The British royal family is also a story of crowns and diamonds

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From her death to her planned funeral on Monday at Westminster Abbey, tributes to Elizabeth II are marked by the presence of several royal jewels. The Imperial Crown of State, of Scotland, of Saint Edward… National mourning is thus adorned, across the Channel, with diamonds, emeralds and sapphires.

Symbols of power and spirituality, the British and Scottish Crown Jewels have been at the forefront of tributes to Queen Elizabeth II since her death on September 8. The crown of Scotland was thus placed on the coffin of the sovereign when it rested temporarily in the cathedral Saint-Gilles of Edinburgh, then the crown imperial of State in Westminster Hall, in London.

St Edward’s crown will, meanwhile, make an appearance, for the first time since 1953, when Charles III was officially crowned – likely within the next few months. A look back at the meaning of these royal symbols and the controversies associated with certain jewels.

  • The “Imperial State” crown, the Koh-i Nor and the “illegitimate” diamond scepter

Until Monday morning, hundreds of thousands of Britons will pay their respects one last time in front of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall – the oldest chamber in Parliament. The monarch rests on an imposing catafalque (a funeral platform) on which one can also see, placed on a purple cushion, a sparkling crown.

Said jewel, made in 1937, is called the “Imperial State” crown – the term dates back to the XVe century – and symbolizes the monarchy and the divine power of the sovereign. 31.5 cm high, weighing more than 1.2 kg, this jewel of the British royal family was worn by Elizabeth II during her coronation in 1953. The queen mainly wore the imperial crown during her reign during the opening ceremony of the British Parliament session – but not in recent years due to its weight.

In this file photo from June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II wears the bejeweled Imperial State Crown, orb and scepter with cross in Westminster Abbey, London, at the end of the his coronation ceremony. © AP

“It can be quite difficult to look at (this crown) at times because of the pure light that emanates from it. It is literally dazzling”, explains historian Anna Keay to the BBC. The crown is set with no less than 2,868 diamonds, 269 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 4 rubies. Built on a gold frame, this crown is composed of one of the most famous precious stones in the world: the Cullinan II, a gigantic 317-carat diamond also known as the “second star of Africa”.

But it is another stone that is currently causing controversy: the Cullinan I – the largest cut diamond in the world (530 carats). The latter, present on the scepter also used during coronations, was given to the royal family by the British colonial authorities, after having been extracted in South Africa in 1905. With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, calls multiply to obtain the return of a diamond whose British ownership is considered “illegitimate”, reports CNN.

The Koh-i Nor (or Kohinoor) gemstone has also been the subject of controversy since the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The over 105 carat diamond was mounted on the British Royal Crown in 1937 for Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, wife of King George VI and mother of Elizabeth II. But its past stirs up tensions: the diamond has known many owners “including Mughal emperors, shahs of Iran, emirs of Afghanistan and Sikh maharajas”, according to Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity that manages some of the UK’s unoccupied royal palaces. For many years and more recently, India has demanded the return of this jewel.

  • The crown of Scotland, a jewel of the XVIe century

Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle, Scotland. On the occasion of the tribute paid to him at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, another jewel was placed on his coffin: the crown of Scotland. Crafted in Scottish gold with 22 precious stones and 20 gemstones, this 1.64kg crown is also adorned with freshwater pearls selected from the rivers of Scotland.

This jewel is the oldest extant crown jewel in the UK, according to The Court Jeweler. It was made in 1540 “from a damaged and lighter crown”, according to the British Royal Family website.

This crown – which together with the silver scepter and the sword of state forms “the honors of Scotland”, the oldest insignia of the British Isles – has been worn or present at the coronations of several Scottish monarchs, including the Queen of Scotland Mary (1543), James I and VI (1567), Charles I (1633) and Charles II (1651).

It has not been used for a coronation since the 17the century. But it was given, among other honors, to Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation in 1953. during a national service of thanksgiving at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. During this ceremony, the “Honors of Scotland” were formally presented to the Queen, who then returned them to their custodians – they are on public display in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle.

  • The crown of Saint Edward, “the most important of all”

The heaviest (2.23 kg), “the most important”, “the most sacred of all crowns”… There is no shortage of superlatives to describe the crown of Saint Edward. It is only used at the time of the coronation itself, placed on the head of a king or queen by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Composed of a solid 22-carat gold setting and adorned with semi-precious stones, the jewel dating from 1661 was worn by Queen Elizabeth II during her official coronation ceremony in 1953. This spectacular headdress will also be worn by the King Charles III during his coronation – which could take place in the next few months.

This June 2, 1953 file photo shows Queen Elizabeth II seated on the throne receiving fealty from the Archbishop of Canterbury during his coronation in Westminster Abbey.
This June 2, 1953 file photo shows Queen Elizabeth II seated on the throne receiving fealty from the Archbishop of Canterbury during his coronation in Westminster Abbey. © AP

The coronation is a traditional anointing that should not be confused with Prince Charles’ public proclamation of September 10, where it was only a public acknowledgment of his kingship. While waiting to know the date of its presentation to an international public – for the first time since 1953 – the crown of Saint Edward is kept at the Jewel House in the Tower of London.

The British royal family is also a story of crowns and diamonds