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British crown jewels

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British crown jewels

This article is about the Crown Jewels of England, and those added since the Union of the Crowns in 1603. For the Scottish Crown Jewels, see Honours of Scotland. For the Welsh Crown Jewels, see Honours of Wales.

The collective term Crown Jewels denotes the regalia and vestments worn by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and at other state functions. The term refers to the following objects: the crowns, sceptres (with either the cross or the dove), orbs, swords, rings, spurs, colobium sindonis, dalmatic, armills, and the royal robe or pall, as well as several other objects connected with the ceremony itself.[1]

Many of these descend directly from the pre-Reformation period and have a religious and sacral connotation. The vestures donned by the sovereign following the unction, for instance, closely resemble the alb and dalmatic worn by bishops, although the contention that they are meant to confer upon the sovereign an ecclesiastical character is in dispute among Christian scholars.


Early history

The earliest known use of regalia in England was discovered by archaeologists in 1988 in Deal, Kent and dates to between 200 and 150 B.C. Inside the tomb of the "Mill Hill Warrior" was a bronze crown, a sword, a scabbard, a brooch and a ceremonial shield. Further finds in a Norfolk field near Ely and Thetford, at Hockwold cum Wilton revealed a large number of circlets and a bronze crown adorned with human faces.[2] Following the conquest of Britain by the Roman Empire in AD 43 crowns and other symbols of authority continued to be used by the governors of Britannia.[3]

By the 5th century AD, the Romans had withdrawn from Britain and the Angles and the Saxons settled. Following the immigration, a series of new kingdoms emerged. One of the methods used by regional kings to solidify their authority over their territories was the use of ceremony and insignia. Contemporary evidence of Anglo-Saxon regalia is difficult to come by as the kings didn't communicate in writing. However, the tomb of an unknown king (dative evidence suggests it is Rædwald of East Anglia)[4] provides a unique insight into the regalia of a pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon king. Buried with him is an ornate helmet covered in bronze, decorated with detailed facial features and set with garnets.[5] The king was also buried with a sceptre, a decorated sword and a shield.[6]

Middle Ages

In 1066 Edward the Confessor died without an heir; in the first scene of the Bayeux Tapestry he is depicted enthroned and wearing a crown. William, Duke of Normandy emerged as king of England following his victory over the English at the Battle of Hastings. William worked hard to solidify his authority over his subjects, and his frequent 'crown-wearings' were an important part of this. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that: "He wore his crown three times a year as often as he was in England… On these occasions the great men of England were assembled about him… He was so stern and relentless a man that no-one dared do anything against his will."[7]

A crown known specifically referred to as St Edward's Crown is first recorded as having been used for the coronation of Henry III in 1220[8] and it would appear most likely that this was the same crown as the one worn by King Edward and then by his successor William the Conqueror. This crown was used in many subsequent coronations until its eventual destruction by the English Republic four hundred years later. One of the few surviving descriptions of this crown states that it was a "gold crown decorated with diverse stones'."[9]

An inventory of relics drawn up by Richard Sporley, a monk at Westminster Abbey (1430- 1480) contained a note saying, "Saint Edward king and confessor for future memory and for the dignity of the king's coronation commanded to be kept in that church all the royal ornaments wherewith he was crowned." The ornaments mentioned were recorded as "a tunicle (and other vestments), an excellent golden crown, golden comb and spoon, for the Queen's coronation a crown and two rods, and for the Communion a chalice of onyx stone and a golden paten." [10]

Also among the original crown jewels was an item called "Alfred the Great's State Crown" described as "Gould wyerworke set with slight stones and two little bells"[11] In the diary of Sir Henry Spelman, a parliamentarian at the time, he says of this crown, "It was of very ancient work, with flowers adorned with stones of somewhat plain setting".[12]

It is not clear whether the crown which in 1649 was said to be that of King Alfred was, in fact, the Crown of St Edward the Confessor and was renamed thus following the Reformation. It is possible they were separate items because the descriptions are different and the inventories made by the agents of Oliver Cromwell indicate they uncovered various crowns in the Upper Jewel Tower, the Palace of Whitehall and Westminster Abbey. There are also conflicting legends that one of these ancient crowns of England still exists; that it was secreted by some Royalist and its hiding place was never revealed, although official sources state that the gold from the crown of St. Edward was recovered and used to make the present St Edward's Crown.[13]

In the 12th century the silver gilt anointing spoon was commissioned, probably for Henry II; it is the oldest surviving piece of regalia used in the Coronation ceremony.

