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The Spectacular Imperial State Crown

As an author who writes about British and European royalty, I enjoy focusing on lesser-known royals.

Prestige and Tradition

The Imperial State Crown is one of two principal crowns in the regalia of Britain, better known as the Crown Jewels. The collection of items, including a symbolic orb, ampulla, spurs, swords, and scepters, are held at the Jewel House in the Tower of London under extremely tight security. Their value has been guessed but there is no official figure. The Crown Jewels are priceless.

During each coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the sacred St. Edward’s Crown (named after Saint-King Edward the Confessor) has been used to crown the monarch. The Imperial State Crown is worn by them towards the conclusion of their coronation as they leave the abbey. Its arches are connected to signify to the king or queen’s subjects that the monarch is answerable to God but no one on Earth. You’ll also recognize the crown from the annual State Openings of Parliament.

Always Imperial in Several Versions

The Tudors’ Henry VIII (1491-1547) replaced the medieval crown first worn by King Henry V (1386-1422.) Henry VIII commissioned a 6 ounces or 3.35 kilograms gold imperial crown which set the tone for the later models. Medallions lay at the center of a fleur de lis which represented Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and St. George. The jewels included 28 diamonds, 58 rubies, and 168 pearls.

During the Interregnum (1649-1660) Oliver Cromwell had the Crown Jewels melted down or sold. Approximately £180 was raised from the gold and £1000 from the jewels in the Imperial State Crown. When the monarchy was restored in May 1660 under Charles II (1630-1685) he was closely involved in the commission and design of awe-inspiring replacement regalia. Among other items, the royal goldsmith Robert Viner created a new Imperial State Crown.

The reverse of the Imperial State Crown showing the Stuart Sapphire by Adam Storey, June 2012

The reverse of the Imperial State Crown showing the Stuart Sapphire by Adam Storey, June 2012

A Few More Trips to the Crown Jewellers

George I (r. 1714-1727) had a new crown made which was used by the four King Georges and William IV of the House of Hanover. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) decided that their crown was far too heavy and masculine for her petite 4' 10" to eleven inches self and so in 1838 it was reconstructed by the crown jewelers Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell to meet her expectations. This crown’s frame grew increasingly unstable, so for George VI’s (1895-1952) 1937 coronation, another one was prepared by Garrard & Company, by that time the crown jewelers.

Coronation portrait by George Hayter

Coronation portrait by George Hayter

Today's Imperial State Crown

Her father’s crown was remodeled in 1953 for Elizabeth II’s coronation. The pointed top was lowered by about 25 millimeters to give it a more feminine and demure appearance although it is of the headache-inducing weight of 2 pounds or 0.91 kilograms. It has four cross pattées (“footed crosses”) and four fleur de lis in an alternating pattern coming from a gold base and it features gold mountings. Four half arches are styled as oak leaves and a fretwork-enhanced silver monde sits above a stunning jeweled cross pattée. Edged at the base with ermine, within the frame is a purple cap.

A breathtaking 2868 diamonds, 269 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 4 rubies are among the myriad jewels set in the Imperial State Crown. Previous monarchs had hired the jewels for their coronation and then had paste replicas installed in the crown for exhibition. The crown jewels are all real today.

A photograph from 2nd June 1953 taken after Elizabeth II's coronation. She is shown with Prince Philip (1921-2021) and wearing the Imperial State Crown

A photograph from 2nd June 1953 taken after Elizabeth II's coronation. She is shown with Prince Philip (1921-2021) and wearing the Imperial State Crown

The Stand-Out Jewels in the Crown

1. The Second Star of Africa is on the front of the crown. It was cut from the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan Diamond, which was found on 26th January 1905 by Captain Frederick Wells in the Premier Number 2 mine near Pretoria in South Africa. The Transvaal Colony Government bought the Cullinan Diamond for £150000 and insured it for ten times its value.

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The South African Prime Minister Louis Botha presented the diamond to King Edward VII (1841-1910.) It was cut into nine pieces by Aascher Brothers of Amsterdam. The Second Star of Africa at 317.4 carats was installed in the crown in 1909. The Cullinan I, The Great Star of Africa, is the jaw-dropping 530.2 carat diamond in the scepter with the cross.

2. The Stuart Sapphire is 104 carats and it’s believed to have its origins in what is now Afghanistan. Lost, it was rediscovered in Italy by an Italian dealer called Bonelli who offered it to George IV.(1762-1830.) Honestly, no one knows for certain that the Stuart Sapphire is the Stuart dynasty’s jewel lost during their exile. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to have the sapphire in her crown. It was set at the front below the Black Prince’s Ruby until 1909 when the Second Star of Africa took its place and the sapphire was reset at the rear.

The nine rough cut pieces of the Cullinan Diamond

The nine rough cut pieces of the Cullinan Diamond

3. The Black Prince’s Ruby is not a ruby but a spinel, which is less dense. The 170-carat jewel is the size of an egg and was presented to The Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock (1330-1376,) the eldest son of King Edward III (1322-1377) in 1367 as a reward from ally Pedro the Cruel of Castile (1334-1369.) James I/VI of Scotland (1566-1625) was the first monarch to place the spinel in Tudor’s version of the state crown.

4. St. Edward’s Sapphire is the oldest jewel in the crown. It belonged to King-Saint Edward the Confessor (c.1002-1066) and was in a ring that he wore and was buried with. In 1269 the ring was liberated from his remains as a holy relic by the Abbot of Westminster. The rose-cut sapphire is set in the cross pattée at the top of the crown.

5. At least two of the four pearls that hang from the crown were owned by Queen Elizabeth I. (1533-1603.) She purchased or acquired them in earrings from her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) either as a goodwill gift, in a beneficial transaction, or under duress. We’re not 100% certain of the others' providence.

In recent years Elizabeth II has opted to have the Imperial State Crown carried on a cushion ahead of her in a procession at the State Openings of Parliament rather than bearing its weight.

The Queen Opens Up About How Wearing the Crown Could Break Her Neck


Historic Royal Palaces:

The Court Jeweller:

The Royal Family:

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

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