A Collection of Princess Diana’s Handwritten Letters Are Going Up for Auction

Princess Diana wearing what she called her "Elvis dress" on a visit to Hong Kong in 1989.
Princess Diana wearing what she called her "Elvis dress" on a visit to Hong Kong in 1989.
Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

On June 25, 1997, just months before Princess Diana’s death in August, dozens of her dresses were auctioned off at Christie’s in New York. Now, some of her handwritten letters regarding that event are hitting the auction block.

Princess Diana wrote the letters to her friend Elizabeth Tilberis, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar at the time, both leading up to and after the auction.

“The news of the auction came out far too early & it’s due to be announced next week from Christies! [sic],” she penned on February 25, 1997. “It’s been quite an event sorting out the frocks—memories flooding back & some excellent ones too!”

princess diana letter to elizabeth tilberis
Princess Diana's letter to Elizabeth Tilberis from February 25, 1997.
Swann Auction Galleries

She ended up choosing a total of 79 garments, including several of her most memorable ones. According to The New York Times, the slinky velvet gown she wore while dancing with John Travolta at a White House dinner in 1985 fetched an impressive $222,500, and what she called her “Elvis dress”—a pearl-encrusted white number with a matching, high-necked bolero jacket—sold for $151,000. Overall, the auction raised a staggering $3.25 million, which was donated to the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund and the AIDS Crisis Trust.

“It was stunning the amount made by the auction last week,” she wrote to Tilberis on July 1. “How typical of the Americans to be so totally generous. I can always rely on them!”

The personal letters are estimated to sell somewhere in the region of $6000 to $9000, but they’re not the only Princess Diana items in the auction. Swann Auction Galleries is also offering an auction catalog signed by Princess Diana, Tilberis’s paddle registration card, Princess Diana’s signed menu from a 1990 benefit dinner held by the British Deaf Association, and a 1996 Christmas card with a photograph of Princes William and Harry with their cousins, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

princess diana christmas card from 1996
A Christmas card from 1996 featuring the young Princes William and Harry with their cousins, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Swann Auction Galleries

In addition to the royal family memorabilia, the auction—which takes place on Thursday, February 20—will include rare first editions of several Jane Austen novels, too.

10 Facts About Westminster Abbey

schwartzstock/iStock via Getty Images
schwartzstock/iStock via Getty Images

More than 1.5 million people visited Westminster Abbey annually, and it’s easy to see why. Nearly a millennium of history, culture, and memory are stored within its Gothic walls. The London landmark, wedged next to the Palace of Westminster in the busy city center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a can’t-miss experience for anyone visiting the British capital.

1. Westminster Abbey began on an island.

By the 10th century CE, London had been founded and abandoned by the Romans, occupied by the Anglo-Saxons, and invaded by Danish Vikings. When English troops wrested control of the town back from the Vikings, residents began building a permanent settlement on the north and south banks of the River Thames (where the City of London and Southwark now lie). In the year 960 CE, the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar and St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, established a Benedictine monastery on a low-lying island in the Thames to the west of town.

In the 1040s, Edward the Confessor built his royal palace on the island next to the monastery, which he appropriated and expanded to honor St. Peter the Apostle. Edward’s church became known as the west minster, differentiating it from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the east. Eventually, the island became connected to the north shore of the Thames.

2. Westminster Abbey displays more than eight centuries of architectural styles and refinements.

Westminster Abbey has been torn down, added to, and embellished for nearly 1000 years. Edward the Confessor’s elaborate Norman church, consecrated in 1065, built on the remnants of the old Benedictine one. In 1245, Henry III began building a sprawling Gothic-style church (much of the abbey that stands today was Henry’s work). From the mid-13th century through the early 16th century, the nave, bays, and other structures of Westminster Abbey were completed.

Henry VII, the first Tudor king, was the next monarch to make a major addition to the abbey. He constructed the elegant Lady Chapel behind the central shrine of Edward the Confessor beginning in 1503, and he was eventually laid to rest there around 1509. The two western towers designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor were completed in the 1740s. The choir stalls and current high altar were built in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, the abbey was once again restored following bombing raids in World War II.

3. Every monarch since 1066 has been crowned at Westminster Abbey—except two.

From William I (the Conqueror) in 1066 up to Queen Elizabeth II, nearly all English or British monarchs have had coronation ceremonies at Westminster Abbey. Edward V and Edward VIII are the exceptions, because they were never actually crowned.

Thirteen-year-old Edward V, heir to the throne following the death of his father Edward IV in 1483, and his brother were imprisoned in the Tower of London by their uncle, who eventually claimed the throne as Richard III. The two princes were never seen again, and are believed to have been murdered by Richard’s henchmen.

Edward VIII had a very different excuse: He abdicated in 1936, before his coronation, so he could marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

4. Westminster Abbey has hosted 16 royal weddings.

Henry I and Princess Matilda of Scotland were the first royals to marry at Westminster Abbey, on an unusual date: the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1100. Various medieval English earls and kings had their weddings there until 1486, after which no royal nuptials took place at the abbey for more than 400 years. In the 20th and 21st centuries, most of the royal weddings have been for close family members of Queen Elizabeth II, who married Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947.

