The Crown Jewels, which are part of the Royal Collection, are displayed to millions of visitors every year, guarded by Yeomen Warders (‘Beefeaters’) in the Tower of London. The Jewel House at the Tower has been used for the secure storage of the precious ceremonial objects, commonly known as the ‘Crown Jewels’, since the early 14th century, when Westminster Abbey (the alternative store) was found to be unsafe. Although attempts have been made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower, notably by Colonel Blood in 1671, none have succeeded. The present display of the Crown Jewels was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994.
At the heart of the Crown Jewels display are the ceremonial and symbolic objects associated with the coronations of English Kings and Queens. These are usually referred to as the Regalia. They include the crowns of Sovereigns, Consorts and Princes of Wales, both past and present, sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets and robes, all of which have a specific part to play in the ritual of the English coronation service. Much of the Regalia is in use to the present day, a feature which distinguishes the English Regalia from most of its European counterparts
The oldest piece of the Regalia is the 12th century gold Anointing Spoon, used to anoint the Sovereign with holy oil. Apart from the three steel coronation swords (the Swords of Temporal Justice, of Spiritual Justice and of Mercy), this is the only piece that survived the destruction of the pre-Civil War Regalia in 1649-50. This destruction was ordered by Oliver Cromwell, following the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The gold objects, including pieces probably dating back to the time of Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, were sent to the Mint for melting down, and the gemstones were removed from their settings and sold. Cromwell was determined that these potent symbols of royalty and kingship should be completely eradicated.
At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, King Charles II ordered new Regalia, modelled on the forms of the lost Regalia used by his father. This new set of Regalia was completed for Charles II’s coronation on St George’s Day (23 April 1661) and cost the enormous sum of almost £13,000.
The principal piece of the Regalia is St Edward’s Crown, with which the new Sovereign is actually crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the coronation ceremony. This is made of gold and decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, including sapphires, tourmalines, amethysts, topazes and citrines, and weighs a substantial 2.23kg. It was last used to crown Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953.
The most famous of the crowns is the Imperial State Crown. This was re-made for the coronation of The Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1937 and is set with over 3,000 gems. The stones were all transferred from the old Imperial Crown, which had been re-made on a number of occasions since the 17th century, most recently for Queen Victoria in 1838. This crown incorporates many famous gemstones, including the diamond known as the Second Star of Africa (the second largest stone cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond), the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire, St Edward’s Sapphire and Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls. The Sovereign traditionally wears the Imperial State Crown at the conclusion of the coronation service, when leaving Westminster Abbey. It is also worn for the State Opening of Parliament.
The other principal pieces of the Regalia used during the coronation, all dating from 1661, are the Ampulla, the gold flask in the form of an eagle which contains the holy oil used for the Anointing; the Sovereign’s Orb, representing Christ’s dominion over the world; and the two sceptres, The Sovereign’s Sceptre with cross, now set with the First Star of Africa, representing the monarch’s temporal power under God and the Sceptre with Dove, representing equity and mercy. The Spurs, which are not worn, are there to represent knightly chivalry and the Armills or bracelets, represent sincerity and wisdom. A new pair of gold Armills was presented to The Queen by the Commonwealth for the 1953 coronation.
During the coronation service, following the Anointing, the Sovereign is invested with the Imperial Mantle of cloth-of-gold, woven with the National Emblems, and when invested, places on the altar the elaborately jewelled Sword of Offering. Both of these were made for George IV’s coronation in 1821.
Among the famous gem-stones on display at the Tower is the First Star of Africa, now mounted at the top of the Sovereign’s Sceptre. This is the largest flawless cut diamond in the world and weighs 530 carats. This and the Second Star of Africa of 317 carats (in the Imperial State Crown) were cut from the celebrated Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever found. Weighing over 3,000 carats, the Cullinan was given to King Edward VII by the Government of the Transvaal (South Africa) in 1907.
The legendary Koh-i-Nur (‘Mountain of Light’) diamond, presented to Queen Victoria in 1850, is now set in the platinum crown made for the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother for the 1937 coronation. This diamond, which came from the Treasury at Lahore in the Punjab, may have belonged to the early Mughal emperors before passing eventually to Duleep Singh. It was re-cut for Queen Victoria in 1852 and now weighs 106 carats. Traditionally the Koh-i-Nur is only worn by a queen or queen consort: it is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.
Among the other notable jewels on display is Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown, made for her in 1870 to wear as a light and comfortable alternative to the much heavier Imperial State Crown. The Imperial Crown of India, set with around 6,000 diamonds and magnificent rubies and emeralds, was made for King George V to wear at the Delhi Coronation Durbar in 1911. It has never been worn since.
In addition to the new Regalia, Charles II acquired a large quantity of new gold altar and banqueting plate, costing a further £18,000. A selection of this plate, including the Maundy Dish, still used by the Sovereign on Maundy Thursday, the St George’s Salts, formerly used at coronation banquets, and the Charles II font formerly used for royal christenings, together with the Lily Font, which is in current use and was made for the baptism of Queen Victoria’s first child, is also on view in the Jewel House.