Kings and Queens come and go, but the Crown Jewels remain a constant symbol of the British Monarchy. Not all the jewels have survived the ages, of course, and some have been sold, broken or even lost – but what remains is still vital for coronations, ceremonies and upholding the British Monarchy’s status at home and abroad.
With such a rich history, they are certain to have their fair share of quirks…so read on to discover nine unusual facts about the Crown Jewels.
The St Edward’s Crown Represents the Heavy Burden of Kingship
The Crown Jewels aren’t just pretty: they are drenched in symbolism dating back centuries. The St Edward’s Crown, which is only ever used for coronation ceremonies, goes back to the days of one of the last Saxon king’s, Edward the Confessor. The coronation ceremony has taken place at Westminster Abbey for 900 years and has essentially remained the same ever since.
The gold part of the crown alone weighs 4 pounds and 15 ounces, made purposely heavy to reflect the burden of kingship. Since Tudor times, the crown has been placed over the monarch’s cap of estate – a ceremonial crimson cap – because it is more comfortable than placing the crown directly onto the head.
The Imperial State Crown Contains Gems which are 900 Years Old
Just as the St Edward’s crown is only used for coronations, the Imperial State Crown is worn by the monarch for the state opening of Parliament and the House of Lords, a tradition started by Queen Victoria and which is still carried out by Queen Elizabeth II today.
The crown has been modified and altered over the years, but it is, in essence, the same crown which Queen Victoria wore over 150 years ago. It is said that the sapphire located at the top of the crown comes from the ring of Edward the Confessor in the 12th century.
The Crown Jewels Cannot Leave the Shores of England
In 1911, King George V and Queen Mary were crowned Emperor and Empress of India in Delhi. As the Crown Jewels cannot be taken out of the UK, a new crown called the British Imperial Crown of India was made for the occasion.
This was a very special occasion as George V was the only Emperor of India to be crowned in the country. India provided spectacular emeralds, diamonds and sapphires for the crown, which were shipped off to England for the construction.
The State Crown Contains One of the Largest Diamonds in the World
One of the most impressive jewels found in the State Crown includes the Second Star of Africa found on its front. Weighing 314 carats, the Star of Africa is the world’s second largest premier cut diamond. The First Star of Africa, which was cut from the same diamond, is found in the head of the sceptre of the Crown Jewels.
This magnificent stone was cut from the Cullinan Diamond, which in its original form was the largest rough diamond ever seen by man. It weighed 3,906 carats and the first steel blade which cut it snapped in half. The Cullinan cuts were gifted to England by the Transvaal Colony government, which is why it’s one of the most precious gems in the collection.
The Time the Jewels were Stolen
In 1671, a bunch of thieves led by Colonel Thomas Blood, an Anglo-Irish officer, hatched a plan to steal the Crown Jewels. Blood arrived at the Tower disguised as a priest and with two associates in tow. Guarding the jewels was a 76-year-old ex-soldier called Talbot Edwards. Blood and his cronies waited for the jewel cages to be opened up, hit Edwards over the head, stole the jewels and ran off.
Fortunately, Talbot Edwards’ son arrived just as the thieves were leaving, so he had Blood and his friends arrested and brought them to the tower to face the King. Bizarrely, the Colonel and his bunch of thieves were not punished – Blood was even given a large estate in Ireland!
The Legend of the Kohinoor Diamond
The Kohinoor Diamond’s name means ‘mountain of light’, but it has a troubled past when it comes to its male owners. The diamond has been sought-after for centuries in India, Persia and beyond, but wherever it goes, misfortune, mayhem and even murder seem to have befallen many who came into possession of the stone.
From the collapse of Nadir Shah’s Persian empire to the brothers who blinded each other so they could no longer gaze upon the gem, a folklore myth sprang up that the diamond brings bad luck to any man who owns it. For this reason, since the diamond fell into the hands of the British Royals, it has only ever adorned the crowns of female monarchs.
The Anointing Ceremony is Shrouded in Secrecy
The Royal Family may feel far more accessible than they did in the old days, but some of their ceremonies remain a mystery. The golden eagle, known as the Ampulla, and silver-gilt anointing spoon are used by the Archbishop to anoint the sovereign in a secretive spiritual service during the coronation which is shielded from the media and public to this day.
The anointing spoon is thought to have been used during the coronation of King John in 1199, whereas the Eagle has been used since the 14th century. This spiritual tradition is taken from the anointing of King David in the Bible, who was crowned as the first king. The crown is the outward symbol of monarchy, whereas the anointing part of the ceremony reflects the spiritual aspects and historical link between the monarchy and the Gods
The Sovereign’s Orb Marks their Status as Head of the Church
Since Henry VIII, the British monarch isn’t just the leader of the country: he or she is also the Supreme Head of the Anglican Church. The Sovereign Orb, therefore, reflects the British Monarch’s status in the Christian faith.
There are actually two orbs: the second was created for Queen Mary II in 1689 as she was the only monarch to have a joint coronation with her husband William of Orange, who both had equal rights and status. Both orbs were used to decorate Queen Victoria’s coffin in 1901.
The State Crown was too Heavy for Queen Victoria
As she got older and frailer, the imperial state crown became too heavy for Queen Victoria to wear, so she commissioned the crown jewellers of the day to make her a smaller, more manageable model which fit comfortably on the top of her head.