I will never be impressed by bling again. The Crown Jewels are the ultimate bling.
– An h2g2 Researcher
The first official king of all England was King Egbert, who ruled most of England and Wales from 829 - 839 AD (he was king of Wessex from 802). The English Crown Jewels, which belong to the State, not the reigning monarch1, have undergone some changes and replacements through the centuries since then.
The precious jewels are beyond comparison and priceless; there is not another collection like it throughout the world. When not in use, the Coronation Regalia and other historical treasures are on public display2 under heavy security in the Tower of London.
Lost in The Wash
Attempting to cross The Wash in Lincolnshire in 1216, King John (1167 - 1216) had an unfortunate mishap, losing his luggage, including the Crown Jewels, to the incoming tide. King John had just stayed at Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn) in Norfolk where he contracted dysentery, and he died in Newark just days later. Those Crown Jewels remain lost to the sea. For eight centuries treasure hunters have dreamed of finding the bounty of a lifetime; although it is a highly dangerous area due to fast incoming tides and treacherous mud, annually there are plenty of hobbyists prepared to risk their lives.
The next lot of Crown Jewels were kept in Westminster Abbey until they were stolen in 1303. Staggeringly, they were recovered after being spotted on display in the window of a jewellery shop in London. That recovered stolen set of Crown Jewels, apart from the Anointing Spoon, were destroyed during the English Civil War on the orders of Oliver Cromwell (the period when England did not have a monarchy was known as 'the Interregnum').
Some jewels, and coins created with the melted gold were recovered, and following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 these relics were used towards the creation of new Crown Jewels. Since then, except during the world war years, they have been housed in the Tower of London, guarded by Yeomen of the Guard. These are more commonly known as 'Beefeaters', and according to regular surveys, they are the second most popular reason why tourists visit the Tower, after the Crown Jewels themselves, of course.
Colonel Blood and the Theft of 1671
Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels in 1671 but he was caught with the Crown (which had been flattened with a mallet), one sceptre and the orb at the East Gate of the Tower. Blood and his accomplices were arrested and tried before the King. Blood, an Irishman, was well-known for his 'gift of the gab' and the King was well-known for his love of scoundrels, so Blood not only got a royal pardon, he was also generously rewarded with Irish land.
The Crown Jewels have never been stolen since then, although speculation about an attempted robbery has given authors and Hollywood scriptwriters many an idea, probably most memorably when Sherlock Holmes managed to foil his nemesis Moriarty's dastardly attempt.
The Fire of 1841
Up till 1841 the Crown Jewels were kept in a jewel house close to the ancient armoury in the Tower of London. Sparks from the armoury's furnace or chimney caused a fire which spread to the jewel house. A sergeant who was on duty elsewhere smelled smoke and ran to the scene. Aided by yeomen they managed to break down the heavy door and the sergeant, risking his own life, ran into the burning building. He managed to bundle all the regalia into his uniform tunic and pass out the precious charge to the waiting yeomen. When all the rescued items were checked on the Parade Ground, not one piece had suffered damage and nothing had been stolen. The Crown Jewels were stored at the Governor's residence until 1843 when the collection was placed in a new jewel house.
The Wakefield Tower
In 1869 the Crown Jewels took up a new residence, the recently-vacated home of the records of State, the Wakefield Tower. Here they remained for just shy of a century in all, apart from two breaks.
WWI and WWII
Four bombs were dropped close to the Tower of London during the Great War. The first fell into the dry moat by the Parade Ground, the second hit the Royal Mint, the third landed north of the Tower destroying the railings and a fourth landed in The Thames. Such close calls prompted a debate about the safety of the Crown Jewels and it was decided to move them to a safer location. An unmarked car was driven up to the Wakefield Tower and the Crown Jewels, hidden in padded plain boxes, were loaded up and transported to Windsor Castle.
The Crown Jewels were removed from the Wakefield Tower during WWII and hidden at a secret location. Rumours persist that the entire collection was sent to Canada and stored in the vault of an insurance company. However, as the law forbids the removal of the Crown Jewels from the British Isles it is more likely that they were looked after in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle.
Another new home was created for the Crown Jewels in 1967 at Waterloo Barracks, and the present day display was opened in 1994 by HM the Queen. Approximately 2.5 million people visit the Tower to see the Crown Jewels every year. There is a moving floor either side of the glass cases containing the major items like the crowns, to prevent people from standing too long staring at them.
According to ancient law the State Crown and other coronation regalia are not allowed to leave the British Isles.
