United Kingdom Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Crown Jewels are the most sacred and special jewellery and regalia at the disposal of the monarch, and they are stored permanently at the Tower of London unless otherwise needed for state occasions, such as a coronation.
In total, there are 142 objects with over 23,000 gemstones that make up the Crown Jewels, from crowns, sceptres, and orbs to swords, maces, and trumpets that are never used. The Royal Family estimates that a majority of these treasures have been amassed since 1660 (with the reign of Charles II), but some date back 800 years.
Monarchs began collecting regalia in the time of Edward the Confessor, who reigned from 1042 to 1066, and deposited his treasures in Westminster Abbey for safekeeping. Succeeding kings added to the collection, and by the time Charles I was executed and the monarchy temporarily abolished, its fortune was great.
With the removal of the king, all of the regalia was ordered to be destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, as it represented the “detestable rule of kings.” Some pieces survived because they were sold intact, though large portions of the collection were destroyed with the gemstones removed from pieces and sold separately and the metal melted down at the Mint.
When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, the regalia was able to be remade thanks to meticulous records of what had been lost. In the centuries since, it was typical for the framework to remain on crowns and other important pieces and the jewels to be rented for coronations.
Among the most important pieces within the collection are the items that make up the coronation regalia.
This includes St Edward’s Crown, which is only used to crown a new monarch during the coronation ceremony. The Imperial State Crown is worn as the monarch departs Westminster Abbey (and later for all state functions, including the State Opening of Parliament).
The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross is used in coronations to represent the monarch’s temporal power and features the Cullinan I diamond as its centrepiece. The Sovereign’s Orb represents power in the Christian world and is presented to the monarch before the moment of crowning.
The Coronation Spoon dates back to the 12th century and is the oldest piece in the Crown Jewels. It is used to anoint the monarch with holy oil. The Coronation Ampulla holds the holy oil and is designed as an eagle, with the oil pouring out of its beak and into the Coronation Spoon.
The items that make up the Crown Jewels are priceless and incalculable due to their cultural and historical value.
The reigning monarch holds the Crown Jewels in trust at the Tower of London as part of the Royal Collection. When not in use, the Crown Jewels are on display and are viewed by around 2.5 million people annually.