Following the defeat of the Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 by Edward I the Welsh regalia was surrendered. According to one source, the Welsh "gave up [to Edward I] the crown of the most famous Arthur, the former king of Britain. And thus the glory of Wales and the Welsh was given over to the kings and lords of England."[14] Meanwhile, following the 1296 invasion of Scotland, the Stone of Scone was sent to the Tower of London "in recognition of a kingdom surrendered and conquered".[15][16][17] King Edward's Chair was commissioned to house the stone; although not built as such the chair was soon being used for the investiture of the kings of England, earning its reputation as the "Coronation Chair".[18] In Edward II's treasury, in 1324, there were no fewer than ten crowns, the most extravagant has been valued at approximately a million pounds in today's money.[19] At some point in the 14th century the crown jewels were moved from the jewel house at Westminster Abbey, following a series of successful and attempted thefts, to the Tower of London.[20][21]

Early modern period

The crown-wearing traditions established in the medieval period continued later.[22][23] By the middle of the 15th century the crown was formally worn on six religious feasts every year: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Whitsun, All Saints and one or both of the feasts of St. Edward. The crown was also displayed and worn at the annual State Opening of Parliament.[24] At about this time swords, symbols of kingship since ancient times, were introduced into the coronation ceremony. Three swords were used to represent the king's powers in the administration of justice; they were the sword of spiritual justice, the sword of temporal justice and the sword of mercy.

With increasing political and dynastic stability regalia was beginning to pass increasingly from one king to the next. The first example of this was the sovereign's state crown. When the crown was manufactured is unknown but it is likely that it was created at the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. The frame of the crown was gold and it was embedded with pearls, rubies, sapphires and diamonds; the crown was decorated with fleur de lys and crosses each of which was decorated with images of Christian religious figures and former monarchs of England.[25][26] Another emerging item of regalia was the orb, 'a Rounde ball with a cross of gold', being mentioned in several Tudor inventories.[27] The concept of the state regalia as entirely hereditary was solidified in law when James I decreed that named 'Roiall and Princely Ornaments and Jewells' were 'to be indyvidually and inseparably for ever hereafter annexed to the Kingdome of this Realme'.[28]


Following the death of James I, Charles I came to the throne. His many conflicts with parliament, stemming from his belief in the divine right of kings and the many religious conflicts that permeated his reign, triggered the English Civil War. After six years of war, Charles was defeated and executed by the parliamentarians. Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England and less than a week after the king's execution the monarchy was abolished. The newly created English republic found itself in a desperate financial situation following the war.

In order to raise funds the 'Act for the sale of the personal estate of the King, Queen and Prince' was promulgated and trustees were appointed to value the jewels and sell them to the highest bidder.[29] The most valuable of these objects was the Tudor State Crown, valued at £1,100 (£1,740,000 as of 2011);[30] it was set with 28 diamonds, 19 sapphires, 37 rubies and 168 pearls.[31]

Restoration to present day

In preparation for the 1661 coronation of the restored Charles II, new regalia was commissioned based on descriptions of the lost items.[32] The Coronation Chair did not have to be replicated, however, as it had been retained and used for Cromwell's installation as Lord Protector.[32] A few other pieces – such as the Coronation Spoon – had been sold intact and were returned to the king.[32]

Since then there have been many additions and alterations to the regalia,[32] although often temporarily. Starting with Charles II's successor, Queen Anne, many of the pieces were temporary: jewels would be hired for the coronation (after which the settings would be changed to paste or crystal for permanent display), or the crown would be entirely dismantled.[32] This practice continued until the early 20th century.[32]

During World War II the crown jewels were hidden in a still-secret location.[32]


The collection of Crown Jewels contains various crowns, some of which are used by every Sovereign, others being made personally for Sovereigns or for the Queen's Consort. Typically the crown of a King has a slightly pointed arched top, while that of a Queen has a slightly bowed top.

  • St Edward's Crown was made in 1661. Made of gold, its design consists of four crosses pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, with two arches on top. Surmounting the arches is a jewelled cross pattée. The Crown includes 444 precious stones. It is used through most of the coronation ceremony and is said to be made of the melted gold from King Edward's Crown. It is noted by a number of British monarchs to be extremely heavy and difficult to wear. Queen Elizabeth II opted to use a stylised representation of this crown in images of the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.

