May 6, 2023, marked a moment not seen in 86 years: the coronation of a new King of the British monarchy. The event was full of all the historic, extravagant, and symbolic traditions you'd expect from a royal celebration. This includes the "coronation regalia": a mix of blessed and non-religious items that symbolize the responsibilities of the newly crowned King — and the Crown Jewels. And the experts have revealed everything we need to know about these coronation objects of untold value.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown
It's important to note that King Charles' coronation wasn't the same as Queen Elizabeth II's. A lot has changed since the last coronation, so King Charles III was aware of the optics surrounding his ceremony. According to those in the know, he had concerns that an overly ostentatious coronation could negatively impact his reputation. So a few of the usual lavish traditions were cut from the ceremony.
A more “streamlined” coronation for the King
The decision was made, it seems, a month after Elizabeth’s passing. In October 2022 royal editor Russell Myers told ITV, “King Charles apparently wants a very streamlined coronation, potentially to do with the cost-of-living crisis. He’s very aware of the fact that a man prancing around in a jeweled crown is probably not the best look when everybody is struggling to pay their bills at the moment.”
The splendor of Britain on display
Although Charles’ coronation was “streamlined,” some grand royal trademarks, such as the Gold State Carriage, still made an appearance. Meyers spoke on how such embellishments might be received, saying, “Some people are saying that we can show off the splendor of Britain in one of these big majestic occasions. But I don’t know, a big debate I think.” Yet he was right: the public swooned over the Gold State Carriage when it was finally revealed.
The King has the finest jewels
Charles may not have liked the idea of “prancing around in a jeweled crown,” as Myers suggested, but he didn’t actually have a lot of choices when it came to the coronation regalia. There are certain things that just have to be a part of the coronation of a British monarch. Case in point: the St. Edward’s Crown. This 5-lb beauty of a headpiece features 444 gems and is normally housed in the Tower of London.
St. Edward’s Crown
The St. Edward’s Crown was one of the commissions by the Royal Goldsmith Robert Vyner and was worn during Charles II’s coronation. Charles II became King after his father Charles I had been executed in 1649 and the Crown Jewels had been reduced to puddles of metal and precious stones. So he needed a whole new set of Crown Jewels. The design of the new St. Edward's Crown was based on an original crown that had likely been created during the 11th century.
An original and a remake
Vyner’s design for the St. Edward’s Crown harked back to the original in many ways. It wasn’t exactly the same, but the two crowns shared several features, including arches and certain shapes and patterns. The new one was fashioned from solid gold and adorned with gemstones including rubies and sapphires. It has since adorned the heads of many royals.
A neck-breaking weight
St. Edward’s Crown — estimated to be worth about $57 million — was previously used in Elizabeth’s coronation, which took place in 1953. It’s said she only wore it on her head for a very brief moment, given how heavy it was. She actually once spoke about it to the Smithsonian Channel, noting, “You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break and [the crown] would fall off.”
Elizabeth’s crown fit for a King
But that is not the only crown to be featured in the King's coronation. The Imperial State Crown was arguably the one most associated with the late Elizabeth. Not only did she wear it at her coronation, but it was also placed on her coffin for her State Funeral in September 2022. It’s one of the “newer” royal crowns since it was only made in 1937. Yet it’s a truly remarkable creation.
The biggest diamond ever found
A staggering number of gems cover this crown, including 2,868 diamonds. And there is one diamond that is especially noteworthy: Cullinan II. It was cut from the larger Cullinan Diamond, which is the biggest colorless diamond that’s ever been found. There's only one problem.
It caused a major controversy
The Cullinan Diamond is a source of significant controversy nowadays. The immense gemstone — said to have been about the size of a person’s heart — was extracted in South Africa back in 1905. It was offered to King Edward VII a couple of years later, before being dispatched to Amsterdam in 1908 to be cut. But some believe the official story is too good to be true.
Many have rejected the official story
The story the British monarchy would like to project about the Cullinan Diamond is that the South African Transvaal government of 1905 gifted it to Edward VII. Of course, that government answered to British rule, so plenty of people reject the notion that British royalty has any rights to the gemstone at all. One such person is Everisto Benyera, an African politics expert from the University of South Africa.
It's "a blood diamond"
Speaking to CNN, Benyera said, “Our narrative is that the whole Transvaal and Union of South Africa governments and the concomitant mining syndicates were illegal... Receiving a stolen diamond does not exonerate the receiver. The Great Star is a blood diamond... The private [mining] company, the Transvaal government, and the British Empire were part of a larger network of coloniality.”
