Everything You Need to Know About the British Coronation Regalia Ahead of King Charles’ Coronation
7 Minute Read
Seventy years after the British Coronation Regalia was last used to ring in Queen Elizabeth's reign ceremoniously, King Charles III will don the famous jewels this May for his own coronation.
A historical moment for the people of the United Kingdom, this event is even more special this time around because of how long it's been since the public has witnessed the ceremony and seen the Coronation Regalia in use.
"The coronation will reflect the monarch's role today and look towards the future while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry," a Buckingham Palace statement stated back in October 2022. "'The ceremony has retained a similar structure for over a thousand years, and this year's coronation is expected to include the same core elements while recognizing the spirit of our times."
Included in those 'core elements' are the Coronation Regalia. Part of the world-famous Crown Jewels, which are a prized British collection of over a hundred objects and 23-thousand gemstones, the Coronation Regalia are the sacred objects used during coronation ceremonies of new kings and queens. A small but dazzling collection, these five jeweled items represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch.
But while the ceremony has taken place for nearly a thousand years, the British Coronation Regalia itself has changed over time. Edward the Confessor, one of England's last Anglo-Saxon kings, started the tradition in 1066 when his set of coronation regalia was passed on, eventually, to every successive ruler. But in 1649 when the monarchy was abolished, much of the coronation regalia was melted down and sold by the government. When the British monarchy was re-established in 1661, all the crowns and objects that were destroyed were re-created, except for the coronation spoon, which miraculously managed to survive the purge.
1. The Coronation Spoon
Seemingly out of place amongst crowns, orbs and precious gems, the Coronation Spoon is arguably the most sacred object of the entire Coronation Regalia. Used in the ceremony to anoint the monarch with holy oil, the spoon was part of a tradition that confirmed a ruler's divinity. In fact, the ritual is so consecrated that the last time it was used, it was the only part of Elizabeth II's ceremony that was hidden from cameras. Today, monarchs are no longer considered divine themselves, but instead, use the spoon to be anointed as important leaders as the head of the Church of England.
Unlike the other objects that are heavily decorated, the relatively simple Coronation Spoon is made of silver and gilded with gold. Thought to date back to the 12th century, the Coronation Spoon was originally decorated with ornate scrolls and a monster's head. But, the spoon was actually updated in the 1600s when it was returned to Charles II after being saved by an official of the royal wardrobe of Charles I. During the tumultuous abolishment of the monarchy, Mr. Kynnersley bought the spoon for 16 shillings, making it the only original piece of the Coronation Regalia to survive the purge. When Kynnersley returned the piece after the monarchy was re-established, the spoon was given some new decoration, including small pearls to line the handle.
Fun fact: Jessica Cadzow-Collins, Past Heritage Director of Garrard, the Crown Jeweller who made many of the Crown Jewels over 140 years, tells us that a little-known artifact used in the coronation is a pair of golden spurs like those worn by crusading nights. "After the Monarch has been anointed with Holy oil by the Archbishop and before the actual coronation with the Crown, he or she will be dressed in robes and handed articles to become like both a Priest and a Knight, during the Investiture," Cadzow-Collins explained. "These 6-inch long solid gold prick-spurs, a design fashionable in the early 1300s, were re-created in 1649 when the monarchy was reinstated."
2. The Imperial State Crown
One of the most recognizable pieces of the entire Coronation Regalia, the Imperial State Crown is the most recent edition of the revered collection. Designed for King George VI's coronation in 1937 — the father of Queen Elizabeth II — the Imperial State Crown dons an iconic deep purple velvet and fur alongside a dazzling collection of 3-thousand stones, including the Cullinan II Diamond as its centerpiece.
Weighing in at a hefty 2.3 lbs, the crown is adorned with 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies. But, the world-famous Cullinan II Diamond isn't the only renowned gem on the crown. If you look at the center of the diamond cross you will see the Stuart Sapphire, which is thought to have been worn on a ring by Edward the Confessor, making it the oldest gem in the royal collection. Above the central diamond sits the Black Prince's Ruby, which is actually a spinel and renowned for being worn by Henry V at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. But of course, the Cullinan II Diamond is the most famous of all — a 317.40-carat cushion-cut stone that is one of 9 major stones cut from the original, world-famous 3,601-carat stone found in Africa in 1905.
Fast fact: The Imperial State Crown is the crown Charles III will wear after the coronation ceremony as he leaves Westminster Abbey.
3. The Sovereign's Scepter
The Sovereign's Scepter has a very special tie to Britain's new king, as it was his namesake, Charles II, who began the tradition of using it in his coronation ceremony in 1661. But, the scepter's fame is largely thanks to George V, who in 1910, added the world-famous Cullinan I Diamond (the largest of the 9 major stones cut from the original) to its center. "The scepter comprises a gold rod, formed in three sections, with enameled collars at the intersections, surmounted by an enameled heart-shaped structure, which holds a huge drop-shaped diamond, Cullinan I, or the Star of Africa, weighing 530.2 carats," The Royal Collection Trust explains.
But this glittering royal scepter is adorned with many more jewels, too. Above the Cullinan I Diamond, enameled brackets mounted with step-cut emeralds and a faceted amethyst monde that's been set with table and rose-cut diamonds, rubies, spinels and emeralds. Above that lies a cross that's set in even more diamonds, including a table-cut diamond on the front and an emerald on the back. Further down beneath the Cullinan I Diamond are even more enameled brackets with the pommel of the scepter enameled with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds.
Fun fact: In 1820, George IV added a rose, thistle and shamrock representing England, Scotland and Ireland.
4. The Sovereign's Orb
Unlike a crown or a scepter which has a clear purpose, the orb might seem like an odd object to be part of the Coronation Regalia. However, the orb is one of the oldest symbols in the Christian world, and today represents the sovereign's place as head of the church.
Made up of two hollow, gold hemispheres joined together, a central jeweled band hides the seam. But the brilliant band is so much more than just emeralds, sapphires and rubies, with each section of precious gems representing the three continents known in medieval times. On top of the orb sits a set of rose-cut diamonds with a sapphire at the center on one side and an emerald on the other. Each arm of the cross has a pearl at the end of it, too.
Fun fact: In 1689 Queen Mary II had a second orb commissioned for her joint coronation with her husband William III.
5. St. Edward's Crown
Last but certainly not least is the renowned St. Edward's Crown. Like most of the Coronation Regalia, this crown was recreated in the 1660s after the monarchy was abolished. The original crown was considered a holy relic because it had been worn by Edward the Confessor, and the new St. Edward's Crown was created to not be an exact replica, but to rather emanate the same regal tone.
Speaking to The Court Jeweler, Historian Anna Keay describes the crown as having a "simple" structure, being made up of 22-carat gold sections of headband, crosses, fleur-de-lys and arches alongside 400 gleaming, precious gems. "The settings for the jewels were then fixed through this frame from behind. Each gem was held in place by a gold collar, with the stones set in clusters surrounded by white enamel mounts in the form of acanthus leaves."
Fun fact: Just a decade after it was made, parliamentarian Thomas Blood attempted to steal St. Edward's Crown, flattening it as he stuffed it in his cloak to steal it. He was pardoned and the crown was mended.
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