10 facts about the Crown Jewels

Anna Keay – author of The Crown Jewels – reveals her 10 favourite facts about the most complete collection of royal regalia.

Tower of London
Entrance to the Jewel House. Credit: Tower of London

Part of the Royal Collection, the Crown Jewels attract millions of visitors to the Tower of London every year. Here are 10 things that you really ought to know…

1. Rent-a-diamond

Until the reign of Queen Victoria, it was common practice for the gems in the Crown Jewels to be hired from the crown jeweller for the coronation for four per cent of their value.

2.  Made of money

At the end of the English Civil War the Council of State ordered the Crown Jewels be destroyed. Almost all the pieces used for the coronation of King Charles I were taken to the Mint within the Tower of London and melted down. They re-emerged as coinage, used to pay the army that had defeated the king.

3. Spoon saver

The only item of coronation regalia to survive the destruction of the collection at the end of the Civil War was the Coronation Spoon. Clement Kynnersley who had bought it at the 1649 sale quietly returned this exquisite 12th-century gold spoon to King Charles II.

4. A small fortune

Heartbroken by the death of her husband, Queen Victoria went into mourning, never again wearing the Imperial State Crown with its brightly coloured gems. In 1871 the tiny Small Diamond Crown measuring less than 10cm across and set only with clear stones, was made for her instead. It was placed on her coffin at her death.

5. Close call

The Crown Jewels were stolen from the Jewel House in 1672. The thieves were disturbed during the crime and wrestled to the ground on the Tower wharf, with the crown, orb and sceptre hidden under their cloaks. After being repaired the jewels were returned to the Tower and kept safely behind bars.

6. Keeping the crown

When King Edward VIII abdicated from the throne in 1937 to marry Wallis Simpson, he left Britain for the Continent, taking with him the Prince of Wales Crown, which he had worn at the coronation of his father in 1911. It was only returned to the Jewel House on his death.

7. Snookered

King Edward VII’s coronation was postponed shortly before the ceremony when it became clear that the King was suffering from appendicitis. He received an appendectomy on the Buckingham Palace billiard table and was to be found sitting up in bed smoking a cigar the following day.

8. Something borrowed

In the age of Shakespeare King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, enjoyed acting the plays performed at court, and used to borrow items of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London to use as props. Pieces were sometimes returned broken.

Plan your trip to the Tower of London

9. Great honour

Although the British Empire once extended over dozens of dominions, only one – India – had a new crown made for it, which King George V wore at the inaugural ceremony known as the Delhi Durbar in 1911. Set with over 6,000 gems, it is one of the most sensational objects in the Crown Jewels but has only ever been worn once.

10. Your name’s not on the list…

Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of King George IV, was not invited to her husband’s coronation in 1821; in fact, he went to considerable lengths to keep her away. But, undeterred, the hapless queen turned up on the day and was turned away at the doors of Westminster Abbey by officials.

Anna Keay is the author of the book The Crown Jewels: The Official Illustrated History

Read about 10 of the greatest Queens of England.

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