15 March 2023

Crown Jewels’ origins to be explored in depth in new Tower of London exhibition

15 March 2023

The Tower of London is to delve deeper than ever before into the history of the Crown Jewels with a new exhibition in the coronation year.

The display in the Jewel House, where the priceless collection is kept under armed guard, will explore the origins of some of the precious objects for the first time, including the controversial Koh-i-noor diamond.

It marks the first major change to the home of the Crown Jewels for more than a decade and will open to the public in May, just weeks after the King and the Queen Consort are crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Andrew Jackson, resident governor of the Tower of London and keeper of the Jewel House, said he hopes the transformation will offer visitors “a richer understanding of this magnificent collection” as the Tower plays its part during the coronation year.

The display, leading towards the Treasury where most of the royal regalia is kept, also aims to evoke the spectacle and pageantry of the coronation procession and service.

Charles Farris, public historian for the history of the monarchy at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “The Crown Jewels are the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy and hold deep religious, historic, and cultural significance.

“From their fascinating origins to their use during the coronation ceremony, the new Jewel House transformation will present the rich history of this magnificent collection with more depth and detail than ever before.

“With 2023 bringing the first coronation in 70 years, there has never been a better time for people to come and learn about the jewels and to appreciate these awe-inspiring objects in person.”

The history of the Koh-i-noor, which is set within the coronation crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, will also be explored, using a combination of objects and visual projections to explain the stone’s story as a “symbol of conquest, with many previous owners, including Mughal Emperors, Shahs of Iran, Emirs of Afghanistan, and Sikh Maharajas”.

The Koh-i-noor was seized by the East India Company after its victory in the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1849.

It was given to Queen Victoria and has remained in the Crown Jewels ever since, but the governing party of India’s prime minister has warned it brings back painful memories of the British Empire.

The Queen Consort is avoiding wearing the contentious gem at her coronation, and will instead be crowned with Queen Mary’s Crown which will be reset with diamonds from Elizabeth II’s collection.

The re-presentation in the Jewel House is the culmination of a major four-year project for Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity which cares for the historic tower, where the treasures have been kept for nearly 400 years.

The display will begin with the state crown frames worn by past monarchs George I, George IV and Queen Victoria in a celebration of the “timelessness” of the monarchy.

It will show how many of the most historic jewels have passed from crown to crown, including the famous Black Prince’s Ruby, which was one of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite jewels and sits in the Imperial State Crown.

It will go on to tell the story of how the original medieval Crown Jewels were destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1649 during the English Civil War.

Only the 12th century Coronation Spoon – used for anointing the sovereign with holy oil – survived.

The story of the Cullinan diamond will also feature, with the hammer and knife used to make the first cuts to the stone going on show in the Jewel House for the first time.

The Cullinan diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and – at 3,106 carats – is the largest gem-quality uncut diamond ever found.

It was split into nine major stones, plus 96 smaller brilliants, with the largest two stones named the Cullinan I – now in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross – and the Cullinan II in the Imperial State Crown.

The Cullinan I – 530.2 carats and the largest colourless cut diamond in the world – is not without controversy amid calls for the gem to be returned to South Africa.

The new display will also feature a room dedicated to the pageantry of the coronation procession, including a court suit worn at the coronation of George IV.

New lighting will illuminate the St Edward’s Crown – which will be used to crown the King – and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Orb.

– The new Jewel House exhibition opens to visitors on May 26 2023 and is included in the general admission price.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox