History of The Crown Jewels

More than 2 million people a year from across the globe travel to the Tower Of London to gaze at the collection known as the Crown Jewels. From Egypt to Persia, from China to Africa, rulers of the ancient world used special headgear to represent their regality.

The earliest English coronation order, like all those that have followed, took the form of a special version of the Mass in which the Biblical description of the Israelite priest Zadok anointing King Solomon was read aloud as holy oil was poured on the king. After the anointing, the priests & the nobles presented the king with items of regalia. Early writings explained the symbolism of each element of the regalia…

The SWORD… represented the strength the king would need to fight the enemies of his authority and of the church.

The SCEPTRE… denoted the sovereign power and the duty of the king to exercise justice.

The RING… was the seal of faith.

The ROD symbolized the kings obligation to promote equity and virtue in his people.

The CROWN embodied the glory and righteousness with which God endowed the sovereign, to be exchanged in due course for the insignia of the kingdom of heaven.

With only minor modifications, these explanations of the significance of the various elements of the regalia remain in the coronation today.

The bulk of the royal ornaments, plate & state regalia were moved to the Tower of London in the 14th Century after a daring raid had emptied the royal treasury in 1303 within Westminster Abbey.Through the years of the 17th Century much of the riches of the Tudor Jewel House were sold, pawned & melted down. The custom of pawning royal jewels or raising money against them had been in practice since the Middle Ages.

 In 1649 the Monarchy was abolished & the republic of England was born. After 6 years of civil war the regime was almost bankrupt, so it turned its attention to the sale of the goods & personal estate of the late King, Queen & Prince. The sate regalia were stripped of its stones & melted down.

 After years of exile Charles II returned to England & his coronation was held in 1661 with all new crown jewels and state regalia being made. All these pieces are today in the Jewel House in the Tower of London.Therefore, the English Crown Jewels as a collection is essentially made for Charles II, supplemented only as necessary in the succeeding centuries.

The single most important item to be remade in 1660/61, and still the most significant item of the Crown Jewels was the coronation crown itself called St. Edwards Crown. The tradition of exchanging the coronation crown for a state crown at the end of the Coronation Service has remained. So while Charles’s II coronation crown has survived, though the stones have changed, his state crown has long since been replaced, but a number of the 17th Century stones remain.

 Objects of the newly made crown jewels were set with ‘hired’ stones as the Monarchy could not afford to have them set. So once the crown was not in use the stones would be removed. The Jewel House staff soon resumed their old practice of showing the collection to  curious visitors for a fee. It was almost certainly to support this enterprise that the keeper of the Jewel House arranged for objects that had been set with hired stones to be reset with imitation gems. Empty frames had limited appeal to visitors, & so glass, paste & quartz jewels were substituted after the event & happily passed off as the real thing. As late as the 1930’s, several little-used pieces were still set with the 17th Century stones.

By the middle of the 18th Century the solid mass & sparse settings of the St. Edwards Crown were considered old fashioned. A rampant vogue for Diamonds had gripped the country & London was now the centre of the international Diamond trade. Advances in cutting techniques gave the Diamond its mesmerizing effects, & in turn kept the St Edwards Crown unworn for almost 200 years, until its revival in the 20th Century.

In the 19th Century new & innovative designs for crowns were made. Open latticework of gold and silver set with multitudes of Diamonds. One famous beautiful one is George IV’s‘Diadem’, made in 1820. George IV wore it to his coronation. Queen Elizabeth II is shown wearing the Diadem on postage stamps, coinage and bank notes.

The MANTLE 1821… This magnificent cloak made for King George IV’s coronation was used again at the coronations of George V, George VI and Queen Elizabeth II

The Coronation RING… Until the 19th Century the Coronation Ring was regarded as the personal possession of the wearer & not part of the Crown Jewels. Upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 the rings were bequeathed to be made part of the Crown Jewels, and have stayed that way since.

In 1861 when Prince Albert Died & Queen Victoria went into mourning, she adopted the ‘widow’s clothing’ she would wear until her death. When she attended State events she would be dressed entirely in black & white. She would not wear the State Crown with its coloured stones. This created a very uncomfortable situation of a monarch who refused to wear her own crown.

The resolution came in 1870 when a tiny new crown was commissioned for Victoria to wear with her white veil. Despite its diminutive size(less than 10cm in any direction), it was set with over 1000 Diamonds, all colourless & suitable for widowhood. As it was made in the form of a traditional English Crown, with arches & alternating crosses & fleur-de-lys, the small Diamond Crown was considered appropriate for the Queen to wear on State occasions, with the Imperial State Crown borne alongside her on a cushion.

The ‘Sovereign Scepter with Cross’ The scepter was remodeled in 1911 to receive the ‘First Star of Africa’ (or Cullinan I), an astonishing 530 carats, the largest colourless cut Diamond in the world.

The ‘Prince of Wales Crown’……..The Duke Of Windsor (the abdicated King Edward VIII). In 1937, one of the objects he took with him into exile was the crown that he had worn at his father’s coronation. He kept it with him for the rest of his life, & only on his death in 1972 would it quietly rejoin the regalia at the Tower of London.

Coronation Day for Queen Elizabeth II 1953……St Edwards Crown was to be used unaltered for the act of coronation. The Imperial Crown was altered to fit the new Queen. All other principal pieces were only cleaned & repaired for the coronation


The ‘Imperial State Crown’ 1937……Made for King George VI – This crown was reduced in height for Queen Elizabeth II and remains in regular use today. This crown is centered with the famous ‘Black Princes Ruby’ weighing 170carats. This stone is a Red Spinel; it is unfaceted and has a small Ruby set into its surface.

Coronation Day for Queen Elizabeth II 1953…This day saw the Crown Jewels out in force…

*The Archbishop of Canterbury poured the oil from the Charles II Ampulla into the 12th Century spoon to anoint the Queen

*At the investiture to follow she received the full range of sovereigns regalia: the Supertunica, the Mantle, the new Stole & Armills, the Spurs, the jeweled Sword of Offering, the Sovereign Orb, the Sovereigns Ring, the 2 Sovereigns Sceptres & St Edwards Crown. The last was then exchanged for the Imperial State Crown. The Maces, Sword of State & other Swords were carried in the procession by royal officials. Much of the Jewel House Alter Plate was laid out in the Abbey, including the Feathered Flagons & the Last Supper Alter Dishes, & when the Queen knelt to take the Holy Communion, she received it from the 17th Century Chalice & Paten.

While the Crown Jewels are unquestionably impressive in their own right, it is their use in great ceremonial occasions that gives them their real power. From the 13th Century English Kings had had themselves crowned with what they claimed was Anglo-Saxon regalia.

 Current use for items of the Crown Jewels continues, from an 18th Century Christening Ewer for a Royal Baptism in 2008 & Charles II banquet dishes for Royal weddings, to the Imperial State Crown & Sword of State for State Opening of Parliament.

No other European monarchy still receives its regalia in a full scale coronation & no royal collection is in such regular use for its original purpose.When the Crown Jewels were moved to more spacious accommodation within the Tower of London in 1994, new labels were made for the display. As well as describing each object, half a dozen cards were required, these read simply, ‘In Use’.

 “The Crown Jewels” – Anna Keay 2012

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