Skip to main content
drawing of the crown jewels behind bars in the Tower of London with people looking at them

The Regalia or Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom have long been a tourist attraction.

To mark the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, we displayed the replica crown jewels from our collection at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, 6th – 8th May 2023. Like the real Crown Jewels they are normally kept at the Tower of London, the historic home of the Royal Armouries. This story refers to the history and symbolism of the real Crown Jewels, with images of the replica ‘Crown Jewels’ used to illustrate.

Is the King’s crown safe? The story of ‘The Tower Suffragette’

The coronation is the ancient ceremony of crowning a new monarch. The use of symbolic regalia plays a central part in the occasion, with each item representing a different facet of the monarch’s role and the various qualities a sovereign is expected to embody. Technically, a monarch becomes monarch at the moment of accession and so the coronation is by its very nature a symbolic occasion that serves more than anything as a rite of passage for the sovereign. The day of coronation is one of pageantry and spectacle where the legitimacy of the new monarch is cemented. This aspect was especially important through history, where, even if a king had been pronounced sovereign, it was only until he was in possession of the regalia that he was considered legitimate in the eyes of the people.

The regalia was traditionally kept at Westminster Abbey. Many of the objects that formed part of the Crown Jewels were relics associated with the eleventh century king Edward the Confessor. However, in 1649, shortly after the execution of King Charles I, they were destroyed by parliamentarians who regarded the regalia as ‘monuments of superstition and idolatry’. They bought the ancient objects to the Tower of London, melted them down and made them into coins or else sold the jewels. In 1661, with the crowning of Charles II, the monarchy was restored, and a new set of coronation regalia was required for the occasion. As such, a large portion of the Crown Jewels that are used today are those made for Charles II’s coronation. It is since that date that the real Crown Jewels have remained on display to the public at the Tower of London, which is also the historic home of the Royal Armouries.

gold crown with purple velvet cap encrusted with many different jewels including diamond, rubies and sapphires

Replica St. Edward’s Crown in the collection of the Royal Armouries

St. Edward’s Crown

St. Edward’s Crown, which dates back to 1661, is only ever used at the moment of coronation. When the Archbishop of Canterbury places St Edward’s Crown on the sovereign’s head it is the climax of the Coronation. Trumpets sound in Westminster Abbey, bells ring out across the country, and a 62-gun salute are performed at the Tower of London. Made of solid gold, it is extremely heavy, weighing almost 5lb. From 1661 to the 20th century this crown was only ever adorned with hired stones. It was only in 1911, for the coronation of George V that St Edward’s Crown was permanently set with semi-precious stones.

silver crown with purple velvet cap encrusted with rubies, sapphires, diamonds and pearls

Replica Imperial State Crown in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Imperial State Crown

At the end of the coronation ceremony the monarch exchanges St Edward’s Crown for the Imperial State Crown. Before the Civil War the ancient coronation crown was always kept at Westminster Abbey and the monarch required a different crown which to leave the Abbey. At 2.2 lbs it is also considerably less heavy. Unlike St Edward’s Crown which is only ever used during the Coronation Ceremony, the Imperial State Crown is used at other formal events such as the State Opening of Parliament. Because it gets used much more frequently it must be replaced from time to time. The current Imperial State Crown is the third replacement since 1660.

gold rod, formed in three sections, with enamelled collars with diamonds, rubies and emeralds

Replica Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross

The sceptre is thought to derive from the shepherd’s staff, signifying the pastoral aspect of the monarch’s role. The sceptre was originally made for Charles II. In 1910 it was transformed by King George V who added the famous Cullinan I diamond. The diamond, given the epithet the ‘First Star of Africa’, was given to his father by the Transvaal government following the brutal Boer Wars and remains the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found. The weight of the diamond is so great that the sceptre had to be reinforced to support it.

