A legend decrees that ravens, in their fortress home, the Tower of London, guard our Symbols of State, the Crown Jewels. Apparently, if they should ever leave, there could be dire consequences for England and her Monarchy.
Fortuneately the English have long experience of dealing with legends.....The Ravens`s wings are clipped.
The Monarchy is safe and Queen Elizabeth 11 celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year, and the splendid new Exhibition of the Crown Jewels and other regalia at the Tower of London honours this joyous occasion.
The public have long been able to view the jewels. Security was quite low key at one time, and they could even touch them! Later, they were displayed behind bars. There has only been one failed attempt at stealing them. This
was executed by Captain Blood in 1671.
Surprisingly, he was pardoned by King Charles 11 and given lands! Over the centuries the jewels have been kept in different parts of the Tower. Their present home, the Jewel house was built in the early nineties and opened by Her Majesty, The Queen, in March 1994. It is a single level construction covering the entire ground floor of the Waterloo Barracks. 2,500 visitors can be accommodated per hour with the help of the moving travelator.
The Exhibition has Coronation ceremony and ritual as the focal point, and emphasizes the use of the jewelled crowns and other regalia in the ceremony. The jewels, part of the Royal Collection, are potent symbols ofthe British
Monarchy and have deep religious significance. Words fail when attempting to describe their eternal, magnificent beauty, but succeed when explaining the perpetual power they over their beholders because of their extraordinary
The Crown Jewels have played an important role in the coronations of Kings and Queens of England since the eighth century. Coronations are essentially Christian in ritual, the Monarch vows to defend the Church of England and the service ends with Communion. The Ceremony has remained unchanged for centuries. The State Imperial Crown and other regalia are still used for the State Opening of Parliament. Other symbols have been transported to far flung parts of the Empire and worn as battle adornments.
The opening part of the Exhibition sets a grand scene with a brilliant display of graphics and a coninuous mural depicting Coronation processions from Charles 11 to Elizabeth 11. Footage of Queen Elizabeth`s Coronation is
displayed and the inspired Coronation anthems of Handel are background music. The picture of the Execution of Charles 1 is most important because after that we were ruled by Oliver Cromwell and were not a Monarchy. During
this period the crown jewels and other regalia were destroyed and gold melted down for currency.
The items in this Exhibition were designed when Charles 11 restored the Monarchy in 1660. Exhibits are displayed logically in the order in which they are used in the ceremony. You can see the trumpets for those stirring fanfares, with their banners, evocative of great music, the jewelled sword of offering with its scabbard also covered in jewels. The Coronation robe itself is spectacular, unisex, weighing 30lbs, spun with gold thread, and bearing the emblems of the rose of England, the leek of Wales and the thistle of Scotland. Notebeside it, the spurs. They are still worn by the Monarch at the Coronation, although they have travelled there now even though they travel there now by coach.This has been so since the Coronation of George 111. You certainly cannot miss the largest cut diamond
in the world, positioned on top of the Queen`s sceptre, 530 carats in weight, known as Cullinan 1 or the First Star of Africa.
Let us meander amongst the crowns themselves, with their jewels symbolizing pre-Christian and Christian Kingship. The Imperial Crown of India is interesting because it was made specially for George V for his crowning as
Emperor at the Delhi Durbar in 1911. The Indian peoples wanted him to be crowned in India and we do not allow our crowns to leave England so they sent the diamonds, Garrards set them in the new crown. He had already been
crowned in England. You can see the Imperial State crown made in 1937 for George V1. It bears a Maltese cross and is studded with diamonds, pearls, sapphires and emeralds. The second Star of Africa rests there too. St Edward`s crown with which the Monarchs are actually crowned is on view. They crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, not the Prime Minister, to make the point they are head of both Church and State. The platinum crown made for the late Queen Mother for the 1937 Coronation holds the Koh- in- Noor diamond ( Mountain of Light ) from India. Legend says it only brings luck to women and whover owns it would rule the world.
The Curator, is delighted with the new display and has said, " The interior of the cases have been lined with blue velvet which really makes the gold sing. We have placedthem on blue stems and they are brightly lit- it almost looks like the orb and crowns are floating.
The plate used for banquets is impressive as is The Exeter Salt cellar which had pride of place in the centre of the table. The most important people were placed near it and lesser mortals below it. Sometimes there would none left for them!
The 12th century anointing spoon has seriuous historical value. It was used for the transference of the oil for anointing the Sovereigns. It is the only surviving piece from the earlier regalia, and also the only extant example
of goldsmiths` work from the 12 century. It is an essential part of Christian ritual.
By the way, if your crown has to be moved about, you do not use a hat box, but a crown box! The lovely old leather luggage used to transport the regalia is being displayed for the first time. This is a charming idea.
The re-presentation of the Jewel House is made possible thanks to the generosity of the De Beers family of Companies with Forevermark.
The Exhibition celebrates Queen Elizabeth`s Diamond Jubilee most graciously and brings to mind the following quotation,(partly quoted)
"This royal throne of kings, this scepter`d isle, ...........This precious stone set in the silver sea,.............This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England........"