Many members of the British royal family appear at state events and social gatherings wearing jewelry that once belonged to Margaret Greville. In this case, the owner of untold treasures by right of birth had no relation to the monarchs and was not even an aristocrat. This, however, did not prevent the lady from becoming one of London’s most popular high society figures, and the most influential people sought her out.
Margaret’s mother was married to William Anderson, a longshoreman who served at William McEwan’s brewery. Helen Anderson herself was a simple cook at the same brewery but became the lover of the business owner, by whom she gave birth to her daughter. Despite the difficulties in the relationship between the adults, Margaret was never deprived of the care and love of her father and mother. The father did not dote in his heiress, showered her with expensive gifts from infancy, and spoiled her desperately.
Entered into marriage Margaret’s father and mother only after the death of her lawful husband Helen, and her daughter was already 21 years old. William McEwan was a very rich man, he was able to make a fortune in his brewery, which supplied beer not only in Scotland but also exported it to many countries around the world. He also managed to build a highly successful political career and was the MP for Edinburgh Central.
Margaret, who knew no want for anything, dreamed of only one thing: to enter the high society of London. But the way there was closed to her, as the girl was not of noble blood. Daddy could not ignore the wishes of his daughter and decided to arrange her personal life by himself. At the same time, emphasis was made on the origin of the daughter’s future husband. As a result, Margaret was introduced to Ronald Greville, a promising young politician. His paternal grandparents were Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Greville and his wife, Lady Rose, and on his mother’s side were James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose, and Caroline Agnes Horsley-Beresford.
Ronald Greville benefited from his marriage to Margaret, as her dowry allowed the groom to improve his rather unenviable financial situation. For her part, Margaret’s status as Greville’s wife opened the door to the high society that she longed for. But do not think that this marriage was solely a matter of convenience. William McEwan would not have given his sweetheart in marriage to a man with whom she was unhappy. Margaret and Ronald Greville’s marriage turned out to be quite happy, and the only thing that overshadowed it was the lack of children.
Thanks to Margaret’s father, the couple became owners of the Polesden Lacey estate in 1906 with a beautiful Edwardian house in Great Buckham, Surrey. Sadly, just two years later, Ronald Greville passed away. After observing a proper mourning period for her husband, Margaret Greville returned to her familiar lifestyle. She became a regular fixture at social events and parties, welcomed the most distinguished guests into her house, befriended Queen Mary of Teck, and generally found favor with the high society. Margaret could have married a second time had she wished, for Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brice and Sir John Simon had suited her, but she chose not to wed herself and to live as she saw fit.
Representatives of the most ancient families visited her house, she gladly arranged receptions, and among her guests were not only ordinary aristocrats but also the rulers of various countries. The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and his beloved Alice Keppel liked to visit Polesden Lacey and had special rooms in the house for them. Margaret’s friendship with members of the British royal family was not limited to Mary of Teck and Edward VII. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the parents of today’s Queen of Great Britain, were great friends of Margaret’s, and it was in her house that they spent part of their honeymoon.
Stronger than passion, more than love
Margaret Greville’s passion for high society could only be matched by her love of jewelry. Gold and diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds were indeed the socialite’s best friends. Already no one remembered her origins, for all, she was a real lady of high society and the owner of the most stunning collection of jewelry. True, there were different opinions about her, and her reputation was far from crystal, but during the life of a rich and influential person, few people dared to express their attitude to her. After she died in 1942, however, there were those who shared their opinions about Margaret.
The public was primarily interested in the fate of Margaret Greville’s fortune. She bequeathed the house with all its contents to the National Trust in memory of her father, while Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) became the owner of a stunning collection of jewels. A diamond necklace believed to belong to Marie Antoinette, a pair of diamond chandelier earrings, several diadems, and a ruby necklace by Boucheron all remain in the possession of the British royal family today.
The jewels were given to the heiress in a black tin box, and the full extent of Elizabeth’s inherited jewels is still unknown. The Greville Tiara could be seen in recent years on Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and the emerald-encrusted tiara was chosen for her wedding ceremony by Princess Eugenie.
Queen Elizabeth, after Margaret Greville’s death, spoke of her as shrewd, kind, and sometimes amusingly sharp but also mischievous and cheerful. Sir Cecil Beaton, British fashion, portrait, and war photographer, did not share the queen’s opinion; he considered the deceased socialite a snob and a greedy person who was only capable of doing things for the rich. The English writer and country-house expert James Lees-Milne echoed the photographer, writing in his diaries that Margaret had a tongue full of acrimony and loved only the great without condescending to ordinary people.
Be that as it may, the jewels that Margaret Greville left to the royal family are still worn today by Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton. And will be worn by many generations of the British royal family.