The Crown Jewels are a unique, priceless collection of crowns and other sacred and ceremonial objects, known as Coronation Regalia, displayed at the Tower of London.
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 17th century, this collection has been commonly known as the ‘Crown Jewels’. 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.
Among the jewels adorning objects in this dazzling collection are some of the world’s most exceptional diamonds. The biggest are Cullinan I and Cullinan II, the largest top-quality cut diamonds in the world and the extraordinary historic Koh-i-Nûr diamond from India.
This most important and sacred crown is used only at the moment of coronation itself. It was remade in 1661 to replace the medieval crown melted down after the Civil War.
The hollow gold orb, symbolising the Christian world, has been used at every coronation since Charles II. It retains its original gems, including most of the 365 rose-cut diamonds.
The bird symbolises the Christian Holy Ghost and denotes the sovereign’s spiritual authority. It is made of gold set with 285 gems.
In 1911, the enormous diamond Cullinan I was added to the head of the Sceptre. Earlier, the jewelled band at the base was altered to be easier for the petite Queen Victoria to hold at her coronation in 1838.
Made for the coronation of George VI. This is the crown worn by the new monarch as they leave Westminster Abbey after the coronation. It is also worn by HM The Queen every year at the State Opening of Parliament.
The Tower has always been a secure place to keep the nation’s valuables. But 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, determined to wipe out these symbols of monarchy. Precious stones were prised out of the crowns and sold, while the golden frames were sent to the Mint to be melted down and turned into coins stamped ‘Commonwealth of England’.
In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne. A new set of coronation regalia had to be made, and Charles was crowned in splendour in 1661.
Theft! In 1671 the mysterious ‘Colonel’ Blood and three accomplices attacked the Jewel House keeper, Talbot Edwards. They attempted to make off with the Orb, a crown and the Sceptre. The thieves were only thwarted when Edward’s son unexpectedly returned. Following the raid, the jewels were put behind bars with an armed guard.
Fire! On the night of 31 October 1841, the Grand Storehouse directly adjacent to the Jewel Tower went up in flames. The cry went up to evacuate the Crown Jewels, but no one could find the key to the bars! Strong men wrenched apart the bars and the superintendent of police himself pulled the jewels safety in the nick of time.
The Crown Jewels are immense valuable and highly symbolic. But they have not escaped some magnificent mishaps throughout their history.
Queen Victoria’s Imperial State Crown fell from a cushion during the State Opening of Parliament in 1845. It hit the ground with a ‘great crash’.
William IV suffered severe toothache at his coronation in 1831. The pain was made worse by over 7lbs of Imperial State Crown pressing on his head.
Image: William IV(1765-1837) By Sir Martin Archer Shee - Royal Collection Trust