The Crown Jewels

A world-famous, unique collection of sacred and ceremonial objects

A world-famous, unique collection of sacred and ceremonial objects

Kings and queens of England have stored crowns, robes, and other items of their ceremonial regalia at the Tower of London for over 600 years. Since the 1600s, this collection has been commonly known as the ‘Crown Jewels’.

Over 30 million people have seen them in their present setting at the Tower. They are possibly the most visited objects in Britain, perhaps the world.

But most remarkable of all is that this a unique working collection. Most years, the Queen wears the Imperial State Crown for the State Opening of Parliament, and when the next coronation comes around, key items will be taken to Westminster in readiness for the ceremony.

Did you know?

The question most visitors ask about the Crown Jewels is, ‘are they real?’ Yes, they are!

Objects from the Coronation Regalia

Powerful symbols

At the heart of the collection is the Coronation Regalia itself, a group of precious and highly symbolic objects used since 1661 to crown sovereigns of England.

The image shows the objects, made after the restoration of the monarchy, for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. Many were used for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

Image: Charles II Coronation Regalia, Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017 

Photo of St Edward's Crown

St Edward's Crown

St Edward’s Crown is the most important and sacred of all the crowns. It is only used at the moment of crowning itself. This solid gold crown was made for the coronation of Charles II to replace the medieval crown melted down in 1649. This original crown was thought to date back to the 11th-century saint-king Edward the Confessor.

From 1661 to the early 20th century, this crown was only ever adorned with hired gems, which were returned after the coronation.

In 1911, St Edward’s Crown was permanently set with semi-precious stones for the coronation of George V.

Image: St Edward’s Crown, 1661.  The magnificent solid gold frame makes it a very heavy and tiring crown to wear, even briefly, as it weighs 2.23kg (nearly 5lbs). © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates

 

Photo of The Sovereign's Orb, part of The Crown Jewels. Made of the coronation of King Charles II in 1661

Protector of good

The Sovereign’s Orb (pictured) and the Jewelled Sword of Offering (main image, top of page) feature in the Investiture section of the coronation ceremony.

The Sword (1820) is presented to the new monarch as part of a collection of ornaments, including armills (bracelets) and ceremonial spurs, which represent the chivalric nature of kingship. The monarch is charged with protecting good and punishing evil. The Sword is then fastened around the king’s waist (queens don’t wear it) before it is offered up at the altar.

The gold Sovereign’s Orb (1661), containing many original gemstones, symbolises the Christian world with its cross mounted on a globe.  It is placed in the monarch’s right hand before being placed on the altar.  

Images: The Sovereign's Orb, part of The Crown Jewels, © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates

 

The Sovereign’s Sceptre and rod

The Sceptre and rod are received in each hand by the monarch in the last part of the Investiture, before crowning.

Their significance was described at the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066: ‘by the sceptre uprising in the kingdom are controlled, and the rod gathers and confines those men who stray.’ The rod also symbolises the monarch’s pastoral care for his or her people.

The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross has been used at every coronation since Charles II’s in 1661. It was transformed in 1910 for George V by the addition of the spectacular Cullinan I diamond. This remains the largest top quality cut white diamond in the world.

The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Dove (1661), also offered to the new monarch, is topped by an enamel dove with open wings perched on a cross to symbolise the Holy Ghost.

Image: The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Photo of the Imperial State Crown

The Imperial State Crown

Although this is one of the newer items in the regalia, the Imperial State Crown (1937) contains some of the most historic jewels in the collection, which have attracted many legends. 

For example, the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’, set into the cross at the front of the crown is actually a balas or spinel, a semi-precious stone once owned by Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile, before he gave it to Edward, Prince of Wales (known as the Black Prince) in 1367 as a reward for helping him defeat a rival in battle.

The Imperial State Crown is the crown that the monarch exchanges for St Edward’s Crown at the end of the coronation ceremony. It is also used on formal occasions, most notably the State Opening of Parliament.

The Imperial State Crown contains 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and 4 rubies! 

Image: © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates

 

Portrait of King Charles I by Daniel Mytens

A corruptible crown

While the Crown Jewels are real, they are not the 11th-century originals.

The Civil Wars that began in 1642 effectively ended with the execution of Charles I. After his death, victorious Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of the Crown Jewels, intent on removing all sacred symbols of monarchy.

‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown…’ These were among the last words uttered by Charles I before his execution in 1649. 

He is depicted here in 1631 with the Imperial Crown, which was probably made for Henry VII after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth, and then destroyed by the vengeful Cromwell.

