28 February 2012

Royal Splendor 101: Jewels for Queen Elizabeth's Crowning

In another installment on the coronation of Elizabeth II, today we're taking a look some of the items from the crown jewels that played a big role in the coronation ceremony. Not every piece in the crown jewels, mind you; we'll just touch on some of the items that were directly presented to or placed on Queen Elizabeth during that marathon ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

During the coronation, Queen Elizabeth was dressed in garments of cloth of gold which belong to the crown jewels. The Mantle - the outer robe shown above - was made for George IV in 1821 and is woven with various national emblems; the Supertunica underneath was made for George V in 1911. The Stole, at right, was made new for the 1953 coronation and incorporated plant and flower emblems from the Commonwealth just as the coronation gown did. The Spurs (shown here on the ground at the left) were also presented to the queen as a symbol of chivalry; they date from Charles II, 1660-61, as do most of the crown jewels which were recreated after the restoration of the monarchy.

The queen was presented with the Sovereign's Orb (above left) to carry, a hollow gold sphere decorated with hundreds of gems and made in 1661. The Armills (above center) were placed as bracelets on her wrists; these were newly made for the 1953 coronation and were a gift from the Commonwealth. They represent sincerity and wisdom. The Sovereign's Ring (above right), dating from 1831 and composed of rubies over a sapphire surrounded with diamonds, was placed on her finger.

Multiple swords are used during the coronation; the only one directly presented to the monarch is the Sword of Offering, elaborately jeweled and made for George IV in 1820. Two sceptres were presented to the queen to hold while she was crowned: the Sceptre with Dove (above on the top) and the Sceptre with Cross (above in the middle). Both were made in 1661, but the Sceptre with Cross was modified for the 1911 coronation to hold the First Star of Africa, also known as the Cullinan I diamond. The largest part of the famous Cullinan diamond is 530 carats (shown in the detail at right above).

The most significant object in the crown jewels is St. Edward's Crown, made in 1661. The gold crown is set with multiple types of stones including sapphire, amethyst, tourmaline, citrine, and topaz; the stones are set in white enamel acanthus leaf mounts. It is intended to be used only once in a reign: for the actual moment of crowning. All other events involving a crown traditionally use the second monarch's crown, the Imperial State Crown.
The queen after crowning, with her robes of gold, both sceptres, and St. Edward's Crown
King Edward VII is one of the exceptions to this rule; after his coronation was postponed once due to his ill health, he wasn't deemed well enough to bear the weight of the gold crown (a hefty 2.23 kilograms or 4.9 pounds). Thus, he was crowned with the Imperial State Crown and St. Edward's Crown was placed on top of his coffin when he passed away. It was also too heavy for Queen Victoria, and wasn't used by William IV or George IV either.

The most famous piece in the crown jewels is the Imperial State Crown (the front is left above, the back is center). Lighter than St. Edward's Crown at .91 kilograms or 2 pounds, it is easier to bear for its frequent use, which includes each State Opening of Parliament. It is set with over 3,000 stones, including several famous gems: the Second Star of Africa (also known as the Cullinan II, a 317 carat diamond shown in the top right detail above), the Black Prince's Ruby (which is actually a spinel with a small ruby plugging a hole, shown in the center detail), the Stuart Sapphire (bottom above), St. Edward's Sapphire, and pearls belonging to Elizabeth I. I'll let the lady herself explain the rest:
Because it is used so often, the crown has been redone several times. It received a major overhaul before the 1937 coronation of George VI - it was in such disrepair that the cross fell off during the funeral procession for George V. It had another makeover before the 1953 coronation, including lowering the arches to make it more feminine for Elizabeth II.

The Imperial State Crown, Armills, Orb, and Sceptre with Cross all feature prominently in Cecil Beaton's famous coronation portraits.
As I said, this has been no attempt to chronicle the entire stash of crown jewels - entire books have been written on that (if you're looking for a recommendation, Anna Keay's The Crown Jewels is a recent publication with gorgeous photos and readable text - an excellent starting point). But they're always worth a glance in any quantity, because such magnificent and historical items are rarely in use anywhere else.

Of course, the crown jewels are on display at the Tower of London, and are basically a must-see for royal fans and magpies alike. 

Photos: Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II/Anna Keay