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Crowns, sceptres, orbs, rings — in Great Britain, these comprise the crown jewels. Crown jewels are those items used in a coronation that symbolize the monarch's right and authority to sit on the throne of his or her country. Most people have seen at least a sampling of the British crown jewels if they have ever seen Queen Elizabeth II open Parliament. She always wears the Imperial Crown of State when performing this royal duty.
The British crown jewels are renowned for their magnificence and historical significance. More historical crown jewels would still exist had it not been for Oliver Cromwell. As Lord Protector of England, he felt the monarchy would never be restored, and so ordered the existing crown jewels to be sold or melted down and struck into coins. He also sold the medieval coronation garments in the collection, destroying priceless artifacts.
When King Charles II regained the throne of England, he ordered new crown jewels to be fashioned, and these have been in use ever since. There were a few remaining jewels of historic significance to be found, and these were used in the new set of crown jewels. Some of those who had bought the jewels from Cromwell returned them when Charles II ascended the throne, and others were found in shrines and tombs.
The most recognized crown in the set is the aforementioned Imperial Crown of State. It was made in 1937 for King George VI. It contains a red spinel known as The Black Prince's Ruby, the Cullinan II diamond and Edward the Confessor's Sapphire. The British monarch has always been crowned with St. Edward's Crown and the one used now is the one Charles II commissioned. This crown is extremely heavy and the sovereign usually changes it for the Imperial Crown of State when processing out of Westminster Abbey.
The monarch is preceded by the Great Sword of State, the Sword of Justice and the blunted Sword of Mercy. While receiving the regalia, the sovereign also receives the Great Orb, symbolizing Christian rule. The Orb is a hollow globe of gold and encrusted with gems. The Sceptres with Cross and Dove are also held, and gold armills are placed on the arms. The Sceptre with Cross features the spectacular 530-carat Cullinan I diamond, also called The Star of Africa.
The monarch is anointed with holy oil from the eagle-shaped ampulla, made in 1661. The heavy spoon into which the oil is poured is the oldest piece in the collection, and probably dates from the 1100s. The sovereign also receives the spurs, symbols of chivalry, and the ring of state. It dates from 1831. Other crowns and objects and gold plate are also part of the collection.
The reigning monarch holds the crown jewels in trust for the subjects of Great Britain. They are not part of his or her personal wealth or jewelry collection. The crown jewels are now displayed in the Norman stronghold, the Tower of London. Visitors can see them and marvel over their exquisite beauty and history.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the British Crown Jewels and what do they represent?
The British Crown Jewels are a unique collection of regalia, symbols of the monarchy's power and heritage, used during the coronation of a new monarch and other state ceremonies. They include crowns, sceptres, orbs, swords, and robes, each piece rich in history and adorned with precious stones. According to the Historic Royal Palaces, the Crown Jewels contain over 23,578 gemstones, showcasing the grandeur and continuity of the British monarchy.
Where can one view the British Crown Jewels?
The British Crown Jewels are on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, where they are protected under armed guard. The Tower of London, a historic fortress and World Heritage Site, has been the home of the Crown Jewels since the 14th century, attracting millions of visitors each year who come to witness this magnificent collection of royal artifacts.
What is the most famous piece within the British Crown Jewels?
Among the British Crown Jewels, the most renowned is the Imperial State Crown, which the monarch wears at the State Opening of Parliament. It features over 3,000 gemstones, including the famous Cullinan II diamond and the Second Star of Africa. The crown's current version dates back to 1937 and is a symbol of the sovereignty of the nation and the monarch's role as head of state.
How often are the British Crown Jewels used?
The British Crown Jewels are primarily used during the coronation of a new monarch, an event that does not occur frequently. However, some pieces, like the Imperial State Crown, are used more regularly, such as at the annual State Opening of Parliament. Other items are used for specific ceremonies, such as the anointing spoon and the coronation bracelets, which are part of the traditional coronation regalia.
Have the British Crown Jewels ever been stolen or lost?
While there have been attempts to steal the British Crown Jewels, the most famous being Colonel Thomas Blood's attempt in 1671, they have never been successfully stolen. The Crown Jewels were temporarily lost after the English Civil War when the monarchy was abolished, and the regalia were melted down or sold off. However, they were remade for Charles II's coronation in 1661, restoring the tradition and splendor of the British monarchy.