The Crown Jewels are the royal jewellery worn or carried by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and other state functions. The term includes the crowns, diadems, orbs and sceptres in the Crown Jewels collection.
The crowns and diadem
The crowns in the collection include those used by every sovereign, others which were made for specific sovereigns, and crowns made for the sovereign’s consort (husband or wife).
The Saint Edward’s Crown is used to crown the sovereign during the coronation ceremony. The sovereign also wears it at the state opening of parliament. Its 444 precious stones give it a total weight of 2.2 kg, making wearing it for any length of time extremely tiring.
The Imperial State Crown is worn by the sovereign at the end of the coronation ceremony. Made in 1937 for King George VI, it is a replica of the one made for Queen Victoria, but is more lightweight in design. That said, it has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies. This includes some famous gems: the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Cullinan II Diamond, a sapphire believed to have belonged to Edward the Confessor and two or three pearls worn by Queen Elizabeth I.
The George IV State Diadem was made for his coronation. He wore it as he processed into Westminster Abbey. It was also worn during the coronation procession of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. The diadem includes 1,333 diamonds and 169 pearls. The design features the national symbols of England (the rose), Scotland (the thistle) and Ireland (the shamrock).
The Consort’s Crown has since the beginning of the twentieth century included the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. Queen Elizabeth, the then Queen Mother, wore this during Elizabeth II’s coronation. The Consort’s Crown rested on the Queen Mother’s coffin during her funeral in 2002.
The Koh-i-Noor, a 21.6 g cut diamond, has belonged to various Hindu, Mughal, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British rulers. It came into the possession of the East India Company and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.
The orbs and sceptres
The orb and sceptres in the Crown Jewel collection illustrate the religious significance of the sovereign’s role and the ritual significance of the coronation ceremony itself.
The Sceptre with the Cross symbolises the temporal authority of the sovereign under the Cross of the Almighty. During the coronation, the sovereign holds the Sceptre with the Cross in the right hand. The Sceptre was made for King Charles II’s coronation in 1661, when the newly restored monarch was especially eager to have visible signs of his authority. In 1910 the piece was redesigned to incorporate the Cullinan I Diamond.
The Sceptre with the Dove was also made for King Charles II’s coronation. It features a gold rod with bands of gemstones, surmounted by a sphere and an enamelled dove, representing the Holy Ghost. The Sceptre with the Dove is held in the left hand. At the same time as the sovereign holds Sceptres, he or she is crowned with St Edward’s Crown.
The Sovereign’s Orb is a religious symbol. It represents the sovereign’s role as Defender of the Faith and as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. For a part of the coronation, it is held in the left hand. The Orb is a hollow gold sphere weighing 42 ounces (1,200 g) and measuring 16.5 centimetres (6.5 in) in diameter. Spanning the equator is a band of pearls and gemstones, with a similar half-band running across the top half of the Orb. On top of the Orb is an amethyst surmounted by a cross.
WHERE ARE THE CROWN JEWELS KEPT?
The Crown Jewels have been kept in the Tower of London since 1301. They have been on public display since 1669. In the 19th century the Tower gained such popularity with tourists that in 1851 a purpose-built ticket office was constructed.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE CROWN JEWELS?
In the early Middle Ages there was already a set of crown jewels. Legend has it that these were lost in 1216 by King John in the coastal wetlands of the Wash, when a high tide overwhelmed the carriage transporting them. Nothing was recovered. One item that appeared to have been spared this fate was the crown that had allegedly belonged to King Alfred the Great.
By the end of the 13th century new items to replace those lost had been made. But in 1303, these were stolen from Westminster Abbey. Some were subsequently recovered from a jeweller’s shop in the City of London. The incident gave rise to a new arrangement which lasts to this day: that the Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower of London.
In the 1650s, at the time of the Commonwealth of England, Oliver Cromwell melted down most of the crown jewels. When in 1660 Charles II of England and Scotland was restored to the throne most of the collection was replaced. Documents of this time seem to show that it was at this point that King Alfred’s crown was unearthed. In 1661 the gold from this was incorporated into what became known as ‘St Edward’s Crown, though clearly this cannot have belonged to Edward the Confessor.