By Simon Edge
The London Express
AS BRITAIN is urged to return the fabled Koh-i-Noor gem to India, we reveal the story behind the precious stone and the other treasures that make up the Crown Jewels.
The 186-carat gem, whose name means Mountain of Light in Persian, was mined in India around 1100. It carries a curse lethal to male owners and “only God or a woman can wear it with impunity”.
After a blood-soaked history in which several of its male owners were violently dethroned, it came into the possession of the ruler of the Punjab, the so-called Lion of Lahore. His young son Duleep Singh lost the Punjab when it was annexed by the East India Company after the Anglo-Sikh Wars and the nine-year-old Maharajah was made to travel to London to present it to Queen Victoria during the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was eventually set into the Imperial State Crown.
Since 1911 it has been incorporated into crowns worn by the female consort, including the late Queen Mother, who wore it at the coronation of George VI in 1937 and her daughter’s coronation in 1953.
Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to the priceless jewel. The first request for its restoration came from Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976.
The British prime minister of the day Jim Callaghan refused, replying: “I need not remind you of the various hands through which the stone has passed over the past two centuries, nor that explicit provision for its transfer to the British Crown was made in the peace treaty with the Maharajah of Lahore. I could not advise Her Majesty the Queen that it should be surrendered.”
In 2002 the Indian High Commissioner to London accused Britain of flaunting the spoils of empire when the Queen Mother’s crown was carried on her coffin. This week David Cameron said that it would not be returned to India either.
The Cullinan Diamond
The largest diamond ever found was discovered at a mine in the Transvaal, South Africa, in 1905. Weighing 3,106 carats (1.3lb), it was named after the mine’s chairman Thomas Cullinan. It was sent to England in the ordinary parcel post while a decoy was sent on a heavily guarded ship.
When a buyer could not be found it was purchased by the Transvaal government for £150,000 and presented to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday. It was then cut into nine major stones and 96 small brilliants.
The two largest were incorporated into the Crown Jewels. Cullinan I, the Star of Africa, is at the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre. Cullinan II, the Second Star of Africa, is in the front band of the Imperial State Crown.Cullinan III and IV, known in the Royal Family as “the chips”, are part of a brooch in the Queen’s collection.
The Black Prince’s Ruby
The very large red stone at the front of the Imperial State Crown is not a ruby but a semi-precious balas or spinel. The stone was once owned by Don Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile (in present-day Spain). He gave it to Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince.
The eldest son of King Edward III this great military leader defeated Don Pedro’s rival and half-brother Henry the Bastard in 1367, hence the gift. Henry V wore the jewel in his helmet at the Battle of Agincourt.
Queen Elizabeth’s Earrings
The four large drop-shaped pearls in the Imperial State Crown are believed to have been given to Catherine de Medici on her marriage to Henry II of France in 1533. She later gave them to her daughter-in-law Mary Queen of Scots. After Mary’s execution they were allegedly bought by her cousin and captor Elizabeth I. Because three are pierced they were wrongly thought to have been earrings.
The Stuart Sapphire
Set on the back of the Imperial State Crown this magnificent blue stone was reputedly smuggled from England by James II in 1688 when he fled to France during the Glorious Revolution. It passed to his son James Stuart, the “Old Pretender” to George IV when he was Prince Regent, and was set in Queen Victoria’s Crown in 1838.
A GLITTERING HISTORY
On the seventh anniversary of King Charles II’s coronation Samuel Pepys took merrily lubricated guests on a short excursion from his home in the City of London.
“After dinner I carried them to the Tower and showed them all to be seen there,” the diarist wrote, “and among other things, the crown and sceptres and rich plate, which I myself never saw before and indeed is noble and I [was] mightily pleased with it.”
One attraction the party could not enjoy back in that spring evening of 1668 was the Koh-i-Noor, the magnificent Indian jewel that would be presented to Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century and which the Indian government would now like returned. Otherwise the finery probably looked as impressive as it does today.
Nearly two and a half million people visited the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London last year. Another 8,900 were there yesterday, patiently queueing – “we prefer to call it a ‘line of anticipation’,” says chief exhibitor Keith Hanson – to stand on the slow conveyor belts which give everyone a fair look at the glass cases.
Traditionally monarchs have crowns for everyday use but special ones for their coronation. The Crown Jewels are the regalia used in the ancient coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
The Imperial State Crown last saw the light of day a month or so ago at the State Opening of Parliament. But St Edward’s Crown, made for Charles II in 1661 and weighing nearly 5lb, is only used at the moment of crowning. It was last used for about 15 minutes in 1953.
Many of the Crown Jewels dating from the Anglo-Saxon period were lost by King John in a marshy area of The Wash in 1216. The replacement set were stolen from Westminster Abbey in an audacious heist in 1303. The robbers were put to a nasty death and some items were recovered.
After that they were held in the altogether more secure confines of the Tower – but even those defences proved inadequate when Charles I was executed in 1649 and England became a republic.
The “trifles” of monarchy were melted down and most of the treasures in their present form date from the restoration of Charles II.
But Hanson stresses that a strong thread of continuity remains. “When the crowns were melted down the jewels themselves were kept in the Treasury so we still have the Black Prince Ruby worn by Henry V at Agincourt,” he says. Neither does the melted-down gold seem to have been used for anything else: it was still in the Treasury vaults when the jewels were remade.
Some coronations were more extravagant than others. The blingiest monarch was flamboyant George IV, who described his ceremony as “gorgeous and extravagant”. With 12,314 diamonds on his crown he wasn’t kidding. His brother William IV came to the throne determined to cut costs.
He held a so-called “penny coronation” to the consternation of his German consort Queen Adelaide, who had a crown made of gold and set with diamonds and coloured stones broken from personal royal jewellery at her own expense.
In 1838 a misunderstanding at the royal jewellers meant the Coronation Ring was too small for Queen Victoria and the Archbishop of Canterbury had to force it on to her finger. “I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which at last I did with great pain,” she wrote.
Gold crowns need to be remade every century or so because the metal weakens and the stones are in danger of falling out. That means the Imperial State Crown, made for the coronation of George VI in 1937 and adapted for the present queen’s ceremony 16 years later, should just about be good for the next coronation.
Meanwhile the Koh-i-Noor, only used for female crowns for fear of an ancient Indian curse was set in no fewer than four crowns after its arrival in Britain.
It was worn by the reigning Queen Victoria and consorts Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and the late Queen Mother.
Will the gem be removed in due course from the Queen Mother’s Crown to grace the locks of a putative Queen Camilla?
“It won’t need to be,” says Hanson tactfully. “The Queen Mother’s crown is platinum-based, which is much more stable than gold so it won’t need to be remade.”
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