Today, the Queen becomes the first British Monarch to mark her Platinum Jubilee, the 70th Anniversary of her Accession to the Throne, with a series of events planned for this summer. To mark this landmark anniversary, we are featuring the spectacular symbol of the Monarch’s Sovereignty, studded with illustrious stones, which was vested on the Queen 70 years ago: The Imperial State Crown!
While the older St Edward’s Crown has been used to Crown Monarchs, and is not worn again after the Coronation, there has been a form of the Imperial State Crown in existence since the 15th century, though the present version dates from around 1838, with slight changes made during every reign, most recently in 1937, though the size was adjusted for the Queen in 1953. Adorned with 2,901 precious stones (2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies), including the Cullinan II Diamond, St Edward’s Sapphire, the Stuart Sapphire, and the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Crown also features three pear-shaped pearls said to have come from Queen Elizabeth I.
The Imperial State Crown was made for Queen Victoria by Rundell and Bridge in 1838, using old and new jewels. Used to Crown the Queen at her Coronation, instead of St Edward’s Crown, she was not depicted wearing the Imperial State Crown again, neither for portraits or State Openings of Parliament, though the Crown did feature in some portraits. At the State Opening of Parliament in 1845, the Duke of Argyll was carrying the Crown before Queen Victoria in the procession, when it fell off the cushion and broke. The Queen wrote in her diary:
it was all crushed and squashed like a pudding that had sat down”
By the time of the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the new King had decided to use the St Edward’s Crown for the Crowning after a hiatus of over 200 years, but an operation meant that the King had to wear the lighter Imperial State Crown for his Coronation and at subsequent State Openings of Parliament.
His successor, King George V, was able to wear St Edward’s Crown for his Coronation in 1911, but leaving the relic at the alter, processed out of Westminster Abbey wearing the Imperial State Crown, which he continued to wear for State Openings of Parliament througout his reign.
The Imperial State Crown was heavily altered in time for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, when the Crown was again worn by the King just after the Crowning with St Edward’s Crown. Due to the Second World War, there were several ‘dressed down’ State Openings of Parliament, and following the State Opening in 1938, the Imperial State Crown Imperial State Crown was only worn again for the State Opening in 1948.
The Imperial State Crown was slightly adjusted to suit the Queen’s height in time for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, when the Crown was paired with the Coronation Necklace and Earrings, as well as other pieces of the Coronation Regalia including the Sceptre that includes the Cullinan I Diamond.
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After wearing the George IV State Diadem for her first State Opening of Parliament in 1952, the Imperial State Crown has been worn by the Queen to all but five State Openings of Parliament, with the last appearance at the State Opening of Parliament in 2016, following which she again wore the George IV State Diadem for the State Opening in 2019. The Imperial State Crown is now carried by the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley, during the State Opening.
When not in use, the Imperial State Crown is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. The Queen has also personally described the history of the Imperial State Crown twice, for a programme in the 1970s and the documentary ‘The Coronation’ in 2018. There is no doubt we will continue to see this splendid Heirloom for years to come!