The crown jewels have been around forever, right? Probably created by a druid and given to King Arthur, who then wore them while pontificating at the round table in the perpetual sunshine of Camelot.
Or if that’s a little far fetched, Henry VIII definitely wore them, followed by Edward, Jane, Mary and Elizabeth – right?
Not quite the case.
While there were crowns, sceptres and the like used back then, stored at Westminster Abby since the 1100s, these are not the crown jewels that are seen today.
The reason is simple – civil war.
Charles I was executed in 1649 and for the next four years England was ruled by Parliament, prior to the rise of Oliver Cromwell in 1653. Short of cash, Cromwell ordered all symbols of monarchy to be destroyed and melted down to make coins.
England was without a ruling monarch until 1660, when Charles II returned from exile in France, having accepted an invitation from Parliament to resume the monarchy.
With no crown available, a new set of crown jewels were required. Most of the modern crown jewels where made at this time, with additional pieces added when needed.
Stored in the Tower of London, the crown jewels have led an eventual life.
Thomas Blood almost managed to steal them in 1671, foiled at the last moment by the unexpected return of the keeper of the regalia’s son.
Until 1815, visitors could reach through the bars protecting the jewels and handle them. One visitor wrenched the arches of the state crown apart, causing serious damage. Thus, handling of the jewels stopped.
1841 saw a fire in the neighbouring building. The key to the case holding the crown jewels was nowhere nearby ¬but they were saved by an enterprising policeman armed with a crowbar.
In modern times visitors throng to view some of the 141 ceremonial items, the most recognisable being the imperial state crown, made in 1937. Though one of the youngest items in the collection, it holds much older gemstones.
The largest gem in the collection is The Great Star of Africa. At 530.4 carats, it forms the head of the sovereigns sceptre with cross. The Second Star of Africa, cut from the same rough diamond, weighs in at 317.4 carats and is part of the imperial state crown. The weight of the gemstones is the reason why a new reinforced crown was made in 1937. The crown weighs a whopping 1.06 kg.
There is no official value placed on the crown jewels. Most estimates range from 3 to 5 billion pounds.
Think of the insurance premiums!