The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are symbols of the British monarchy’s regalia and vestments, accumulated over 800 years of English and British history. Part of this collection is the Imperial State Crown, symbolizing the sovereignty of the monarch, and it’s been doing the rounds in the news again. In connection to the late Queen Elizabeth II’s death last week, the Imperial State Crown was placed upon the coffin of Her Majesty as she was conveyed to Westminster Hall to lie in state.
The coffin was draped with the Royal Standard, and upon this the Imperial State Crown was placed on a velvet cushion, with a wreath of flowers. The Queen’s coffin was escorted from Buckingham Palace by the newly crowned king, Charles III, Princes William and Harry, and other senior royals, reported the BBC.
The Highest Crown Jewel: The Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown is considered to be the most illustrious of the Crown Jewels, which is saying something. This incredible crown was made with 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies. The world’s fourth largest polished diamond, the massive 3,600 carat Cullinan Diamond, cut from the largest diamond ever found, rests in the Crown’s Central Panel.
It also contains the oldest royal gem, a sapphire once worn in a ring by Edward the Confessor , from the 11th century. According to the Historic Royal Palaces website, “The crown contains some of the most famous jewels in the collection. These include the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Stuart Sapphire, and the Cullinan II diamond.”
Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom. ( Public Domain )
These royal treasures have been amassed over the centuries by English and British kings and queens. The current version of the crown, weighing a hefty 1.06 kilograms (2.3 pounds), was made in 1937 for the late queen’s father, King George VI.
“It can be quite hard to look at sometimes because of the sheer light that comes off them. It’s literally dazzling… visually overpowering. It signifies majesty, it signifies sovereignty,” said historian and author of The Crown Jewels, Anna Keay.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II would wear the crown for the State Opening of Parliament. In this annual affair, she would sit on a golden throne, and read out the government’s key legislative plans for the year ahead, irrespective of which party was in power. In the last few years of her reign, the crown had become too heavy for her majesty to wear, reported the Mail Online .
The Imperial State Crown Has Had Many “Owners”
Ironically, the current Imperial State Crown is a trimmed down version of the one made for Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901). The current version was slightly adjusted and made more “feminine” for King George VI’s successor when she was coronated in 1953. King George himself had asked for a smaller crown.
“For his daughter, the height of the arches were brought down by an inch and the circlet or metal rim were made smaller, involving considerable remounting of the stones and motifs of which it is composed,” according to the royal jewelers at Garrard & Co, as reported in The Telegraph .
Britain’s Imperial State Crown (made in 1937 with alterations in 1953); picture taken at the exhibition of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom inside the Jewel House (Waterloo barracks, Tower of London ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
There was an earlier version of the Crown that weighed a whopping 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms). It was destroyed in the 17th century by Oliver Cromwell , who wanted to sell the Crown Jewels.
In 1660, the Imperial State Crown was remade based on the original for Charles II.
Cromwell also had a hand in the melting of St. Edward’s Crown , which too had to remade for Charles II. St. Edward’s Crown has traditionally been used at the coronation of the new monarch. Weighing 2.23 kilograms (4.9 pounds) it’s almost twice as heavy as the Imperial State Crown.
According to the late Queen Elizabeth II’s biographer, she broke the tradition of wearing St. Edward’s Crown in public, replacing it with the lighter Imperial State Crown.
The Imperial State Crown worn by Queen Victoria was badly damaged in 1845. The Duke of Argyll had dropped it at the State Opening. Fortunately, the original jewels were almost all reattached to the Crown and it has gone through ten different “alterations” since the accident of 1845. And for her funeral these very jewels graced the coffin of the woman who ruled the British Isle’s for the longest.
Top image: Britain’s Imperial State Crown, made in 1937 with alterations in 1953. (Waterloo barracks, Tower of London). Source: Left; Right; CC BY-SA 4.0
By Sahir Pandey