The Crown That Reads Like a History Book

October 4, 2017

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London Connection guests frequently ask our advice on what sites and events they should visit while staying in one of our vacation rental apartments. Every London itinerary should include the Jewel House at the Tower of London where the magnificent crowns, scepters, orbs, swords, all covered in jewels record Britain’s glorious history. These beautiful objects are spectacularly displayed to dazzle the millions of visitors each year.  

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However, the jewel that immediately grasps the happy tourists whose eyes are like saucers is the Imperial State crown which records Britain’s history in jewels. Each of these magnificent stones records historic events which cover hundreds of pages in the history books we all study as we travel through our years of education and studies.

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The IMPERIAL STATE CROWN symbolizes the Sovereignty of the Monarch and has existed in various forms since the 15th century. There are 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 269 pearls in the splendid symbol. It is 12.4 inches tall and weighs 2.3 pounds. In its current form, it was created for His Majesty King George VI, based on the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria in 1838. Ten Imperial State Crowns have existed since 1662 at the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II. Many of the jewels now in the crown were included in those early symbols of sovereignty. Let’s talk about a few of these historic jewels and tie them to Britain’s history.

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Perhaps the oldest jewel is King Edward the Confessor’s sapphire which holds place of honor in the cross at the top of the crown. It belonged to the King who wore it in a ring which he gave to a beggar when the King was approached for help. Later the sapphire came back to the King who was buried wearing this precious stone. During the 12th century, the King’s coffin was opened and the ring was removed from his remains. Certainly the most emotive jewel in the Crown, it is a reminder to us all that the Sovereign today sits on a throne and carries a sapphire once worn by a Saint. Beautiful symbolism, stirring mystic thoughts and emotions: the purpose of Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth I loved her pearls:  white pearls, black pearls, baroque pearls, pear shaped pearls — ALL PEARLS. When we see portraits of this Renaissance Tudor Queen, we see Majesty created by her many pearls. In the Imperial State Crown, there are four pear-shaped pearls, two of which date to the massive collection of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. They were once property of the Medici family and given as a gift to Mary Queen of Scots who sold them to Elizabeth I who wore them until her jewels were passed on to her heir James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, the original owner. Today, these large pear-shape natural pearls dangle near the top of the crown.

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At the front of the Imperial State Crown is the Black Prince’s ruby (actually a spinel) weighing a staggering 170 carats which was given to King Edward III after the Battle of Najera in 1367 and worn by Henry V in his helmet of jewels at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. As you study this amazing stone, you will see a small ruby touching the front of the precious jewel; it is a plug which filled the small hole which was drilled when the jewel was used as a pendant in its ancient past. This stone has a thousand years of history recording war, battles, royal adornment, and now the Majesty of the British Sovereign.

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The Stuart Sapphire has a remarkable history. Today, the 104 carat jewel sits to the back of the Imperial State Crown. In Queen Victoria’s Crown, created in 1838, it held pride of place in the lower panel on the front. This sapphire is identified with the Stuart dynasty and was smuggled out of Britain when James II fled into exile in 1688, finally returned after a tumultuous history until eventually taking its final position in Queen Victoria’s Crown. In 1909, it was placed at the back of the crown to accommodate the enormous Second Star of Africa which defies all belief today. The British Royal Family has had a passion for fine sapphires all through its history; even today, the Duchess of Cambridge wears Diana Princess of Wales’s large sapphire wedding ring — probably to be passed down to all following generations. Possibly so; but I won’t be here to find out, so I will leave that to you!

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The newest addition to the Imperial State Crown is the staggering, perfect 317.4 carat Second Star of Africa which was cut from the 3,025 carat Cullinan Diamond which was given to His Majesty King Edward VII in 1909 on his birthday as a gesture to heal the horrific rift between Britain and South Africa after the Boer War. My son Thomas Jr as a young boy stood in front of the Imperial State Crown staring at this immense stone but unable to find it because it was so large! He thought a diamond was something rather small that a lady wore on her wedding finger. Well, this glorious jewel is an immense wedding stone which binds the Sovereign to her people, pure as that stone is so is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s devotion and love for her People. It is so fitting and such a magnificent symbol.

Those are the great jewels of the Imperial State Crown; however, a history of each stone is known and recorded for posterity. This magnificent crown is like Britain herself: enduring, unwavering, unrelenting in its glorious history. This crown is a history book in jewels — some of them will be a part of our memory all our lives.  

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SPECTACULAR as the Queen wears this great jewel as she carries out her Royal Duties, showing devotion and love for her People. God Save the Queen.