by Claudia Willetts
In The Queen’s Jewels: The Personal Collection of Elizabeth II, Leslie Field writes that the coronation regalia are not just decorative objects, but visible symbols emphasising the continuity of monarchy, handed down through generations. Though ancient in origin, they were destroyed during Cromwellian times by the Puritans as representing immoral vanity and “worthless churche stuffe”, among other objections. Remade at the time of royal restoration, they have been added to as circumstances require. The regalia belong to the state and are displayed in the Jewel House of the Tower of London.
The Imperial State Crown worn by the Sovereign after the coronation, contains the principal jewels that survived the breaking-up, according to Christopher Hibbert in The Tower of London. The sapphire set at the top of this crown was in a ring removed from the hand of King Edward the Confessor when his tomb was opened. The balas-ruby or semiprecious stone set in the front of the State crown, is reputed to have been given to Edward, Prince of Wales, (the Black Prince) by the King of Castile in token of gratitude for military help. Later it was rumoured to have been worn by King Richard III when he died in battle, and concealed under a hawthorn bush, from where it was retrieved by the victor who used the coronet to declare himself King Henry VII, the first Tudor king.
The Black Prince’s ruby’s subsequent history is traced by Sir Thomas Butler in The Crown Jewels and Coronation Ceremony, who points out that since then it has almost certainly taken pride of place in the State Crown of twenty generations of sovereigns. Butler also mentions the large Stuart sapphire set in the back of the State Crown, so called since it was thought to have been taken by King James II to France where he escaped after being deposed by his son-in-law King William III. Through Prince James the “Old Pretender” and his son Cardinal York also Duke of York, it was sold to a Venetian merchant from whom it was bought for the Prince of Wales who became King George IV.
The Koh-I-Noor diamond now set in the front of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s crown, is one of the greatest historical stones in existence, according to Lord Twining in A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe. It is documented from the time when it formed part of military tribute presented to a Mogul emperor of India, and valued by a jeweller then as worth half the daily expense of the world. On the conquest of the Indian empire by the Persians, the gem was missing, then was said to be hidden in the turban of the Indian emperor. The Persian king cleverly surprised him by suggesting an exchange of turbans as a gesture of friendship. When the king unfolded the emperor’s turban revealing the stone, he rapturously exclaimed, “Koh-I-Noor!” meaning Mountain of Light, which designation has remained. After several subsequent owners were deposed and blinded by enemies who coveted the stone, it came to the East India Company who gave it to Queen Victoria. She had the raw stone cut into a brilliant, reducing its size from186 to106 carats.
This makes it of a lesser order of magnificence compared with the diamonds cut from the Cullinan diamond, the largest in the world at 3,025 carats, relates Lewis Broad in Queens, Crowns and Coronations. Named for the mining company chairman Sir Thomas Cullinan, it was presented to King Edward VII in 1907 as a symbol of the loyalty of South Africa following the Boer War. It was divided into 105 brilliants. The largest, the Great Star of Africa (516 carats) beautifies the Sceptre with the Cross. The next largest, the Second Star of Africa (309 carats), is set in the front of the Imperial State Crown, and the third and fourth (92 and 62 carats), and lesser stars are now in Queen Mary’s crown.