The British Crown Jewels 2: Celtic Riches

In my previous post I went through the holdings of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. It would probably be more appropriate to say the Crown Jewels of England, because Scotland, Ireland and Wales, having been and still being autonomous political units, have had their own sets of crown jewels, though none so grand or so opulent as those in London.

The Crown Jewels of Scotland

Crest of Scotland

Crest of the Royal Arms of Scotland, showing a lion with the Scottish Crown Jewels

Scotland was a kingdom wholly independent from England until James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne as James I in 1603. The two countries maintained separate armies, navies, Parliaments and governments until the Act of Union of 1707. In light of this, it should come as no surprise that Scotland has its own full-fledged set of Crown Jewels, also called the Honours of Scotland or the Scottish Regalia. It consists principally of a crown, a sceptre and a sword. The crest of the Royal Coat of Arms for Scotland shows a red lion holding the sword and sceptre and wearing the crown while also standing on the crown.

Oliver Cromwell had attempted to destroy them as he had the English crown jewels when he invaded Scotland in 1651, shortly after they had been used to crown Charles II as King of Scotland. (Charles II fled to the Continent shortly thereafter, returning in 1660 once Oliver Cromwell was dead and his son Richard deposed as Lord Protector.) Loyalists first hid them in Dunnottar Castle, in Aberdeenshire; they were smuggled out once the castle was laid seige to by the New Model Army. They were then buried like pirate treasure under the floorboards of nearby Kinneff Kirk (parish church). They were dug up and returned to Edinburgh in 1660.

waxworks with crown jewels

Waxwork diorama at Edinburgh Castle of Sir Walter Scott and company uncovering the Scottish regalia in 1818.

Following the Act of Union in 1707, the Scottish Crown Jewels had no purpose anymore, so they were wrapped in linen, locked in a chest and put in a storage room in Edinburgh Castle for 111 years. On February 4th, 1818, a band of Scottish patriots (including the writer Sir Walter Scott) unearthed the regalia and had it put on public display in Edinburgh Castle the next year.

The jewels were taken away and hidden, along with the English crown jewels, in 1941 during the Blitz, in a location so secret it is still not publicly known. They were taken out again for a visit by Elizabeth II in 1953 and have been on public display ever since.

Scottish crown jewels

The Crown, Sword of State and Sceptre of Scotland

The oldest existing crown in Britain is the solid gold Crown of Scotland, the centrepiece of the Scottish Crown Jewels. It was made by James V in 1540 from a design of a crown made for James IV in 1503. He wore it to the coronation of his second wife in 1540 and was used to coronate the next four Scottish monarchs — Mary, Queen of Scots, James VI, Charles I and Charles II. It was formally presented to Elizabeth II at a ceremony during a national day of thanksgiving at the Palace of Holyroodhouse three weeks after her coronation in 1953. Today it is kept in Edinburgh Castle and borne by the Duke of Hamilton to the openings of sessions of the Scottish Parliament.

The Sceptre of Scotland is silver-gilt and covered in Christian symbols. It’s topped by a Scottish pearl and a lump of cairngorn, a type of smoky quartz native to the mountains of the same name in Scotland. The sceptre was given as a gift to King James IV from Pope Alexander VI (a.k.a. Rodrigo Borgia) in 1494, and was remodeled and lengthened in 1536.

The Sword of State of Scotland was given to King James IV by Pope Julius II (the “Warrior Pope” who told Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel) in 1507, along with a blessed hat (a blessed sword and hat being a traditional papal gift to defenders of the Christian faith). It’s 4’6″ long and has a silver-gilt handle, etched blade and a wooden scabbard covered in silver and black velvet with a matching silk belt. A fine piece of Italian craftsmanship, the sword had to be broken in half in 1652 to hide it better.

The Crown Jewels of Ireland

Irish Crown Jewels

Photographs of the badge (top right) and star (bottom) of the Sovereign of the Order of St. Patrick and a livery collar of a Knight of the Order (top left) circulated by the Royal Irish Constabulary after their theft.

