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You are here: Home arrow Blog arrow A History of the Crown Jewels

A History of the Crown Jewels


The coronation of a new British sovereign takes place in Westminster Abbey, where every King and Queen of England (with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII) has been crowned since King Harold II in 1066. The current coronation regalia date from the Restoration, when they were made for the coronation of Charles II.

The original Crown Jewels were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell following the execution of Charles in 1649. At this time, Cromwell had the entire collection sold or melted down and made into coin: including Alfred the Great’s State Crown, the eleventh century crown of Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, the State Crown of Henry VII, various sceptres, swords, coronets and rings.

 image of St. Edward's crown

St. Edward's Crown
St. Edward’s Crown

The sovereign is always crowned with St. Edward’s crown. (With the exception of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, who found it too heavy). This is a golden crown encrusted with diamonds, rubies, pearls, emeralds and sapphires. It replaced the one destroyed by Cromwell, being made for Charles II. The crown's design includes a base with four crosses pattée alternating with four fleurs de lys, above which are two arches surmounted by a cross. In the centre is a velvet cap with an ermine border.

 The Imperial Crown of State

 The Imperial Crown of State, similar in design to St. Edward’s Crown, is worn annually by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament. It contains many historic jewels. These include Edward the Confessor’s sapphire, taken from his ring, which is set in a cross pattée at the top of the crown.

The ‘Black Prince's Ruby’, which adorns the centre of the Crown of State, is the size of a chicken’s egg and is now known to be a spinel and not a ruby. It has a long and bloody history which started with the death of Abu Said, the Moorish Prince of Granada at the hands of Don Pedro the Cruel, who deceived him, killed him and acquired the jewel. It is believed to have come to England with The Black Prince, to whom it was surrendered by Don Pedro. Henry V wore a gem-encrusted helmet that included the ruby at ‘the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He was struck a blow to the head by the French Duke of Alençon's battleaxe and nearly lost the helmet, along with his life. However, the Battle of Agincourt was won by Henry’s forces and he did not die. With notably less success,, Richard III is reported to have worn the Black Prince's Ruby in his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where he died. The helmet rolled under a hawthorn bush, was retrieved by Lord Stanley and placed on the head of the victorious Henry Tudor.    

Suspended from the arches of the crown there are four very large, old, drop pearls which may have come from twin ear-rings of Queen Elizabeth I. Within the band that forms the base of the crown is mounted an enormous diamond, named the second star of Africa. This was cut from the famous Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever discovered, and Edward VII had it set in the crown. The crown contains in all 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 273 pearls, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies.  

The Koh-i-Noor Crown

 The Koh-i-Noor Crown is the crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This contains the legendary Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light diamond presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1850. A legend clings to it that it brings good luck to any woman who wears it, but disaster to any man and many of the men that have owned it have met a violent end.

The Ampulla and Spoon, Sceptre and Orb

The ampulla and spoon are used in the coronation ceremony to anoint the monarch’s head, palms and breast with holy oil. The largest cut diamond in the world is contained in the Royal Sceptre. Made of gold and three feet in length, it also contains an enormous amethyst and a superb emerald. There are several other sceptres contained in the Crown Jewels.

The Orb, a golden globe topped by a diamond encrusted cross is held by the monarch in the coronation ceremony.

The Crown Jewels also contain five Swords of State: three of which are the Great Sword of State, the Sword of Justice and the Sword of Mercy which are traditionally carried before the monarch as he\she enters Westminster Abbey.

If you haven’t been before, the Jewel House at the Tower of London is well worth a family visit.

And if you would like to create your own Crown Jewels with your children click on the crowns or tiara below


A History of the Crown Jewels  A History of the Crown Jewels  Decorate Your Own Tudor Crown - kit for six or 30 

© hopefish 2008

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