Sword with a thin tapered blade encrusted with jewels

Replica Sword of Offering in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Sword of Offering

The two symbolic functions attaching to the sword in the English coronation ritual are the defence of the Church and the defence of the people. Until the coronation of George V and his coronation in 1911 the Sword of Offering was always, in theory, paid for by the monarch out of his or her pocket. In 1903 however a permanent Sword of Offering entered the Jewel House. It was commissioned by George IV, crowned the first ‘King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ in 1821. This title is echoed through the scabbard’s design which features a rose, thistle, and shamrock. Many of the jewels in the King’s possession were broken up to use in the new sword.

gold spherical orb with jewel encrusted bands and cross

Replica Sovereign’s Orb in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Sovereign’s Orb

Orbs are an ancient emblem of imperial power that stretch back to Roman and Byzantine civilisations. The Sovereign’s Orb was made in 1661 and features a cross mounted on a sphere, symbolising the Christian world. A band of jewels and pearls divide it into three sections, representing the three continents known in medieval Europe. In 1671, during a daring attempt to steal the crown jewels by Captain Thomas Blood, the orb was damaged.

pair of gold horse riding spurs on a black background

Replica The Spurs in the collection of the Royal Armouries


The introduction of spurs into the coronation ceremony is likely to have been inspired by the ritual for making a knight, which involved the buckling of spurs to his heels. The knighting of Geoffrey of Anjou at Rouen in 1128 was the first recorded instance of appearance of spurs at a ceremony of knighthood. They are held to the ankles of kings or presented to queens before being placed on the altar. The spurs that are part of the current regalia were made for Charles II’s coronation in 1661. They are the type known as prick spurs and are formed into a Tudor rose at the heel.

pair gold circular highly decorated bracelets with red velvet interior

Replica Armills of Queen E;izabeth II in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Armills of Queen Elizabeth II

Armills, or gold bracelets, were first introduced to the English coronation order during the twelfth century. Their role as items invested during the coronation ceremony is sporadic. Following the Interregnum – the eleven-year period in England history where there was no monarchy – a new pair of armills were made for Charles II’s coronation. However, there is no evidence or record that suggests they were used. Another new pair of bracelets was made for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 gifted to her on behalf of the Commonwealth nations. Elizabeth II was the first sovereign for a considerable time to be invested with bracelets at her coronation. They are thought to symbolise the bond that unites the sovereign and their people.

crown with silver frame, and purple velvet cap set with 2,200 diamonds and decorated with many other jewels

Replica Queen Mary’s Crown in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Queen Mary’s Crown

Queen Mary’s Crown was commissioned by Queen Consort Mary of Teck for the coronation of George V in 1911. It was originally set with the Koh-i-Nor diamond, a stone that was acquired at the height of colonial expansion in 1849. Maharaja Duleep Singh, ruler of the Sikh Empire, was only ten years old when the East India Company had him sign a treaty that specified ‘The gem Koh-i-noor…shall…be surrendered…to the Queen of England.’ Widely seen as a symbol of conquest, it has been removed from Queen Mary’s Crown ahead of the 2023 coronation and replaced with Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds.

gold rod in three sections, tapering towards the top with a cross encrusted with jewels

Replica Queen Consort’s Sceptre with Cross in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Queen Consort’s Sceptre with Cross

Queen Consort’s Sceptre with Cross was commissioned by Mary of Modena in 1685 for James II’s coronation ceremony and has been used by queen consorts ever since. The coronation of the queen consort takes place in a short ceremony after that of the king, when she receives equivalent regalia.

ivory rod in three sections, tapering towards the top with a cross on which perches an enamelled dove with wings folded

Replica Queen Consort’s Ivory Rod with Dove in the collection of the Royal Armouries

Queen Consort’s Ivory Rod with Dove

This sceptre features a dove with folded wings perched on a cross. The bird represents the Holy Ghost, which evokes the spiritual aspect of the monarch’s role. As the first queen consort to be crowned since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Mary of Modena required an entirely new set of regalia, which were supplied by the royal goldsmiths in 1685.

Visit the website to see learn more about and see pictures of the real Crown Jewels.