The Crown Jewels

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II photographed by Cecil Beaton on Coronation Days 2nd June 1953. She wears the Imperial State Crown. In her right hand she holds the Sceptre with the Cross; in her left hand the Sovereign’s Orb. On her wrists are the Bracelets, and on her right hand the Coronation Ring is seen. Her Majesty is arrayed in the purple velvet Imperial Robe of State, Her coronation gown of white satin made by Norman Hartnell, is entirely encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II photographed by Cecil Beaton on Coronation Days 2nd June 1953. She wears the Imperial State Crown. In her right hand she holds the Sceptre with the Cross; in her left hand the Sovereign’s Orb. On her wrists are the Bracelets, and on her right hand the Coronation Ring is seen. Her Majesty is arrayed in the purple velvet Imperial Robe of State, Her coronation gown of white satin made by Norman Hartnell, is entirely encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones.

The Crown Jewels of England in all their majesty and splendour are displayed in the Jewel House in the Tower of London where they are seen by more than a million people every year.

They are cherished for their historic and religious significance: their intrinsic value although incalculable is relatively unimportant. To the British nation the Crown Jewels are priceless.

The history of the regalia properly begins in the reign of Edward the Confessor, who became king in 1042 and was crowned in the following year. His Great Seal shows him seated on a throne wearing a crown; in one hand he holds a staff surmounted with a cross, and in the other an orb. On the reverse he is holding a staff surmounted with a dove in one hand and a sword in the other. It is believed that he also wore a ring. These are essentially the same ornaments as those used at a coronation today with the exception of the spurs, an emblem of knighthood, which were introduced into the ceremony after the concept of chivalry was advanced in the 12th century.

From about 1250, in the reign of Henry III, there appear to have been two distinct sets of regalia: first St. Edward’s regalia which was used only at the coronation ceremony and kept at Westminster Abbey; and secondly the royal regalia which was also used in part at coronations and on other State occasions as required.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 St. Edward’s regalia was still at Westminster Abbey and the royal regalia at the Jewel House in the Tower. London was in the hands of Parliament and the then Keeper of the Jewel House, Sir Henry Mildmay, was among Cromwell’s supporters. He made no bones about parting with the regalia and thus earned for himself the contemptuous title “Knave of Diamonds”.

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster were of different mettle. They put their treasure under lock and key and refused to part with it, but after the execution of Charles I in 1649 pressure- was brought to bear upon them and St. Edward’s regalia was removed to the Tower.

Parliament, in their hatred for the dead king’s memory and all things royal, sold or destroyed the crowns, regal emblems and ecclesiastical and royal plate except the ampulla, the anointing spoon and Queen Elizabeth’s salt cellar. These were apparently saved by the resource of the faithful clergy at Westminster.

Historic gems from the crowns were acquired by obscure buyers, perhaps on behalf of fervent Royalists since the jewels reappeared in the new regalia made by Sir Robert Vyner, the royal goldsmith, for Charles II’s coronation in 1661. Although the gold is stated to have been sent to the Royal Mint for coining, there is a possibility that further fragments of the old regalia also survived and were used by Vyner.

Since the reign of King Charles II the regalia has been kept at one place only, the Tower of London, except during the Second World War. In September 1940, when the Germans were poised to invade England, the Crown Jewels were taken to Windsor Castle, the wartime home of King George VI and his family. There the most valuable gems were removed from the crowns and packed ready for swift removal if the need arose. Happily it never did and they remained in the castle until the war ended.

Except for the crowns and coronation rings, the regalia has remained virtually unchanged since 1661.

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