Image: King Charles I by Daniel Mytens, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Painting of Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker

Meltdown

The Tower has always been a secure place to keep the nation’s valuables. However in 1649, after the Civil War and Charles I’s execution, the Coronation Regalia were brought to the Tower to be destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell, who ordered that the highly symbolic Coronation Regalia, be ‘totallie Broken and defaced’.

Officials at the Tower’s Jewel House put up a fight. The Jewel House clerk, Carew Mildmay was a royalist sympathiser, and made things as difficult as possible, even refusing to hand over the keys to the Parliamentarians. Finally he was arrested, and imprisoned, and the doors of the Jewel House strong room broken down.

Precious stones were prised out of the crowns and sold, while the gold frames were sent to the Tower Mint to be melted down and turned into coins stamped ‘Commonwealth of England'.

Image: Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Monarchy remade

On 25 May 1660, after 14 years of exile, Charles II landed on the Kent coast to wild scenes of rejoicing.  On Oliver Cromwell’s death the Republican regime had dissolved into chaos, and the King was welcomed with open arms.

Charles made it clear he wanted a medieval style coronation, not wishing to miss the opportunity to reaffirm all the glory of the English monarchy. 

Did you know?

Charles II personally directed discussions about the remaking of the regalia.

Portrait of Charles II by John Michael Wright

Long live the King

To keep continuity with the past, it was decided that there should again be a coronation crown and a state crown, an orb, sceptre, swords, spurs, ring and bracelets.

The cost of creating these 11 principle pieces of regalia alone was estimated at some £13,000 – as much as three fully-equipped warships!

Image:  Portrait of Charles II, c1670s, by John Michael Wright displayed at Queen's Presence Chamber, Hampton Court Palace. The King is depicted with the new regalia: the state crown, the Orb and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

 

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls

‘… the crown and sceptres and rich plate, which … indeed is noble and I mightily pleased with it.’

Samuel Pepys, diarist, visiting the Crown Jewels for the first time in 1668. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Precious survivals

A few items survived Oliver Cromwell’s terrible meltdown.  Three 17th-century swords escaped destruction, along with an 11th-century coronation spoon used in the anointing of the monarch with holy oil.

This exquisite spoon was returned to Charles II by the man who bought it in the sell-off, who wished to get back into the new king’s good books. Thanks to him, this medieval spoon survives, alone among the sacred regalia.

Image: The ‘new’ (1661) eagle-shaped Ampulla , which contains the fragrant holy oil used to anoint the new monarch, and the ancient Coronation Spoon. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Stars of the show

The Crown Jewels contain some of the world’s most exceptional diamonds, shown here with the blue Stuart Sapphire.

This sapphire was reputedly smuggled out of the country by James II when he fled in 1688. It now adorns the back of the Imperial State Crown (1937).

The magnificent Cullinan I (top left) is the world’s largest top quality white cut diamond. The huge uncut stone was discovered in South Africa in 1905, and was cut to create five stones in all.  Cullinan II (bottom right), the second largest stone, is now set into the front band of the Imperial State Crown.

The history of the Koh-i-Nûr (or ‘Mountain of Light’) diamond is steeped in myth and anecdote. Discovered in 15th-century India, it was passed from ill-fated male hand to hand, until it earned a reputation of bringing bad luck to men. It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849. It now adorns the front of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Crown (1837)  

Image: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Image of King George V and Queen Mary, Coronation Durbar, Delhi 1911

A crown for an emperor

In 1910 George V was crowned king in Great Britain, and soon made his desire known to be personally inaugurated as Emperor of India. The Imperial State Crown could not be taken out of Britain, so a splendid new crown was commissioned for the King to wear at the great ceremonial court known as the ‘Delhi Durbar’

In November 1911, George V and Queen Mary endured three hours in the sweltering Indian sun, wearing their English robes of state, with the King getting gradually wearier under the weight of the specially made Imperial Crown of India.  It has never been worn since.

Image: King George V and Queen Mary, Coronation Durbar, Delhi 1911, © REX/Shutterstock

Image of The Imperial Crown of India, made for George V's appearance, as Emperor of India, at the Delhi Durbar of 1911

‘Really tired after wearing the crown for three hours … it hurt my head as it is pretty heavy.’

George V after wearing the Imperial Crown of India (1911) shown here. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Jewels in danger

Despite all efforts to keep the Crown Jewels safe after 1661, there have been a couple of near calamities, including the time the precious collection was nearly stolen.

