A brief history
The Crown Jewels from 1100s to the Civil War
The Jewels at the Tower and Westminster Abbey
Until 1649, the coronation regalia (or the crown, orb, sceptres and other objects used in the coronation) were all kept at Westminster Abbey, the coronation church since 1066. As these sacred objects could not leave the abbey, kings and queens had their own personal regalia made to wear and use during their reign. Since the 1100s the Tower has been a stronghold for the nation's valuables, including the personal jewels of the Monarch.
In July 1377 Richard II’s coronation procession left the Tower and sets off to Westminster in style. In a magnificent display, the boy-king Richard II processed through the streets of London which were lavishly decorated and bustling with entertainers. The following day, the ten year-old was crowned in Westminster Abbey. For the next 300 years, coronation processions started from the Tower.
The English Revolution
Monarchy was abolished during the English Revolution. Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, all crowns and any other symbols of monarchy in the treasuries at Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London were marked for destruction. Broken up and defaced, much of the gold and silver from these medieval and Tudor crowns was melted down and made into coins at the Mint, also at the Tower of London.
The Crown Jewels since the restoration of the Monarchy
Following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, in 1658 the Commonwealth (the English republic) faltered. Two years later, Parliament invited the son of the previous king to return and restore the monarchy. As a king with literally no crown, a new set of Crown Jewels was made for Charles II’s coronation in 1661. More than half of the objects on display today date from this rapid re-creation during Charles’ reign. Since then, crowns and other accoutrements have been made as required.
1671 - Attempt to steal the Crown Jewels is foiled
The infamous ‘Colonel’ Thomas Blood almost succeeded in stealing the Crown Jewels. Having befriended the Keeper of the Regalia through many visits, Blood returned to the Tower with three fellow conspirators. As they created a diversion, he knocked the Keeper unconscious then grabbed the Jewels. The crime only failed when the Keeper’s son arrived home unexpectedly and raised the alarm.
Security stepped up after a visitor seizes the State Crown
In 1815 visitors could reach through the bars and touch the Crown Jewels, a woman seized the State Crown and wrenched its arches apart. The crown was ‘very much damaged’ and had to be repaired at what was then a substantial cost of £10 and 10 shillings. A magistrate found the woman ‘insane’ and visitors were no longer allowed to handle the Crown Jewels after this.
The Crown Jewels are saved from fire
When a fire broke out on 30 October 1841 in a building next to the Jewel House, the key to the case with the Crown Jewels could not be fetched in time. A City policeman wrenched the bars apart with a crowbar. The Times reported: ‘A most extraordinary scene presented itself, the warders carrying crowns, sceptres and other valuables of royalty, between groups of soldiers, police, firemen…to the Governor’s residence.’
A gun salute is fired at the Tower to mark the coronation of Elizabeth II
In accordance with tradition, a 62-gun salute was fired from Tower Wharf at the moment that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953. This salute is repeated each year at the Tower on the anniversary of the coronation. Similar salutes mark her accession to the throne, actual birthday and official birthday.