  • The Imperial Crown of India was created when King George V visited Delhi as Emperor of India. To prevent the pawning of the Crown Jewels, British law prohibited the removal of a Crown Jewel from the country. For this reason, a new crown was made. It has not been used since. The Imperial Crown of India is not a part of the British Crown Jewels, though it is stored with them.
  • The Crown of Queen Mary can be seen as the consort crown of the Crown of India. It has a very similar design, including the eight arches, reserved for imperial crowns. It was manufactured for the coronation of George and Mary in 1911. The crown was made by Garrard & Co and contains some 2,200 diamonds. It contained the Koh-i-Noor diamond as well as Cullinan III and Cullinan IV. In 1914 they were replaced by crystal models.
  • The George IV State Diadem was made in 1820 for the coronation of King George IV. He was the only man ever to wear it. Since then, it has been used exclusively by Queens, and was worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II as they journeyed to the Abbey, and for the first part of their coronations, up to the Anointing.

  • The Crown of Queen Elizabeth is the platinum consort crown manufactured for, and worn by, Queen Elizabeth, the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the queen consort of King George VI at their coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1937. It is the first crown for a British consort to be made of platinum. The crown was made by Garrard & Co in London, the long term manufacturer of British royal crowns, and modelled partially on the design of the Crown of Queen Mary, wife of King George V. It consists of four half-arches, in contrast to the eight half-arches of Queen Mary's crown. As with Queen Mary's crown, its arches are detachable at the cross-pattee, allowing Elizabeth to wear the crown as a circlet. The crown is decorated entirely with diamonds, most notably the 105-carat (21 g) Koh-i-Noor diamond in the middle of the front cross (the diamond was most recently acquired by the East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.). It also contains the Lahore Diamond (22.48 carats) from the Treasury of Lahore given to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1851[33] and a 17-carat (3.4 g) diamond given to Queen Victoria by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1856. Queen Elizabeth wore the crown minus the arches on a number of occasions, including State Openings of Parliament by her husband. She wore it thus also at the coronation of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953 (as Queen Mary had worn her own crown at the coronation of her son, King George VI, in 1937). In its complete form, the crown rested on top of Queen Elizabeth's coffin during her funeral in 2002. It is now on display along with the other British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.[34]

Mary of Modena's crowns

State Diadem—Worn by her on the way to her coronation and worn in such a way by Queens Consort down to the nineteenth century.

Coronation Crown—The crown with which she was actually crowned. Now in the Museum of London.

State Crown—Worn for the procession out of the Abbey and put to other uses subsequently.

The orbs and sceptres

Two sceptres used by the Sovereign form a part of the regalia:

  • The Kings's Sceptre with the Cross was made in 1661, and is so called because it is surmounted by a cross. In 1910, it was redesigned to incorporate the Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa, which at over 530 carats (106 g) is the largest cut clear diamond in the world. During the coronation, the monarch bears the Sceptre with the Cross in the right hand.
  • The Sceptre with the Dove was also made in 1661, and atop it is a dove symbolising the Holy Spirit. While the Sceptre with the Cross is borne in the right hand, the Sceptre with the Dove is borne in the left. At the same time as the Sovereign holds both Sceptres, he or she is crowned with St Edward's Crown.

The royal regalia includes two sceptres made for Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II:

  • A second sceptre with a cross is known as 'The Queen's Sceptre with the Cross.'
  • A second scepter topped by a dove is known as 'The Queen's Sceptre with the Dove', or sometimes 'The Queen's Ivory Rod.' It is the only sceptre within the royal regalia made of ivory.

The Sovereign's Orb, a type of globus cruciger, is a hollow golden sphere made in 1661. There is a band of jewels running along the centre, and a half-band on the top hemisphere. Surmounting the orb is a jewelled Cross symbolising Christ's dominion over the world and the Sovereign's role as Defender of the Faith. It is delivered to the Sovereign during the Investiture rite of the coronation and is borne later in the Sovereign's left hand when proceeding from the Abbey.

The Small Orb, a smaller globus cruciger made in 1689 for Mary II due to her joint coronation with William III. Both the Small Orb and its larger counterpart rested on Queen Victoria's coffin in 1901.


Five swords are used during the coronation.