In 1671 the mysterious ‘Colonel’ Blood and two accomplices tricked the Jewel House Keeper, Talbot Edwards into letting them handle the jewels. They attacked the poor Keeper, badly injuring him, and attempted to make off with the Orb, the Imperial State Crown and Sovereign’s Sceptre.

The plan was foiled when Edward’s son returned and raised the alarm. The thieves were caught, although Blood was later pardoned. The jewels were never on open display again.

Did you know?

On the night of 31 October 1841, the Grand Storehouse directly adjacent to the Jewel House went up in flames. The jewels were saved in the nick of time.

An ancient ritual

The Crown Jewels are so significant because they symbolise the passing of authority from one monarch to another during the coronation ceremony.

The earliest detailed account of a coronation in England comes from 973 when the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar was crowned in a lavish ceremony in Bath. The coronation rituals have altered little in their essentials in over a thousand years.

Image: Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day.  The Queen is wearing the Imperial State Crown, and she carries the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Orb. Photography by Cecil Beaton © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The Coronation Ceremony

The coronation ceremony is composed of a number of traditional elements. Before the age of film and television, the processions that preceded and followed the more private coronation ceremony at Westminster were a way for thousands of people to share in the magnificence of the occasion. For over 300 years the coronation procession started at the Tower of London and wound its way to Westminster Abbey. Now the procession starts at Buckingham Palace.

The Oath:  The coronation begins with the Recognition, as the congregation (representing the people) shout their acceptance of the monarch. In response he or she pledges an oath before God to rule fairly and to protect the church.

The Anointing:  The Archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the service, pours an aromatic holy oil from the Ampulla into the Coronation Spoon, and anoints the monarch on the hands, breast and head.

 

The Investiture:  This begins with the monarch being dressed in the Coronation Robes, and then he or she receives a series of ornaments that symbolise the chivalric nature of kingship. These ornaments include medieval style spurs and armills (bracelets).

The monarch is presented with the Jewelled Sword of Offering and the Sovereign’s Orb before both are placed on the altar. The final part of the Investiture involves placing a ring on the sovereign’s fourth finger of the right hand, and the receiving of the Sceptre and the Rod.

 

The Crowning: The moment the Archbishop places the St Edward’s Crown on the monarch’s head is the climax of the ceremony. Trumpets sound in the Abbey, bells ring out and a 62-gun salute booms from the Tower of London.

The Enthroning and Homage: In the final act of the coronation the monarch is guided from the ancient St Edward’s Chair to a raised throne. Here, he or she receives the oath of allegiance from the clergy and then the nobles in the Act of Homage. The new monarch exchanges the coronation crown for the Imperial State Crown, and processes from the Abbey.

The Imperial Mantle made for the coronation of George IV in 1821.  It has been worn by King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II

Best of the rest

The Crown Jewels have been kept in their present top security vault on the ground floor of the Waterloo Barracks since 1994. 

Besides the breathtaking coronation regalia there are many other marvels to see, including the Coronation Robes (1953), last worn by Queen Elizabeth II, huge maces, trumpets, and many golden treasures, including the Grand Punch Bowl, or Giant Wine Cistern, which can hold the contents of 144 bottles of wine!

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Prepare to be dazzled by this breathtaking, world famous collection of 23,578 gemstones that are still used in royal ceremonies today which reside at the Tower.

Open daily

Things to see

Built between 1526 and 1529, the royal tennis courts at Hampton Court Palace were used regularly by Henry VIII and you can view them as part of your visit.

Summer only

Hampton Court Palace

Things to see
Real Tennis World Champion, Camden Riviere, competing in 2017 Real Tennis Champions Trophy at the Royal Tennis Court.

The Annual International Real Tennis event returns to Hampton Court to celebrate this ancient game, played by Henry VIII.

16 July - 22 July 2018

Hampton Court Palace

Events
A beautifully illustrated official guide to the Crown Jewels, revealing the regalia and priceless treasures like never before.

Official Crown Jewels guidebook

A beautifully illustrated official guide to the Crown Jewels, revealing the regalia and priceless treasures like never before.

£5.99

Limited edition decoration inspired by the Imperial Crown of India. Originally created in 1911 for George V to wear in Delhi.

Crown of India 2017 dated decoration

Limited edition decoration inspired by the Imperial Crown of India. Originally created in 1911 for George V to wear in Delhi.

£29.99

The official illustrated history of the Crown Jewels

The official illustrated history of the Crown Jewels

This sumptuous publication tells the story of the most famous and complete collection of royal jewellery in the world.

£14.95