When Charles III is crowned at Westminster Abbey on May 6, an important set of objects will play a key role in the ceremony: the Crown Jewels. Many of the precious pieces date back hundreds of years and are immersed in history—and controversy. Here are 11 facts about this famous collection of ceremonial objects and royal regalia.
1. The crown used for the crowning itself is different from the one used on most other occasions.
The monarch has more than one crown. The one Charles III will wear the moment he is crowned, named St. Edward’s Crown, is only used for that purpose; he’ll wear a different one when he leaves Westminster Abbey following the coronation. The latter, known as the Imperial State Crown, is also the one worn on state occasions such as the Opening of Parliament, which happens on a yearly basis.
2. Some of the early Crown Jewels were lost by King John in 1216.
The Crown Jewels we know today are a lot younger than the monarchy itself. It’s said that King John lost an early collection of the jewels in 1216 while traveling across an estuary known as the Wash. Many attempts have been made in subsequent centuries to find them, without success to date.
3. The oldest surviving piece of the Crown Jewels is the coronation spoon.
The coronation spoon is the oldest of the Crown Jewels. It’s estimated to be from the 12th century, and it will play a part in King Charles III’s coronation. The spoon will be filled with holy oil that has been consecrated in Jerusalem; the oil is used to anoint the monarch during the ceremony.
4. Oliver Cromwell had many of the Crown Jewels destroyed.
Following the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I, the monarchy was abolished and Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Cromwell ordered the destruction of the Crown Jewels, including Henry VIII’s crown; the historic artifacts were melted down or sold. The coronation spoon survived because the man who bought it returned it after the monarchy was restored in May 1660.
5. The majority of the current Crown Jewels were created after the restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s.
Because only a few items had survived Cromwell’s purge, a new set of Crown Jewels was needed following the restoration of the monarchy. In 1660, Charles II ordered the creation of a new set based on the lost originals to be used at his coronation the following year. The majority of the Crown Jewels used today are from this group.
6. The Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden for safety following the destruction of the English ones.
The fate of the English Crown Jewels sparked fears among the Scots that their country’s Crown Jewels would meet a similar fate—so they were hidden in a number of locations around Scotland until the English monarchy was restored. The Honours of Scotland were eventually returned to Edinburgh Castle, where they were then forgotten after England and Scotland came together as the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. They remained “lost” for centuries until Sir Walter Scott rediscovered them at the castle in 1818.
7. There was an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels in 1671.
The current English Crown Jewels came under threat just a decade after they were created. A notorious rogue and wanted man of the period, Thomas Blood, and his accomplices managed to seize St. Edward’s Crown, the Sceptre with Cross, and the Sovereign’s Orb before being apprehended.
What happened next was even stranger: Instead of sending Blood to prison, King Charles II pardoned him and granted him land in Ireland.
8. Two of the largest clear cut diamonds in the world are part of the Crown Jewels.
In 1905, the 3106-carat Cullinan Diamond—the largest uncut diamond ever found—was unearthed in what’s now South Africa. The two largest clear cut diamonds from the gemstone are part of the Crown Jewels. The largest, Cullinan I, forms part of the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. The second largest, Cullinan II, is embedded in the Imperial State Crown.
9. The presence of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in the Crown Jewels is controversial.
A famous diamond known as the Koh-i-Noor has sometimes been part of the crowns worn by women in the royal family. It’s a highly controversial stone. The original diamond belonged to the Sikh kingdom in the 19th century, but the British East India Company forced them to surrender it during the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, then gave the diamond to the monarchy. After her husband, Prince Albert, had it recut, Queen Victoria wore the Koh-i-Noor as a brooch; the stone later became part of the Crown Jewels.
In recent decades, several countries have claimed ownership of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, but the British government has refused to return it. The royals are clearly conscious of the controversy: They’ve declared that the diamond will not be part of the crown Camilla, Queen Consort, wears at the coronation.
10. The Crown Jewels were hidden in a biscuit tin under Windsor Castle during World War II.
The Second World War—and the threat of both bombings and a potential Nazi invasion of Britain—made people get creative when it came to keeping national treasures safe. This led to gemstones from the Crown Jewels being hidden inside a biscuit tin that was buried under Windsor Castle, where they remained for the duration of the war. The unusual hiding spot was revealed in the 2018 documentary The Coronation.
11. The Crown Jewels will go on a virtual tour of the UK.
After the coronation, the Crown Jewels will go on public display in two ways: They’ll be physically present at the Tower of London, and they’ll be visible virtually via a touring show of projections shown at 57 venues around the UK.