The name given to the regalia and robes worn by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom at a coronation and other state events are known as The Crown Jewels. The Tower of London has housed and protected these precious ceremonial objects since the early 14th century, when they were moved there from Westminster Abbey which was deemed no longer secure enough. The objects associated with the coronation ceremonies of past monarchs are referred to as the Regalia, made up of various crowns, sceptres, swords, rings, orbs and robes, all of which have a specific role during the coronation ceremony of a British King or Queen.
The oldest item in the collection is a 12th century gold Anointing spoon, used to anoint the sovereign with holy oil during the ceremony. It is a truly precious object as most of the pre English Civil War regalia was destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell, after the execution of Charles I in 1649. Many of the objects were sent to the mint to be melted down, and precious stones were removed and sold.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II ordered replacement Regalia, totalling the huge sum of almost £13,000! The new objects were based on the ones which had been destroyed, and were completed in time for Charles’ coronation on St George’s Day, April 23rd 1661.
The centrepiece of the collection is St Edward’s Crown, made of gold and set with many precious and semi- precious stones including sapphires, tourmalines, and amethysts and weighing in at over 2.2 kg, this is the crown set upon the monarch’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the coronation ceremony, and was the crown Queen Elizabeth II had placed upon her head on June 2nd 1953.
Other items used during the ceremony include the Ampulla, a gold flask in the shape of an eagle, used to contain the anointing oil, the Sovereign’s Orb, which represents Christ’s dominance over the world, and the two Sceptres, one representing the monarch’s temporal power under God, which now has mounted on the top the world’s largest flawless cut diamond, weighing 530 carats. The other sceptre representing equity and mercy. Spurs, which are not worn, are placed nearby to represent knightly chivalry. A pair of Armills, which are gold bracelets signify sincerity and wisdom.
The most iconic item within the Crown Jewel collection is the Imperial State Crown, remade for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and set with over 3,000 gems, many of which were transferred over from the old Imperial crown. This crown has been remade many times since the 17th century, and contains many famous precious stones, including the Second Star of Africa, a slightly smaller sister to the one mounted on the coronation sceptre, weighing in at 317 carats, St Edwards Sapphire, the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire and Queen Elizabeth’s Pearls. This magnificent crown is usually worn for the State opening of Parliament and also as the Monarch leaves Westminster Abbey at the end of the coronation ceremony.
The Crown Jewel collection also contains many other famous items, such as Queen Victoria’s smaller Diamond Crown, made in 1870, which she wore as an alternative to the heavy Imperial crown. The Imperial Crown of India, set with 6000 diamonds, rubies and emeralds was made in 1911 for King George V, and was only worn once, and various other Crowns and Diadems worn by previous King’s and Queen Consorts.
There is a large collection of altar plate, chalices and dishes, commissioned by Charles II at a further cost of around £18,000, including a large silver-gilt altar dish depicting The Last Supper. Traditionally each new sovereign had received a ring to symbolise their “marriage” to the nation, however in 1831 The Ring was made for William IV’s coronation, and has been used by each monarch since then, with the exception of Queen Victoria whose fingers were too dainty to keep it on. A smaller version was subsequently made for her to wear.
Also included in the Regalia and used during the coronation ceremony are five swords. The Jewelled Sword of Offering, made in 1820 for the coronation of King George V, is the only sword actually presented to the Sovereign during the ceremony, the other swords are carried in front of the monarch during the procession. The Great Sword of State is the largest of all the swords in the Regalia, it is used not only in the coronation ceremony but is also carried in front of the King or Queen at the State opening of Parliament. The three other swords are Curtana, The Sword of Mercy, which has a squared end, the Sword of Justice to the Temporal, which is sharply pointed to represent that only temporal courts have the power over death, and The Sword of Justice to the Spiritual, which is obliquely pointed, the previous two swords represent the monarch’s relationship with the state and the church.
There have been various attempts to steal the crown jewels over the years including an apparently successful attempt in 1303, it’s said that all of the items were recovered and this was the event which caused the relocation to the Tower, where they remain to this day, under armed guard.