951. The necklace had originally been ordered by Mrs Greville from Boucheron in Paris in 1907 and again bequeathed to the Queen Mother in 1942. It was given to Princess Elizabeth by her mother as a wedding present in 1947.
A further gift at the time of her marriage was a set of earrings designed to show the greatest possible variety of modern cuts of diamond including half moon, trapeze, square, pear, baguette and emerald. Mrs Greville had ordered the earrings from Cartier in 1918. Additionally an art deco ring which had been a favourite of the Queen Mother had been reset and given to Camilla and this too is thought to be part of the Greville inheritance.
All this adds interest to Polesden Lacey and its famous resident and shows the closeness of the connection to the royal family. It also shows the wealth of Mrs Greville – the £1.5 million valuation of the estate in 1942 is worth countless millions by today’s value. The tiara alone must be valued at say £15 million to £20 million. The jewellery of Mrs Greville, the daughter of William McEwan’s housekeeper, adorns kings and queens. Certainly for Mrs Greville it was ‘better to be a beeress than a peeress’.