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On Saturday 6th May 2023, the Coronation of King Charles III will take place at Westminster Abbey. The Crown Jewels, which are kept at the Tower of London form an important part of the ceremony, as the sacred objects which represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch are presented to the new King or Queen during the service. To mark the Coronation the Royal Armouries in Leeds displayed replicas of the Crown Jewels also kept at the Tower of London.

The Crown Jewels have a long history and have witnessed many of the triumphs and tribulations of Great Britain. In this story, we will explore their connection to a Leeds suffragette, Leonora Cohen, OBE,  nicknamed ‘The Tower Suffragette,’ who fought her whole life for the rights of women.

A photograph of a respectable young woman in profile who gazes proudly into the distance with a determined look and a glint of humour

Leonora Cohen, OBE wearing a Holloway Brooch following her release from Holloway Prison. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images.

Leonora Cohen, OBE (née Throp) was born in 1873 in Hunslet, Leeds to Jane Throp, a seamstress and Canova Throp, a sculptor.

Her father died at a young age, leaving Jane to raise Leonora and her two brothers.

From early on, Leonora experienced the hardships of the inequality between men and women. Her father’s loss was felt in the wages her mother brought home, 3 ¼ d per hour as a tailoress. At this time, male tailors were earning double per hour. She left school as soon as she was old enough to work with her mother and make a financial contribution to the household. At the age of 14, she became an apprentice milliner.

Jane would often lament “Leonora, if only we women had a say in things” but women didn’t have a say. Women couldn’t vote.

This played on Leonora’s mind and in an interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1966, she said “I have always been appalled by injustice. A drunken lout of a man opposite had a vote because he was male. I vowed I’d try and change things, I felt it in my bones.”

In October 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a campaign for women’s suffrage and equality. Although the movement is famously associated with acts of violence and vandalism, it didn’t start off as a militant organisation.

Leonora joined in 1909 and recalled speaking to crowds “for the cause in every park and on all the moors in Leeds.” The Leeds branch of the WSPU regularly had a stand in Victoria Square, located outside of Leeds Town Hall and she would enlist her son Reg to help sell “The Suffragette,” a newspaper described as “the organ of the movement.” Suffragettes raised funds and awareness for their cause by hosting social events such as fancy-dress dances and making marmalade and jam. She laughs, telling a reporter in one interview, “I think I must have made enough marmalade to fill Roundhay Lake.” An impressive feat, given that the lake is in Roundhay Park, Leeds, known for being one of the largest city parks in the world.

Jam and marmalade could only take the suffragettes so far. It soon became apparent that for their cause to be heard and taken seriously, they needed to change their tactics, adopting the mantra “Deeds, not words.” They soon began taking direct action, which included arson, bombings, hunger strikes and dangerous stunts, some of which ended tragically like Emily Wilding Davison’s attempt to cross the track at Epsom during the 1913 Derby, where she was fatally trampled by the King’s horse.

Reflecting on this, Leonora said “I only became a militant suffragette because I realised that the use of constitutional methods for many years had achieved nothing.”

Leonora became one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s bodyguards and describes wrapping herself in “an undercovering of corrugated brown paper for protection.” The extra padding proved useful in 1911, when she was arrested for the first time at a demonstration for throwing a rock at a government building. She remembers being “knocked down and rolled under the hooves of the police horses. Over 300 of us were taken to Bow Street and I was given a week in Holloway.” According to reports, there were so many arrests that the police had ran out of charge sheets, the cells were full, and it took a week to deal with the prisoners. At that time, London’s Holloway Prison, which has since closed, was one of the largest women’s prisons in Europe and had a reputation for housing suffragette inmates. Former detainees would receive a ‘Holloway Brooch,’ a medal presented by the WSPU for their fight for the cause. Those who had served prison time were documented in a Roll of Honour, dated between 1905 and 1914.

Her ’crowning’ moment came in 1913, when the Leeds branch of the WSPU came to London to make deputations to Parliament. After her rousing speech, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George had deemed worthy of the floor of House of Commons, women’s suffrage was still not included in the reform bill and then the idea of it was dropped altogether.

Ignored again, filled with frustration, anger and poised with the expectation to do something truly outstanding for the cause, she picked up a London travel guide, studied it very carefully and decided that she would “smash something at the Tower of London.”

On 1st February 1913, she arrived at the Tower of London and made her way to the Wakefield Tower, where the Crown Jewels were on display. The room was filled with schoolchildren, and she was mistaken by the Yeoman Warder as their schoolteacher, so he paid no attention to her. She reached into her coat and pulled out a small iron bar from a kitchen grate with a label attached to it saying, “My protest against the government’s treachery to the working women of Great Britain.” She threw it over the heads of the children, and it smashed into the glass show case containing The Order of Merit. The Warders seized her, and she was taken into custody.

