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The Compelling Story of the Scottish Crown Jewels

The Scottish crown jewels or the Honours of Scotland have a a fascinating history, Enjoy.

Elizabeth II at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2011. The crown is carried by Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton.

Elizabeth II at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2011. The crown is carried by Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton.

The Scottish Crown Jewels

Scotland has its own set of crown jewels traditionally known as the Honours of Scotland or the Scottish Regalia. The pieces aren’t as numerous as the English ones housed at the Tower of London but the smaller set is just as impressive and older.

The Honours of Scotland consist of:

  • A crown
  • A sceptre
  • A sword of state

These items are depicted in the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland.

An old crown used by Scottish monarchs was restyled by an Edinburgh-based goldsmith named John Mosman in 1540. 42 of the jewels from the pre-1540 version of the crown remained. A purple velvet cap and ermine bonnet were added to the metalwork. King James VII/II (1633-1701) preferred to wear it with a red cap.

The new crown was first employed as the coronation crown in 1543 for baby Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587). The previous model can be seen in the 1503 portrait of her grandfather King James IV of Scotland.

The Scottish Royal Coat of Arms shown here at St. Giles Kirk, Edinburgh.

The Scottish Royal Coat of Arms shown here at St. Giles Kirk, Edinburgh.

The Crown, Sceptre and Sword of Scotland

The Crown of Scotland weighs 1.64 kilograms and the current cap was installed in 1993. It has a gold base with four fleur de lis and four strawberry leaves alternating. Four arches are decorated with red oak leaves. The crown’s monde is gold painted blue with a gold star design and above it sits a cross of gold with black enamel, 68 Scottish freshwater pearls and amethysts.

Pope Alexander VI bestowed the silver sceptre known as the Sceptre of Scotland to King James IV in 1494. The Pope called the country a "special daughter" of the Holy See. In 1536 the sceptre was lengthened and refashioned. Its finial bears several symbols of Christianity including stylised dolphins, emblems of Jesus Christ's Church. A rock crystal, probably from Scotland’s Cairngorms, and a pearl sit at its crest.

Pope Alexander’s successor Pope Julius II made a gift of a sword to James IV in 1507. This became the Sword of State of Scotland. The Italian-made silver-gilt sword has a handle displaying acorns and oak leaves, symbols of Christ risen, and the scabbard was worn from a woven gold and silk belt that features Pope Julius II's coat of arms.

A tableau at Edinburgh Castle depicting the Honours of Scotland being saved from Oliver Cromwell.

A tableau at Edinburgh Castle depicting the Honours of Scotland being saved from Oliver Cromwell.

The Scottish Regalia, the Stuarts and Oliver Cromwell

When James VI of Scotland (1566-1625) became King James I of England and relocated to London the Honours of Scotland did not travel with him. The crown represented him in Scottish parliamentary sittings and presumably, it was a joy to work with, never objecting as the human was prone to do.

The Scottish regalia was last utilised during the Stuart king Charles II’s coronation at Scone Abbey in 1651 when England was a republic under Oliver Cromwell. In 1652 the Scots learned that Cromwell was selling or melting down the English crown jewels to raise funds. He succeeded in destroying most of the emblems of the royalty that he loathed. The Scottish were determined not to lose their heritage pieces and the crown, sceptre and sword were dispatched to Dunnotar Castle near Aberdeen.

Cromwell's New Model Army later seized the castle. Fortunately, the Honours of Scotland were removed just before the English arrived. They were then buried below the floor of the Kinneff Parish Church in Kincardshire, but to achieve this the sword was snapped in half. A flummoxed Cromwell never found the Scottish crown jewels.

Dunnotar Castle, the 1st hiding place of the Honours of Scotland in 1652.

Dunnotar Castle, the 1st hiding place of the Honours of Scotland in 1652.

The Forgotten Scottish Regalia Is Found

After the Act of Union in 1707 under Queen Anne, another Stuart, the Scottish regalia had no official role to play because the Kingdom of Great Britain’s seat of power was London. The Honours of Scotland were packed into a chest in an unused room in Edinburgh Castle. They were promptly forgotten.

On the 4th February 1818, they were finally seen by some Scots again when the writer and antiquarian Sir Walter Scott and a few of his friends set themselves the challenge of finding the three precious lost pieces of Scottish royal and cultural history. The crown, sword and sceptre were subsequently put on public display in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle. The Honours of Scotland fell and still fall under the jurisdiction of four men titled the Commissioners for the Keeping of the Regalia, the incumbent Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, Lord Advocate, Lord Justice Clerk and the Lord Clerk Register.

In 1822 the tartan-wearing form of King George IV paid a celebratory visit to Scotland to view the Scottish regalia. He was the first monarch to stay at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for almost 200 years.

Writer and antiquarian Sir Walter Scott discovered the Scottish regalia in 1818.

Writer and antiquarian Sir Walter Scott discovered the Scottish regalia in 1818.

Recent Scottish History

During the Second World War, the Honours of Scotland were taken individually to different locations near to the Palace of Holyroodhouse so that the Germans would have no greater success destroying them than Cromwell.

On the 24th June 1953 the new queen Elizabeth II processed from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh with the Scottish regalia. She did not wear the crown, after the crown jewels adventures throughout history the items were far too fragile to wear or use. At the kirk the crown, sceptre and sword were presented to her in a ceremony in which she returned them to the care of her commissioners.

When the queen opens the Scottish parliament the regalia is carried ahead of her in a procession called the Riding of Parliament. The duty of holding the crown jewels falls to Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton, the Hereditary Bearer of the Crown of Scotland.

The Stone of Scone

Since 1996 the Stane o Scuin or Stone of Scone, a red sedimentary sandstone 152-kilogram slab has lain with the Honours in Edinburgh Castle but for 700 years it sat in Westminster Abbey. In 1296 Edward I of England stole the stone from Scone Abbey, had it placed under his new creation, the coronation chair, King Edward's Chair in London’s Westminster Abbey and declared himself to be the Lord Paramount of Scotland with a right to oversee the nation. This was disputed by Scots, as was the fact that he had the real Stone of Scone in the abbey.

The Stone of Scone beneath Edward I's King Edward's Chair (Coronation Chair).

The Stone of Scone beneath Edward I's King Edward's Chair (Coronation Chair).

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle