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The Regalia Of The British Sovereign At The Coronation Of Charles III
On the 25th of January 1905, at the Premier Mine forty km northeast of Pretoria, Frederick Wells, who was in charge of the open workings of the mine, went to inspect, as was his routine. Just over five metres below ground level, he saw something gleaming and headed towards it. He doubted that the object before him could be a diamond, and he thought some ‘joker’ had sought to deceive him by mischievously planting a chunk of glass. After rubbing dirt off the stone, Wells knew it was not glass in his hands. It was a crystal and soon found to be three times heavier than any previously known diamond, weighing around 622 grams, or nearly 3,110 metric carats. Wells was paid £2,000 for the discovery. The diamond takes its name from Thomas Cullinan, who owned the mine.1
Louis Botha, Premier of the Transvaal, persuaded his government to buy the diamond for approximately 1m USD. As a token of thanks for granting Transvaal a constitution, Botha gave the diamond to Edward VII.2 The king chose the Asscher brothers of Amsterdam to cut the crystal. Their representatives took it to Amsterdam in January 1908. On the 10th of February 1908, Joseph Asscher cut a long groove on one side of the crystal. He hit the back of a blade resting on the jewel with a steel rod and broke the blade without splitting the stone. Then he did this again. The diamond fell into three parts. Asscher is said to have fainted on finishing this part of the task. After eight months of working from seven in the morning to nine in the evening, the job was complete, yielding nine large gems, including the biggest cut diamonds in the world.3 Today, the second largest stone cut from the Cullinan Diamond, Cullinan II, sits just above the ermine rim of the Imperial State Crown. The crown contains 2,868 diamonds, seventeen sapphires, eleven emeralds, five rubies, and 273 pearls.4
The red ‘Black Prince Ruby’ sits above Cullinan II, at the front of a diamond-studded cross-pattee. It is arguably the most remarkable jewel belonging to the British regalia. Strictly speaking, it is not a ruby but a spinel or balas.5 The story of how it came to occupy the centre of the crown goes back to the fourteenth century. Don Pedro, the King of Castille, murdered the King of Granada and carried off his jewels; one was the red stone. Reputedly, Don Pedro gave it to the Black Prince during the same year after the battle of Najera, near Vittoria. After this, Henry V wore it on his crown at Agincourt in 1415. Accounts state that his crown saved him from death when he was struck in battle, although a chunk of it broke off.6
Fleurs-de-lis adorn the State crown. The flower has been a feature of the crown of English sovereigns for many centuries. Some incorrectly ascribe this to claims of kings of England to the French kingdom at the time of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). The royal coat of arms of England did for a long time bear in one of its quarterings the actual fleurs-de-lis of France, but the flowers are on some of the coins of King Stephen, who reigned as king of England between 1135-54.7 They also show on a crown of England represented on the Bayeux Tapestry.8 The symbol appears to have evolved from an earlier tree foil design seen on older images of crowns of England.
St Edward’s sapphire sits inside the cross-pattee that surmounts the State Crown and rests on top of an orb; the orb beneath the cross signifies dominion under the Christian God. Edward the Confessor wore the sapphire in a ring with its own legend. While on his way to a dedication for a chapel of St John the Evangelist, a beggar accosted the king and begged for alms. The king gave the beggar a ring without realising he was St John in disguise. Later, two English pilgrims in Syria became lost and came across an old man who guided them to an inn. The pilgrims told the man where they had come from and described their saintly king. The old man was delighted and told the pair that he was St John. He gave them the ring to return to the king. The legend became widespread in the Middle Ages. A stained glass window at the church of St Lawrence in Ludlow attests to the story, and so does the St John window at York Minster.9 The story is commemorated in statuary at Westminster Abbey over the gate leading into the dean’s yard, in the stained glass of one of the eastern windows of the abbey, and in the sculptured groups on the screen which divides the shrine from the choir. The ring does not register on an inventory made by the Commonwealth. However, a ring ornamented with a sapphire is on record in the wardrobe accounts of Edward I.10 It is not clear exactly how the sapphire survived the English Revolution.
