Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee jewellery: Queen has only seen UK’s most precious jewel five times
Crowns, tiaras, necklaces; rings and earrings, bracelets and brooches all set with the most dazzling of diamonds, including the god of all diamonds – the Cullinan; rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts and aquamarines; pearls for the day and pearls for the evening; it is not surprising that Her Majesty the Queen has a jewellery collection, that surpasses any other in the world. But there are two particular pieces in the Crown Jewels which are significantly more important, in a monarchical context, than any other: the St Edward’s Crown and the Imperial State Crown; the former of which has only been worn once in the past seventy years, and then only, for a minute when it was placed on the head of Her Majesty the Queen. The mere moment of her coronation. The latter is worn to leave the coronation, and to open her Parliament each year. The St Edward’s Crown, otherwise known as the coronation crown, is in fact the most important and sacred item of the Royal Regalia, despite a history steeped in sometimes, improvable legend.
It is named after the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor.
He wore the crown every year of his reign, on the three most important religious festivals: Christmas Day, Easter Day and Whitsun.
On his deathbed King Edward asked the monks of Westminster Abbey that they keep the crown, and other royal ornaments, in perpetuity for all future monarchs.
A century later he was canonised, and his regalia declared holy relics. From 1220 the crown became known as the St Edward’s Crown and never left the Abbey, until Richard II relinquished it to Henry IV in 1399 at the Tower of London.
Remarkably the omnipotent Henry VIII decided that his second wife, Anne Boleyn would be appointed his consort with this sacred crown, but we all know what happened to those who disagreed with “Burly King Harry”!
There are no detailed drawings of the original Anglo-Saxon crown, although it is thought that depictions of both King Edward and King Harald on the Bayeux Tapestry, show them wearing it. But it would have been rendered in gold with only a few gemstones, set intermittently along the band with archetypal arches crossing at the top.
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Two particular pieces in the Crown Jewels most important (St Edward’s Crown above)
The Queen wearing the St Edward’s Crown at her coronation on 2 June 1953
When Charles I was executed and the monarchy abolished in 1649, St Edward’s Crown and the rest of the royal regalia were either broken up and sold, or melted down at the Royal Mint.
During the eleven years of the Commonwealth there were of course no coronations. But once Cromwell was dead, the people longed for a king, Charles’s exiled son became Charles II so a new coronation crown was needed, and the new king wanted it to be far more flamboyant. After all with eleven kingless years, it was important to see that the majesty of monarchy was celebrated.
The cost to purchase precious stones was too much for the money men, so they were instead hired and mounted, the stones – not the men – in the gold framework, said to incorporate gold from the original. In 1671 the Crown, now kept in the Tower of London as no longer a holy relic, was stolen by Thomas Blood (despite being devoid of gemstones) and flattened – fortunately it was able to be malleted out in time to crown both James II and William III.
Nevertheless, for two centuries after the coronation of William III, St Edward’s Crown would sit on the Abbey’s high altar during the ceremony; it was deemed far too heavy to wear, weighing in at 2.6kg.
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So over two hundred years later, the St Edward’s Crown was once again used to crown the Queen’s grandfather in 1911; thankfully, reduced in size and weight – but the jewels were still hired. For his coronation George VI bought the 400 plus precious stones, and the rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnets, peridots, jargoons, topazes and tourmalines are still there today.
Since her coronation in 1953 Her Majesty has only seen the crown, with its velvet cap, ermine band and two bells attached to the cross, five times.
The first was when the Archbishop of Canterbury placed it on her head. The last was for a documentary in 2018 when she picked it up saying “is it still as heavy… yes, it weighs a ton. […] and it’s impossible to tell which is front and back!”
So it is not surprising that she is only the sixth monarch to have been crowned in this St Edward’s Crown.
The Imperial State Crown, however, has been both worn and seen by Her Majesty at least once a year
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The Imperial State Crown, however, has been both worn and seen by Her Majesty at least once a year since 1952, when she first wore it to open parliament. So as this is her Platinum Jubilee year – that is more than seventy times, no wonder it deserves its moniker of a ‘working crown’!
This Crown of State was created for the coronation of George VI in 1937 by the Royal jewellers Garrard, it was inspired by a similar crown made for Queen Victoria a century earlier and is probably the most significant gem set piece of regalia in the world. This is thanks to more than a handful of historically weighty gemstones; as Her Majesty says in an 1970s television interview “most of the bigger stones, have had adventures.”
And with 2868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls it’s not surprising that several are steeped in as much legend as St Edward’s Crown, in fact the large sapphire set at the back, once belonged to Coronation Crown’s namesake. The beautiful blue gem, then worn in a ring, was supposedly given to a beggar by the king who was carrying no money, the beggar turned out to be St John the Apostle. The ring was later returned and buried with the king until he was reinterred in 1163, and the large octagonal rose-cut sapphire removed to be reset into the crown jewels, where it sits splendidly in the cross at the top of the crown.
Another notable sapphire is the 104 carat Stuart Sapphire, now set at the back of the band. Historians believe that it was smuggled out of the country by James II in 1688, it was later bought by George IV and set at the front of Queen Victoria’s State Crown. The irregularly shaped, 170 carat Black Prince Ruby is also steeped in medieval myth, not least that it isn’t a ruby at all but instead a spinel. Legend says that it was given to Edward III’s heir, the Black Prince, after a battle in Spain.
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This Crown of State was created for the coronation of George VI in 1937
In the 1970s interview Her Majesty says “I always like to think of it as worn by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt” and according to custom, it was.
The four pear-shaped pearls suspended from the centre of the interlocking arches, underneath the diamond encrusted ‘monde’, were supposed to be earrings belonging to Elizabeth I, did she wear them whilst watching the triumph of the Armada?
Out of the 2868 indomitable diamonds, one is of particular importance with a story we know is absolutely not a legend.
The enormous cushion-shaped diamond, at the front of the band, is the Cullinan II, it was given to Edward VII two years after being discovered in De Beers’s Cullinan mine in South Africa. It is still the largest and most spectacular diamond ever found.
It was given to the British monarch after the Boer War and from it were cut nine large diamonds – the two biggest were set in the Sovereign’s sceptre and, the Imperial State Crown.
Renowned diamond expert, Lisa Levinson of the Natural Diamond Council, explains that “the dazzling diamonds in the Imperial State Crown, as in all the Queen’s jewels, show the unsurpassable splendour of real diamonds”.
It just goes to show that even the British Monarchy believes diamonds are forever.
Read more about the most iconic diamonds that have helped shape the history of the world and continue to do so, at the Natural Diamond Council’s website NaturalDiamonds.com.