St Edward's Crown
St Edward's Crown is the actual one that monarchs have been crowned with since King Charles II's coronation on St George's Day (23 April) 1661. It is an exact copy of Edward the Confessor's crown which was destroyed on Cromwell's orders. Edward the Confessor ruled from 1042 - 66 and he was created a saint in 1161. St Edward was the patron saint of England until usurped by St George. St Edward remains the patron saint of the Royal Family, difficult marriages and separated spouses.
Last used to crown Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953, after each coronation St Edward's Crown is returned to the Tower of London and will not be used again until the next sovereign is crowned.
The Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown was made for King George VI in 1937 following the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII. It used the stones from the State Crown which had been remade for Queen Victoria in 1839. The sovereign wears the Imperial State Crown following the coronation at Westminster Abbey, and it is worn for the State Opening of Parliament ceremony.
The Imperial State Crown is 31½cm tall, weighs 0.9kg, and has a purple velvet cap. It contains 2,780 diamonds, 277 pearls, 18 sapphires, 11 emeralds and four rubies. The Black Prince's Ruby, which isn't a ruby but a 170-carat red spinel, is the centrepiece. The sapphire which was once the stone set in the coronation ring of Edward the Confessor adorns the pinnacle cross. This fabulous blue gem has a legend attached: St John the Evangelist, disguised as a pilgrim, appeared to Edward the Confessor, who gave the pilgrim his coronation ring as proof of his faith. Later the sapphire ring was returned and since then it is reputed to have miraculous powers. Although Edward the Confessor's ring was buried with him, it was removed from his finger when he was re-interred at Westminster Abbey by King Henry II in 1163.
Other famous jewels are the 317-carat Second Star of Africa diamond (Cullinan II), the pearl earrings which once adorned the ears of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Stuart Sapphire. This gorgeous blue gem also has a fascinating history. It was set in the crown of King Charles II but upon his death the sapphire and other crown jewels3 were taken to France in 1688 by his surviving brother and new monarch James II, who was fleeing for his life. Eventually the Stuart Sapphire found its way back home and was set in the State Crown of Queen Victoria, below the Black Prince's Ruby. King Edward VII didn't much like the colour clash and so had the Stuart Sapphire moved to the back of the State Crown, replacing it with one of the Great Stars of Africa diamonds cut from the largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan Diamond.
The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond was discovered in 1905 in the Premier Mine run by a Mr Cullinan. It was examined, assessed then insured for £1.5m. The Cullinan Diamond was gifted to King Edward VII in 1907 by the South African Government (the Transvaal). The uncut rough diamond, originally 3,000 carats, weighed 1½lbs and measured 4½"×2½". It was entrusted to expert cutters the Asscher brothers of Amsterdam who divided it into four large parts to produce the celebrated 'Stars of Africa', and five smaller gems. The largest stone is the 530-carat First Star of Africa (Cullinan I) which is set in the 'Sceptre with the Cross'; the 317-carat Second Star of Africa (Cullinan II) adorns the sovereign's Imperial State Crown, and the remaining two are set in the State Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The Imperial Crown of India
When Queen Victoria was pronounced Empress of India in 1877 under the Royal Titles Act passed by Benjamin Disraeli's government, she was not expected to travel abroad, but her descendants could, and did. They required, and received, substitute crowns to impress hosts. The Imperial Crown of India was made in 1911 for King George V to wear at the Delhi Coronation in India. It cost £60,000 to manufacture and contains over 6,000 precious jewels, including sparkling diamonds, stunning red rubies, beautiful Indian sapphires and amazing green Indian emeralds.
The State Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
The State Crown of Queen Mary was made for the coronation of Queen Mary, consort of King George V in 1911. This crown boasted the 'unlucky' 106-carat Koh-i-Noor ('Mountain of Light') diamond. The pinnacle of the crown was a huge pear-shaped Star of Africa, and another Star of Africa sat just beneath the Koh-i-Noor. Indeed each stone set in this crown was a diamond.
Queen Mary's crown was dismantled and the jewels were reset into a platinum crown created for the 1937 coronation of the last4 Empress of India, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Consort (the present Queen's late mother). The State Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was placed atop the coffin of the Queen Mother on the occasion of her funeral on 9 April, 2002.
The priceless jewels in this crown will probably be used to create a new crown for the coronation of HRH the Duchess of Cornwall after her husband HRH the Prince of Wales becomes king. An interesting coincidence is that the Duchess was born in 1947, the same year that India won her Independence.
Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown
A small diamond-studded crown was created in 1870 for Queen Victoria to wear as an alternative to the Imperial State Crown which was heavy and uncomfortable. It is this small diamond crown which has become synonymous with her, appearing in official portraits and on coins and stamps.
