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The Crown Jewels

As the queen celebrates the sapphire jubilee of her coronation in 1953, the Crown Jewels are receiving more public interest than at any time in their history. Numbering 140 items in all, they are displayed in the aptly named ‘Jewel House” in the Tower of London, where they draw over a million visitors every year. The principle function of the Crown Jewels are to adorn the monarch on his or her coronation day and other special occasions throughout their reign. Every British monarch since Harold II in 1066 (with the only exceptions of Edward V and Edward VII) has been crowned in the sumptuous gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey. Most of the Crown Jewels date from the Restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II in 1660, the medieval originals having been melted down and sold by Oliver Cromwell after he executed King Charles I in 1649. The only original complete pieces to survive were a medieval Ampulla and silver-gilted anointing spoon (used in the Coronation ceremony to this day to anoint the monarch’s head, palms and breast with holy oil) and three swords, all of which remain in the collection. Sadly many pieces were melted down or sold by the Parliamentarians including some irreplaceable items such as the State Crown of Alfred the Great and the eleventh century crown of Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor. In many instances no portraits depicting these jewels were ever discovered so they remain forever lost to history!

(The Ampulla and Spoon are the only original Medieval Crown Jewels to remain intact)

In spite of the loss of so many of the Crown Jewels themselves, some of the gemstones within the pieces were miraculously rescued and recycled into the ‘new’ crown Jewels that were cast at the time of the Restoration. These stones included Edward the Confessor’s sapphire, which was once part of a ring that belonged to him and was buried with him in 1066. It was later retrieved and now adorns the Maltese cross atop the Imperial State Crown. Another such example is known as the ‘Black Prince Ruby’ and it is still set into the Imperial State Crown to this day. It was once in the treasury of the King of Granada, who was murdered by Pedro the Cruel, King of Castille, who in turn presented it to Edward, the Black Prince, in recognition of his military assistance at the Battle of Navaretto in 1367. It was later inherited by Edward’s son, Richard II, who in turn surrendered it to his cousin, the future Henry IV, at Flint, Wales in 1399. Henry’s son, Henry V, then inherited the crown and wore it at the famous Battle of Agincourt, where part of the crown was struck off and lost. It later adorned the crown of Richard II at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, where upon his death it famously rolled under a hawthorn bush to be retrieved by Lord Stanley and placed on the head of the victorious Henry Tudor. The Imperial Crown of State is bejewelled with pearls suspended from the arches of the crown that were once mounted in earrings worn by Queen Elizabeth I.

(The Imperial State Crown, adorned with the Star of Africa, Black Prince’s Ruby & 1,000s of gems)

The Second Star of Africa was cut from the famous Cullinan Diamond, the largest known rough ever produced, and set into the Crown of State on the instruction of Edward VII. In all the crown contains a bedazzling 2,783 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 277 pearls, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies. The Stewart Sapphire is another example of a stone that was salvaged from the pre-existing Medieval crown jewels. It was originally from a collection of the Royal House of Scotland but it was taken in 1296, along with the Stone of Scone, by Edward I of England. Edward’s grandson, Edward III, returned the sapphire to the Scottish royal family where it remained until the accession of James I and VI, when it was finally wrested by the English monarchy. Oliver Cromwell sold the jewel in the 1650s but remarkably Charles II was able to repurchase it and return it to his collection. It was the young Queen Victoria who set it into the Imperial State Crown in 1838, where it was positioned on the front, just below the Black Prince’s Ruby. Upon the acquisition of the Cullinan Diamond, the Stewart Sapphire was repositioned to the rear of the crown. The Black Prince’s Ruby was also rescued by an English jeweller who purchased the stone from Oliver Cromwell and sold it back to Charles II upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The most ancient gemstone in the entire Crown Jewels is the St Edward’s Sapphire, once worn by Edward the Confessor and first recorded in 1042AD.

(The Imperial State Crown presented to Her Majesty the Queen for the State opening of Parliament)

At a coronation, the sovereign is always crowned with St. Edward’s Crown, which replaced the one destroyed by Cromwell. The only exception to this was the coronation of Queen Victoria, who demanded to be crowned with the lighter State Crown. One of the more interesting Crown Jewels is the crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This contains the famous Koh-i-noor, or “Mountain of Light,” diamond, an Indian stone that was mined in the thirteenth century and later presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1850. This crown is said to bring good luck to any female wearer and bad luck for any male wearer, many of whom have previously met an unfortunate end! The Royal Sceptre with the Cross contains the largest cut diamond in the world. It is made from gold, measures almost a metre in length and contains an enormous amethyst and a very valuable emerald. There are three other sceptres to be found within the Crown Jewels. The Crown Jewels contain several religious references including the Orb, a golden globe topped with a diamond encrusted cross which dates to the 1661 coronation of Charles II and symbolises a world ruled by Christianity. The bejewelled cross on top of the orb expresses the sovereign’s position as Defender of the Faith, the leader of the Anglican Church of England. This priceless and unique collection also includes maces, a Queen’s orb, 16 silver state trumpets and a range of banqueting plates. Perhaps most famous of all are the five Swords of State, three of which bear the title Great Sword of State, the Sword of Justice and the Sword of Mercy, all of these are used at coronations.

(The Tower of London, the fortress home of the Crown Jewels since Norman times)

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