At the intersection of the arches on the crown are suspended four large pear-shaped pearls in rose-diamond caps, known as 'Queen Elizabeth's Earrings'. They were among the Royal Jewels on the death of Queen Victoria.11 The Stuart Sapphire of approximately 104 carats now rests at the back of the crown, having been moved from the front to accommodate Cullinan II. Like the other jewels in the State Crown, the Stuart Sapphire is a portal into the centuries-old British past. James II is said to have smuggled it out of the country when he fled in 1688. He passed it on to his son Prince James Edward who passed it on to Henry, Cardinal York. When working for George IV, Angioli Bonelli, an Italian dealer, came across a Venetian merchant who produced the sapphire. Bonelli purchased the jewel and returned it to Britain.12
At his Coronation, after crowning, communion, and attendance at St Edward’s Chapel, Charles III wore the State Crown, as per custom. He will wear this crown at formal state occasions such as the opening of Parliament. It is a prime symbol of the British constitutional monarchy and the executive power of the British state. Since the time of Charles II, who reigned from 1660-1685, the crown has undergone about ten ‘manifestations’. Ahead of her Coronation in 1838, Queen Victoria decided she would not wear St Edward’s Crown because of its hefty weight. Instead, she wore a new State Crown containing the precious stones used in the former crown. In 1937 George VI wore a remade crown. Elizabeth II chose a revised version in 1953. She had the crown made to fit her head exactly soon after her accession.13
The arches of the State Crown are raised and not depressed because it is an imperial crown, unlike St Edward’s Crown which has depressed arches due to its more specifically royal character.14 The Royal Family website states, ‘The term “imperial state crown” dates back to the fifteenth century when English monarchs chose a crown design closed by arches to demonstrate that England was not subject to any other earthly power.’15
The State Crown was commissioned by the Crown Jewellers Garrard and Co and made by Rundell Bridge & Rundell.16
At the Coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, used St Edward’s Crown to crown the enthroned Charles III. Its frame, orb, and cross-pattee are of solid gold. It is set with 440 ‘precious and semi-precious stones’ and weighs 2.04kg.17 The arches rise and curve downwards at the point of intersection to symbolise independent sovereignty. It is the official crown of England.18 The treasure is striking for its size and deep gold appearance. The imposing crown is employed only at a coronation. The rare and elevated function it serves adds to its mystique. Like the State Crown, it is Christian in character. A bold cross is central to it.
Almost all of the current British regalia had to be remade following the accession of Charles II in 1660. Sir Robert Vyner was instrumental in the creation of the regalia that exists today. The newer regalia reflects the extinguished items. During the English Civil War, the Commonwealth ordered the breaking apart and melting down of the regalia on the 9th of August 1649, after this regime moved the treasure to the Tower of London from Westminster Abbey, where Edward the Confessor had deposited it.19 The Abbey was the traditional resting place of the regalia. The Abbotts and the monks at Westminster held the regalia and coronation robes under their protection.20 Jewels from the broken-apart regalia were subject to valuation before preparation for sale. The list of the regalia made before its ruin survives in manuscript form. A crown of gold wirework set with slight stones that belonged to Alfred the Great met destruction.21 If not for Commonwealth iconoclasm, it would be over a thousand years old today. Someone was able to purchase the Black Prince Ruby for £5. It was set in the State Crown after its return before the Coronation of Charles II.22 It was not the only item from the regalia to evade the depredations of Oliver Cromwell’s regime…
To be continued in part two.
Boris Gorelik, The Cullinan Diamond and its true story, Jewellery Studies — the Journal of The Society of Jewellery Historians, June 2015, p 6-7, 5
Famous Diamonds, Cape Town Diamond Museum, Famous Diamonds | Cape Town Diamond Museum, accessed: 18/4/23
Gorelik, 10: Shipley, Robert M. (Summer 1941). "The Cullinan or Star of Africa" (PDF). Important Diamonds of the World (column). Gems & Gemology. Vol. 3, no. 10. pp. 159–160, 159-60
David Hilliam, Crown, Orb, and Sceptre: The true stories of English Coronations, 2009, (first published 2001), 217, 213
Cyril Davenport, The English Regalia, 1897, 50
Ibid 24, 22
William Jones, Crowns & Coronations; a history of regalia, 1883, 31
Allied Newspapers Limited, Crowning the King, 1937, 120
The Royal Collection Trust, Garrard & Co - The Imperial State Crown (rct.uk), accessed: 21/5/23
Allied Newspapers Limited 102
The Royal Family, The Coronation Regalia, 9/4/23, accessed: 30/5/23
The Royal Collection Trust, Garrard & Co - The Imperial State Crown (rct.uk), accessed: 21/5/23
Allied Newspapers Limited 97
Jones 29, 52, 54