The gold Ampulla is a vessel in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings perched on a tiered engraved base. It holds the precious holy oil required for the anointing of the new monarch. The head of the eagle acts as the stopper, and it unscrews at the neck for refilling purposes. When the oil is required, the Archbishop who is performing the coronation ceremony pours the oil from the beak of the eagle onto the Anointing Spoon.
The original anointing oil was of divine origin, according to legend. The story of how it was given to St Thomas by the Virgin Mary in the Abbey church of St Colombe at Sens in France is commemorated in the stained glass windows of the St Etienne cathedral. The original Ampulla was a dove set with pearls and precious stones, first used at the coronation of King Henry IV, which took place at Westminster Abbey in October 1399. The current Ampulla was supplied by Robert Vyner in 1661.
The Anointing Spoon
The Anointing Spoon and some ceremonial swords escaped destruction during the English Civil War because they were kept in Westminster Abbey. The elaborately decorated and engraved solid gold Anointing Spoon has been used at coronations since the 12th Century AD. It is the only example of royal goldsmith's work to survive from this time period. Measuring 9¾" (25cm) long, it is set with pearls and has a central ridge dividing the bowl of the spoon which has acanthus leaves intricately engraved. Once the holy oil has been poured into it from the eagle's beak, the Archbishop dips two fingertips into the oil and anoints the new monarch with it.
The State Sword
The State Sword of Offering: after the new Sovereign has been invested he or she places the Sword of Offering upon the altar to symbolise the upholding of justice. This elaborately jewelled sword was made for the Prince Regent's coronation as King George IV in 1821. It has designs of the rose, the thistle, the shamrock, oak leaves and acorns encrusted upon the scabbard, and there is a fabulous emerald positioned in the hilt. During the reign of Queen Victoria this priceless sword was mislaid, but it was found by chance and returned by an honest maid who was cleaning out a disused cupboard.
There are three other swords which are part of the Coronation Regalia: the Sword of Temporal Justice, of Spiritual Justice and of Mercy. These also survived the destruction of the English Civil War.
The orb is an ancient Christian emblem: the newly crowned monarch holds it in their hand as recognition of the power of Christ. The monarch's gold orb is richly endowed with jewels and surmounted by an elaborately encrusted cross representing the sovereign's role as Defender of the Faith. It weighs 1.32kg and was created for King Charles II to replace the one destroyed during the English Civil War.
A smaller, similar orb was made for Queen Mary in 1689, who, although she was Queen in her own right, insisted upon joint occupation of the throne with her consort, who became King William III. This was the only time in British history that there was a reigning king and a reigning queen. The joint rule lasted just five years as the death of Queen Mary in 1694 left King William III the sole ruler.
The Sovereign's Sceptre, known as the 'Sceptre with the Cross', is a bejewelled rod of gold measuring just under a metre (3') in length; it symbolises regal power and justice. It was unchanged from the time of King Charles II until King Edward VII had the incomparable 530-carat First Star of Africa (Cullinan I), the largest flawless cut diamond in the world, mounted beneath the amethyst orb. Above the orb is a diamond-studded cross with a large central emerald. This sceptre is held in the sovereign's right hand during the Coronation.
The Sceptre with Dove represents equity and mercy. It measures 1.09m (3'7") length in total. A white dove, which represents the Holy Spirit, sits atop a gold orb. This sceptre is held in the sovereign's left hand during the Coronation.
The Coronation Rings
The Coronation Ring was created in the 19th Century for King William IV. The large base stone is an oval sapphire upon which are four thin oblong rubies and a smaller central square ruby which together form a cross reminiscent of the cross of St George. Around the outside edge are 14 diamonds with two more upon the shoulders. The ring symbolises the pledge that the new monarch makes on behalf of his or her people. It is placed upon the fourth finger (pinky) of the right hand of the new monarch by the Archbishop during the coronation ceremony. A smaller replica of this ring was made for Queen Victoria's more delicate digit, but she recalled in her diary that the Archbishop 'had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with great pain'. Ouch!
If the king is married at the time of his coronation it is usual for the queen consort to be consecrated afterwards, and she also has a coronation ring. This large oblong ruby ring surrounded by diamonds dates from 1831. There are smaller rubies embedded right around the gold band.
The Armills and the Spurs of St George
The gold Armills (bracelets) traditionally represent sincerity and wisdom. These were specially made for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953.
The Spurs are symbolic emblems of knightly chivalry and are not worn. The current set were made in the reign of King Charles II – they are solid gold and have straps of crimson velvet. They are handed to the new monarch at the coronation and then placed upon the altar.