A conversation has been started
Following Elizabeth’s death, there was a wave of mourning around the world. At the same time, though, lots of people began to ask questions about Britain’s history of colonialism. The Cullinan Diamond was a part of that conversation, not to mention all the other disputed gemstones in the royal collection.
Demanding the return
Speaking to South African media around that time, one activist named Thanduxolo Sabelo issued a demand to the British monarchy. “The Cullinan Diamond must be returned to South Africa with immediate effect,” Sabelo said. “The minerals of our country and other countries continue to benefit Britain at the expense of our people.”
Sparking questions for other Crown Jewels
Another controversial diamond in the collection is found on a crown created for the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1937. This crown boasts 2,800 diamonds, some of which were taken from a brooch that once belonged to Queen Victoria. But the Koh-i-Noor diamond has a different history entirely: one that has sparked some big questions.
It is insanely valuable
Estimates about how much the Koh-i-Noor diamond is actually worth vary quite considerably, but we can safely say it’s a lot. We’re talking about a figure sitting anywhere between $140 million and $400 million. It’s no wonder, then, that the Indian government has insisted on its return on multiple occasions over the decades. Some royal experts suggested that the Queen Consort would wear the Koh-i-Noor crown at the coronation, precisely because it had been used at the coronation of the Queen Mother.
A truly controversial crown goes by the wayside
But in February 2023 Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Koh-i-Noor crown would have no place in a 21st-century ceremony. It said Queen Mary's crown was the best for Camilla: “The choice of Queen Mary’s crown by Her Majesty is the first time in recent history that an existing crown will be used for the coronation of a consort instead of a new commission being made, in the interests of sustainability and efficiency.”
Queen Mary's crown
Don't worry, though, Mary's crown is still a stunning addition to the Crown Jewels. It has an incredible 2,200 diamonds set into it and was originally designed for her coronation in 1911. The crown has changed a bit in the 112 years since then, but for the King's coronation, Mary's crown was reset with the Cullinan III, IV, and V diamonds.
A spoon for the occasion
Yet the oldest piece in the Crown Jewels collection is not a crown at all, but a piece of cutlery: the Coronation Spoon to be precise. Dating back to the 12th century, it is the only piece from the earlier Crown Jewels that is still around today. Its purpose is to anoint the monarch with holy oil. And, as there is a bejeweled piece for every occasion, it goes hand in hand with the Ampulla.
The gold Ampulla
The purpose of the golden Ampulla is perhaps not obvious at first glance. But this vessel simply contains the holy oil that is used on coronation day. The head of the eagle can come off and a hole in its beak is there to allow you to tip the oil onto the coronation spoon. But it's just one part of the coronation regalia, of course.
The Sovereign's orb and scepters were part of Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. In fact, the scepters have been a part of every coronation since they were created in 1661. The orb is a symbol of the new King’s power and weighs an impressively light 1.32 kilograms, or 2.9 pounds. It is decorated with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls.
The scepters perhaps have the orb beat, though, as the Sovereign's Scepter with Cross contains the incredible Cullinan I diamond. That stone is "the largest colorless cut diamond in the world," according to the Royal Collection Trust. It's so big, in fact, that when the Crown Jeweller popped it into the scepter in 1911 the artifact "had to be reinforced to take its weight." The Sovereign’s Scepter with Dove symbolizes the King’s spiritual role.
A big collection
The Crown Jewels, obviously, comprise a whole range of over-the-top objects; many of them are used for coronations. We've so far seen the crowns in the collection as well as scepters, orbs, and even cutlery. But they only tell part of the story: there are other items such as rings, spurs, and swords that hold prominent places in the event.
The ceremonial maces
Two maces are also part of the coronation regalia. They were created at some point between 1660 and 1695 and they're made from oak with silver gilt. You may have seen them being carried in front of the monarch in the annual State Opening of Parliament. The maces are meant to represent the authority of the Crown.
The Sword of State
You may also have seen the Sword of State being carried alongside the two ceremonial maces. It's a symbol of royal authority, too, and was similarly created during the reign of Charles II. The steel blade has a silver-gilt handle and a velvet-covered wooden sheath. The sword was actually also part of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales back in 1969.