5. England’s most powerful rulers are buried in Westminster Abbey.

The most influential kings and queens in English history have elaborate tombs at the heart of Westminster Abbey. Among the famous are Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary I (not to be confused with their cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who is also buried there), William III and Mary II, who ruled jointly; Queen Anne, Henry III, Henry VII, James I, and Edward the Confessor, who started it all. George II, who ruled from 1727 to 1760, was the last monarch interred. Numerous earls and countesses, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, and other members of the peerage also have their final resting places in the abbey.

6. Westminster Abbey belongs to the monarch.

The abbey had started out as a Catholic church, but during the religious turbulence of the 16th century, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, assumed control of their wealth and property, and made himself the head of the church in England. He gave Westminster Abbey the status of a cathedral in 1540 to exempt it from the dissolution order. Mary I temporarily restored the Catholic control of the church in the 1550s. In 1560, Elizabeth I made Westminster Abbey a “royal peculiar,” a church directly under a monarch’s, not a bishop’s, control, and renamed it the Collegiate Church of St. Peter. It remains that way today.

7. More than 100 writers are memorialized in Westminster Abbey …

Poet’s Corner is one of the most popular nooks in Westminster Abbey. In 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer became the first literary figure buried in the corner—not because he was the author of The Canterbury Tales, but because he served Richard II as Clerk of the King’s Works, which oversaw maintenance of royal buildings, including the abbey. Later poets wished to be buried near Chaucer, forming the literary clique. Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser was laid next to him in 1599, followed by Samuel Johnson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens (who did not want to be buried in Westminster Abbey, but ended up there anyway), and many more.

Numerous writers buried elsewhere have memorials in Poet’s Corner, including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and C.S. Lewis.

8. … along with dozens of scientists.

Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, William and John Herschel, and Stephen Hawking are just five members of the scientific pantheon buried in Westminster Abbey, which includes explorers, physicists, engineers, physicians, and astronomers. Many others are remembered with plaques, busts, and tablets, such as Robert Hooke, Michael Faraday, James Prescott Joule, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Alfred Russel Wallace.

9. You may come face to face with a medieval king in a new Westminster Abbey gallery.

Unveiled in 2018 after more than 700 years behind closed doors, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries occupies a spectacular space 52 feet above the abbey’s ground floor. The newly restored gallery holds priceless items from the abbey’s library and archives, not the least interesting of which is its collection of centuries-old funeral effigies—life-size wax dummies that stood in for the actual corpses during elaborate funeral processions. Visitors can gaze upon the uncanny likenesses of kings and queens dating back to the medieval period, including a sumptuously robed and bewigged William III.

10. Dendrochronologists found Britain’s oldest door in Westminster Abbey.

In 2005, scientists studying the tree rings in a particularly old door discovered that its wood had been harvested sometime around 1032 and the door constructed in the 1050s, the same time that Edward the Confessor was building the Norman-style abbey. Not only is it the oldest door in the United Kingdom, but it’s also the only one that can be identified as Anglo-Saxon in origin. Currently it stands 6.5 feet tall and 4 feet wide and leads to a small vestibule from the passageway to the Chapter House.

Incidentally, Westminster Abbey is also home to the UK’s oldest piece of furniture still being used for its original purpose: the Coronation Chair. When Edward I (a.k.a. Edward Longshanks) stole the Stone of Scone, a legendary rock on which medieval Scottish rulers were crowned, from the Scots in 1296, he had the chair made to house it. The chair has been used as the seat of the new English or British monarch in every coronation ceremony since 1308. The Stone of Scone, though, was returned to Scotland in 1996.

Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson’s Bahamas Estate Has Hit the Market for $8.5 Million

An aerial view of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson's lavish Bahamas estate.
An aerial view of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson's lavish Bahamas estate.
Sotheby's

Decades before Prince Harry escaped across the pond with an American divorcée, his great uncle Edward did something quite similar. In December 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne and later married Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced socialite from Baltimore, Maryland.

After living in Paris for a few years, Edward was appointed governor of the Bahamas, and the couple purchased a lavish estate on the island of New Providence while they waited for their official government residence to be renovated. That 15,000-square-foot mansion, called Sigrist House (after Frederick Sigrist, the British film producer who built it in the 1930s), and its surrounding property are now on the market for $8.5 million.

prince edward and wallis simpson bahamas mansion foyer
An airy, light-filled entryway in Prince Edward's former residence.
Sotheby's

According to TopTenRealEstateDeals.com, the 4-acre estate is situated on a ridge outside Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital city, with various restaurants, local shops, and a casino within walking distance. That said, since the grounds themselves include breathtaking views of the water, a pool, a spa, flower gardens, and fruit and coconut trees, you might never even have a reason to leave the premises.

prince edward and wallis simpson bahamas mansion aerial view
The 4-acre estate with Nassau in the distance.
Sotheby's

While the main residence features a red-tiled roof and other elements of Spanish-colonial architecture, some parts of its expansive interior remain quintessentially British—four fireplaces, for example, were actually shipped from country homes in England, and some of the mahogany walls were constructed in England.

prince edward and wallis simpson bahamas mansion sitting room
The spacious sitting room, featuring a British fireplace.
Sotheby's

The four-bedroom main house is flanked by a three-bedroom apartment and another two four-bedroom guest houses, making it large enough to accommodate all the extended family members who will almost definitely ask to visit you.

If $8.5 million is within your budget for an island palace with a royal past, find out more information here.

[h/t TopTenRealEstateDeals.com]

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