George IV State Diadem
The George IV State Diadem was created in 1820 for the king's coronation planned for July 1821, but he never wore it. His coronation was an opulent affair costing the state around a quarter of a million pounds (which was a king's ransom in those days). Nothing was prepared for his wife Caroline of Brunswick as they had been living separate lives for over two decades, since the birth of their daughter Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796 – 1817)5. When Queen Caroline attempted to return from her home abroad to fulfil her role as Queen Consort, George issued a royal command forbidding her appearance. The coronation went ahead without her, even though she attempted to gatecrash the event.
The George IV State Diadem is decorated with filigree roses, thistle and shamrock which are symbolic of England, Scotland and Ireland. Queen Victoria wore the diadem at her coronation and it appears on her head on the Penny Black, the very first postage stamp issued in 1840. Elizabeth II chose to wear it on the way to her coronation. The Queen prefers to wear this diadem to the annual State Opening of Parliament and on the return journey. The George IV State Diadem is possibly the most recognisable part of the Crown Jewels the world over as this is what the Queen is wearing on all UK postage stamps, coins and paper money.
King George III Fringe Tiara
This diamond tiara dating from 1830 was chosen by Princess Elizabeth to be worn for her wedding to Prince Philip. Unfortunately during wedding preparations the tiara frame snapped, but it was repaired in time. Princess Anne also requested this tiara for her 1973 wedding to Capt Mark Phillips.
Queen Alexandra's Kokoshnik Tiara
Queen Alexandra commissioned this Russian-style tiara composed of 61 platinum bars set with 488 diamonds. It is sometimes worn by the Queen at evening engagements.
Grand Duchess Vladimir's Tiara
Queen Mary bought the Grand Duchess' tiara from Princess Nicolas of Greece, the Grand Duchess' daughter. The tiara had Oriental pearl drops but Queen Mary organised diamond clasps to be affixed to her Cambridge emeralds and created a new look for the tiara by interchanging them with the pearls. The intricate and ornate tiara has been borrowed by the likes of Diana, Princess of Wales (who preferred the pearl attachments) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall who favours the green gemstones.
The Honours of Scotland
The Honours of Scotland (the Scottish coronation regalia) consists of a crown, the Sceptre of Scotland and the Sword of State of Scotland which date from the 15th Century. The crown is made of Scottish gold from the Crawford Moor mine and probably created by French craftsmen. It was remodelled for James V in 1540. The Sceptre of Scotland contains a pearl from a mussel trawled from Scottish waters. The Sword of State was presented to James IV in 1507 by Pope Julius II.
The Honours were used at the coronations of kings of Scotland until King James VI6 of Scotland (and James I of England) took over the joint monarchy in 1603, but the two countries still had separate parliaments. The Honours were kept in Edinburgh Castle's Crown Room which had been built specially for them in 1617, the year of King James VI of Scotland's Golden Jubilee.
The Honours used to represent the absent sovereign at the State opening of the Scottish Parliament until the 1707 Treaty (or Act) of Union formed Great Britain served by one monarch and one parliament. They were then locked away in a chest and forgotten about! When they were rediscovered in 1818 they were put on public display in Edinburgh Castle's Crown Room, instantly turning the castle into one of Scotland's top tourists attractions.
The Honours of Scotland may be looked after in their own country, but they are a part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and are formally presented to each new sovereign of the UK, then returned to Edinburgh Castle. Queen Elizabeth II wore the Scottish crown on the occasion of her first official visit to Scotland, as did her father King George VI. The crown is the only part of the Honours present at State openings of the Scottish Parliament today due to the fragility of the Sceptre and the Sword.
The Honours of the Principality of Wales
These crown jewels are only utilised at the investiture of a Prince of Wales. A new coronet had to be created for Prince Charles' ceremony in 1969 because the coronet used for Prince Edward of Cornwall and York's investiture as Prince of Wales in 1911 was unavailable due to its controversial removal from the country. This Prince of Wales was the future Edward VIII, the only monarch to ever abdicate. After relinquishing the throne in favour of his brother Bertie (King George VI), the newly-titled Duke of Windsor vacated the country with the Prince of Wales coronet among his luggage, an illegal act. The missing coronet was returned after his death in 1972 by his widow the Duchess of Windsor.
The Insignia of the Knights of St Patrick (Crown Jewels of Ireland)
The insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick were stolen from Dublin Castle in 1907 and have not been recovered. They were stolen from the custodian Arthur Vicars just before the official state visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The visit went ahead but the intended investment ceremony of Lord Castletown as a Knight of the Order of St Patrick was cancelled by the furious King.
A diamond-encrusted necklace was created especially to show off the awesome fiery gemstones gifted to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1853. The 'Timur Ruby' necklace actually contains red spinels, including the centrepiece 361-carat stone.