Even more swords
The Sword of State is only one of the swords used for coronations. The other three are the Sword of Temporal Justice, the Sword of Spiritual Justice, and the Sword of Mercy or Curtana. These are meant to tell you the King is the head of the Armed Forces, a defender of the faith, and is merciful, respectively. Their mighty blades date back to the 1500s.
St Edward’s Staff
Another 1661 commission by the Crown Jeweller Robert Vyner, St Edward’s Staff has echoes of the "Long Scepter" that was used in coronation ceremonies in the 1400s and 1500s. Yet it seems that nobody really understands its true purpose. The Historic Royal Palaces' Charles Farris told Hello! magazine, "When it came to St Edward's Staff, no one was quite sure what it was for and they almost didn't have one at all, but Charles II said, 'No, I want the full set.'"
Apparently, the use of gold spurs can be traced back to the coronation of King Richard I, a. k. a. Richard the Lionheart, in 1189. They're made of gold, leather, and velvet. "These are very much symbolic of the close association between the coronation ceremony of investiture of the new monarch with the investiture and making of new knights," Farris explained to Hello! "Knightly values, including protecting the weak, protecting the church, and bringing justice where it is required, are closely associated with monarchy."
The Sword of Offering
The Sword of Offering is nowhere near as old as the spurs: it only dates back to 1820. Its first appearance was at King George IV's coronation a year later. The sword's blade is steel, though it is decorated with gold and jewels. It is apparently a symbol of the King's ability to look after the good and penalize the bad.
"The two Armills are bracelets made from gold, champlevé, and basse-taille enamel, lined in velvet, and are thought to relate to ancient symbols of knighthood and military leadership," explained the official Royal website. "They have been referred to during previous coronations as the 'bracelets of sincerity and wisdom.'" The latest set of bracelets was created for the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth.
The Sovereign’s Ring
There was a time when a King or Queen would get their very own version of the Sovereign’s Ring. But after the coronation of William IV in 1831 the same Sovereign's Ring has been used for each new monarch. Luckily, it's a pretty stunning piece of jewelry. The gold ring has a sapphire with a cross of rubies mounted on top. The King wears it on his fourth finger as a representation of his royal dignity.
Queen Consort's ring
It's not just the King who gets to put a ring on it, though. The Queen Consort also has her very own ring. Hers is made out of gold, ruby, and diamonds and dates back to 1831. It was first worn by Queen Adelaide and has been seen on the finger of all Queen Consorts up to and including the Queen Mother.
The Queen Consort’s Rod with Dove
The Queen Consort also gets her own version of the sovereign’s scepters. The first is called the Queen Consort’s Rod with Dove. This artifact represents "equity and mercy," while the dove's folded wings represent the Holy Ghost. And the second is the Queen Consort’s Scepter with Cross. This one dates back to the 17th century and the coronation of Mary of Modena.
Tradition and history
But it's not all about the Crown Jewels. The use of the Gold State Coach continues a nearly 200-year-old tradition. And by calling upon the second carriage, the King also made a bit of history himself, becoming the first monarch to use the Diamond Jubilee State Coach for a coronation. It’s the more modern of the two, and it boasts some pretty unusual features.
The creation of the Gold State Coach
As it’s relatively new, though, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach has some way to go before it can match the history of the Gold State Coach. The opulent carriage was initially dreamed up back in 1760 — roughly 12 months ahead of the coronation of King George III. William Chambers was responsible for the blueprint, while Samuel Butler pieced it all together.
Easy on the eyes
The Gold State Coach might not be able to match the Diamond Jubilee State Coach’s more cutting-edge features, but it does boast gorgeous details of its own. The inside of the carriage is full of satin and velvet, while images of Roman gods adorn the lower half of the exterior. In addition, four sculptures in the image of the Greek god Triton overhang the wheels, and a trio of cherubs sit atop the roof.
One big problem
As beautiful as the Gold State Coach is, the royals have always had one big problem with it. King William IV compared journeys inside the carriage to “tossing in a rough sea,” while Elizabeth had some stern words, too. Touching on it in the TV documentary The Coronation, she said, “[It’s] horrible, it’s not meant for traveling at all. [It’s] not very comfortable.”
There are six robes, too
The coronation of Charles III also followed the tradition of his mother by having a grand total of six robes, one for each stage of the coronation. The names of these robes, in order of appearance, are as follows: the Recognition, the Oath, the Anointing, the Investiture, the Enthronement, and the Homage. A couple of these robes are historic pieces, but most of them were made especially for Charles.