Ireland never really had any crowns or things, seeing how as it went directly from semi-feral bearded chieftains in brown clothes to English suzerainty. What was known as the “Irish Crown Jewels” (although not called as such until 1905) was the King’s insignia as Sovereign of the Order of St. Patrick, consisting of a star (worn on the coat on the lower left side) and a badge (worn to hold the sash together). Unusually for crown jewels, they were entitled to be worn by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the King’s absence. (Before 1800 the Lord Lieutenant was King of Ireland in all but name; afterward he lost much power and influence to the Chief Secretary for Ireland in Cabinet, and the lieutenancy was abolished in 1922.) The star and badge were made by William IV in 1831 and were encrusted in 394 precious gems, mostly from George III and Queen Charlotte.

Care of the jewels was entrusted to the Ulster King of Arms, the chief herald for Ireland. In 1903 they were put in a safe that was to be put in a new strongroom at Dublin Castle, but the safe was too big for the door. The safe was then put in the herald’s office; other than his own, there were six keys to the office door among his staff, and the only two keys to the safe in were in the herald’s possession.

The jewels were last used by the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Aberdeen, on March 15th, 1907. The next planned occasion for their use was to be on July 10th, when King Edward VII was to visit Dublin and induct Lord Castledown into the Order of St. Patrick. Sir Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, showed the jewels to a visitor to his office on June 11th, 1907, and they were never seen again.

The jewels were discovered missing on July 6th, 1907. Also missing from the safe were the livery collars of five knights of the Order: The Marquess of Ormonde, the Earl of Enniskillen, the Earl of Mayo, the Earl of Howth, and the Earl of Cork (who was less upset than the others, since he had been dead since 1904). The collars were valued at a total of £1050. A reward of £1000 was offered for the Crown Jewels’ return, and the theft was investigated by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary with the aid of the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard. A Viceregal Commission was convened on January 10th, 1908, to examine the matter, and compelled Vicars and his staff to resign. (Vicars was a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his Sherlock Holmes story “The Case of the Bruce-Hartington Plans” is said to be inspired by the theft.) Vicars later won £5000 in damages when he sued the Daily Mail for libel in July 1913, after it claimed Vicars gave a safe key to a mistress who fled to Paris with the jewels.

A number of theories have been floated as to the culprits, from Irish nationalists to Unionist supporters looking to embarrass the Liberal government to the Lord Lieutenant’s son, Lord Haddo, who claimed to be in Great Britain at the time of the theft and whose alibi was corroborated in the House of Commons by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. For a time the prime suspect was Francis Shackleton, brother of the famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, but he was eventually exonerated.

A 1927 cabinet memo of the Irish Free State claimed that Prime Minister W.T. Cosgrave “understands that the Castle jewels are for sale and that they could be got for £2,000 or £3,000”. Regardless, the Irish Crown Jewels were never recovered and the crime remains unsolved to this day.

The Honours of the Principality of Wales

Prince Charles with the Welsh Honours

HRH Prince Charles in 1969 wearing his coronet, the mantle, ring, and sword, and holding the sceptre of the Honours of the Principality of Wales.

Wales has no crown jewels, per se: it’s not a kingdom, so it has no crown. What it has is “Honours” and they are bestowed upon the Prince of Wales, when there is one, or the Crown of England when there is not. (Remember, the only time there’s a Prince of Wales is if the monarch has an eldest son. So there was no Prince of Wales for the entire reign of George VI, or between 1820 and 1841.)

The centrepieces of the honours are the Coronets of Prince Frederick, Prince George and Prince Charles, which we covered in the last article. The rest of the existent regalia was made for the 1911 investiture of Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, later King Edward VIII, and even later HRH the Duke of Windsor, and was re-used, sans coronet, at the investiture of HRH the Prince of Wales in 1969. At his investiture ceremony at Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd, Wales, Prince Edward had been made to wear a ridiculous white velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy getup with white satin knee breeches. Prince Charles, conversely, wore his Royal Navy uniform with his Knight of the Garter sash.

The Honours consist of the coronets, a sword, a sceptre, a ring, and a mantle of dark purple velvet with ermine trim. The cloth and fur of the mantle were new for Prince Charles, but it re-used the gold clasp from the 1911 mantle.



  1. Pingback: The British Crown Jewels | Jeremy Turcotte, Trained Journalist
  2. Zonia Swisher

    The above british military sword looks so fine and beautiful. To own a sword and royal navy belt like this, which reflects courage and bravery adds on to such a royal feeling.

  3. Pingback: 10 Amazing Lost Treasures That You Can Still Find - Urban Ghosts

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