The Jewelled Sword of Offering was made for the Coronation of King George IV. It is the only sword actually presented to the Sovereign during the Coronation (by the Archbishop of Canterbury, to signify that the royal power is at the service of the church); the others are merely borne in front of the Sovereign. It was described by Lawrence Tanner as the most beautiful and valuable sword in the world; the hilt and the scabbard are both encrusted with jewels (which include diamonds, rubies and sapphires) and the blade is of the finest Damascus steel. During the procession in the Abbey it replaces the Great Sword of State because that is too heavy to be easily carried.[35]

The Great Sword of State is the largest sword in the collection, and is borne in front of the Monarch both at the coronation (at the previous coronation by the Marquess of Salisbury, who delivered it to the Lord Great Chamberlain[36]) and at the State Opening of Parliament (by a peer who is usually a retired senior military officer). The gilt handle has crosspieces representing the lion and unicorn and the scabbard is decorated with jewels in the shapes of the floral symbols of the United Kingdom: the rose for England and the thistle for Scotland.[35]

The other three swords used are the Sword of Spiritual Justice, the Sword of Temporal Justice, and the Sword of Mercy. The first two symbolise the sovereign's relationship with church and state and the latter represents Curtana, the short sword of Ogier the Dane which he was warned to draw in mercy not in vengeance.[35]

Other items

The Ring was made for William IV's coronation in 1831. Previously, each Sovereign received a new ring to symbolise their "marriage" to the nation but this ring has been used at every subsequent coronation with the exception of Queen Victoria's, whose fingers were too small to retain it. A petite and exact copy of the Ring was made for her, which is also housed with the Regalia.

When the Sovereign is anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the anointing oil is poured from the Ampulla into the Anointing Spoon. The Ampulla is a hollow gold vessel shaped like an eagle, and the Spoon is silver-gilt set with pearls. The Ampulla is believed to be the one first used in the coronation of Henry IV in 1399. According to legend it was made to contain the oil presented by the Virgin Mary in a vision seen by St Thomas of Canterbury. It is accompanied by a golden spoon which is certainly of the 13th century. It is likely though not certain that the Ampulla escaped destruction in 1643 when most of the regalia were destroyed or sold.[35] The Spoon was bought by Clement Kynnersley, Yeoman of the Removing Wardrobe, for sixteen shillings when Cromwell ordered the destruction of the new regalia;[37] the Spoon, probably dating from the thirteenth century, is thus the oldest element of the Regalia. The ceremony of the anointing derives from the coronation ceremony of France (see Holy Ampulla for further details).

The Armills are gold bracelets said to symbolise sincerity and wisdom. Upon Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, a new set of gold armills were produced and presented on the behalf of various Commonwealth governments, namely: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Southern Rhodesia.

There is a collection of "altar plate" comprising chalices, patens and altar dishes that are used or displayed during coronations. One of the most striking pieces is a large silver-gilt altar dish, the centre depicts the Last Supper in relief; it was made by the goldsmith Henry Greenway in 1664 for James, Duke of York and later acquired by Charles II.[38]

The Tower of London

Main article: Jewel House

The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since 1303 after they were stolen from Westminster Abbey. It is thought that most, if not all, were recovered shortly afterwards. After the coronation of Charles II, they were locked away and shown for a viewing fee paid to a custodian. However, this arrangement ended when Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels after having bound and gagged the custodian. Thereafter, the Crown Jewels were kept in a part of the Tower known as Jewel House, where armed guards defend them.

Crown Jeweller

In 1843, Queen Victoria appointed Garrard & Co to the position of Crown Jewellers, leading to the production of numerous pieces of silverware and jewellery for the Royal Family, as well as the upkeep of the Crown Jewels. Garrard dealt with a number of famous jewels, such as the Cullinan diamonds (including Cullinan I, "The Great Star of Africa"), and created such pieces as the Imperial Crown of India in 1911, the crown of Queen Mary for her coronation, and the Crown of Queen Elizabeth in 1937. In 1852, Garrard were given the responsibility of re-cutting the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond into a brilliant.

On 15 July 2007 an announcement was made in the Court Circular, under Buckingham Palace, that Garrard & Co's services as crown jeweller were no longer required, with the reason cited being that it was simply 'time for a change.'[39] G. Collins and Sons were appointed the new Crown Jewellers.

See also


External links


  • Official Tower of London website
  • The Crown Jewels at the English Monarchs website
  • The Crown Jewels on the Official Website of UK Monarchy (with photo gallery)
  • Lady Mountbatten's Tiara on the Royal-Magazin Jewels
  • The Sword of State on the Royal Exhibitions Web site

Coordinates: 51°30′29″N 0°4′34″W / 51.50806°N 0.07611°W / 51.50806; -0.07611

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