Immediately, the news of this shocking act spread, and alarm bells rang throughout Britain. The government ordered the closure of the Tower, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Gardens, Kew Gardens and Holyrood Castle. Newspaper headlines screamed “Is the King’s Crown safe?” while reassuring concerned readers that the electric current running around the Crown is “so strong that contact with the metal would probably mean instant death to any intruder so incautious as to touch them.”

At Thames Police Court, Leonora was committed for trial and was charged for unlawfully and maliciously committing damage to public property by breaking a show case at the Tower of London. The damage exceeded £5 and was estimated at a cost of £7.

At trial, she had decided to represent herself, taking on the cross examination of witnesses. She asked a Yeoman Warder “Was I hysterical?” He replied, “I should say your nerves were somewhat shaken and you were very excited.” She retorted, “I say that I was quite calm, I’ve never felt more calm in my life.” Which was met with a roar of laughter from the courtroom.

Leonora would later admit that she had been terrified, saying “I hate violence and destruction. I can’t think of how I managed to do such a thing.”

The brilliance of her defence was her insistence to ask a jeweller for a private estimate of the cost of damage to the show case. When the prosecutor’s show case maker told the trial that his estimate for repairing the damage would be £7, the defendant remarked “that is a very fancy price, and it is State money that will be wasted.” The jeweller’s quote came back as £4 18s, including a good profit. Leonora argued that because the cost of the damage was less than £5, she should never have been indicted for the offence. The jury deliberated at length and could come to no decision, so she was acquitted.

A photograph of a group of smartly dressed women looking determined

A group of suffragettes taking part in a procession to Woodhouse Moor. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images.

Leonora continued to be surveilled by the police. Her speeches were scrutinised for any hint of threat, and in May 1913 she was brought before the Leeds County Court and charged on remand for inciting to commit crime and for disturbing the peace. Lines taken from her speech given at the procession to Woodhouse Moor (also known to Leeds locals as Hyde Park), such as “every woman in the Union is ready for anything, namely arson and pillar boxes” were used to accuse her of damage to pillar boxes in Leeds.

Defending herself again, she asked “How many militant actions followed my speeches?” The witness replied, “That I cannot say.” “Have you any evidence to prove that damage can be attributed to the members of the WSPU?” The witness responded, “We have no evidence.”

After a lengthy battle, she agreed to be “bound over,” meaning that to keep the peace, she would promise not to re-offend and be given a fine. She could not participate in WSPU activity.

In November 1913, Leonora was arrested one last time, charged with damaging three plate-glass windows in the Labour Exchange, Portland Crescent, Leeds during a visit from the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The total estimation for damage was £26, and she was sent to Armley Gaol, now HMP Leeds to await trial. Leonora, along with three other prisoners, helpfully named ‘Woman A,’ ‘Woman B,’ and ‘Woman C’ by local newspapers at the time, went on a hunger strike, refusing to eat or drink. It was stated that she was so ill and weak that she couldn’t have her temperature taken, let alone appear in court. She was temporarily released from gaol on the grounds of poor health around a week after her arrest. She never did return to prison.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw the end of militant activity, as the WSPU stopped working toward suffrage. Women threw themselves into war work, supporting the fighting forces. Leonora worked in a munitions factory and was quickly appointed to membership of the National Munitions Advisory Committee, where she was the only woman representing the trade unions. She served on several local committees and was elected President of the Leeds and District Trade Council in 1926. Later, she became President of the Yorkshire Federation of Trade Councils.

In 1922, she became a Justice of Peace and in 1938 was appointed to the Licensing Bench.  She served as a Leeds Magistrate for 30 years. She was chair of the Women’s Employment Committee under the Ministry of Labour and in 1928, she received an Order of the British Empire for her public service, where she joked that she went from “prison to the palace.” She even returned to the Tower of London for a less dramatic visit.

In 1918, Parliament granted women over 30 who were householders or wives of householders the right to vote. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 1928 that women over the age of 21 could vote, regardless of status.

A photograph of an old woman, elegantly dressed facing forward, looking proud of her accomplishments and a life well lived

Leonora Cohen, OBE, aged 91 years old, July 1964. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images

In her later years, she lived a quieter life, living in a flat in Headingley, Leeds. Her husband, Henry Cohen, passed away in 1949. Henry had been her biggest support and strength. He was by her side throughout each court defence, often seen carrying posies, which were part of Leonora’s outfit. He had endured years of rude and unpleasant comments aimed at his wife such as “If I had a wife like yours, I should tie her to the table leg.”

Leonora said of her husband “I am afraid I was a terrible worry to my husband, he was the most patient, kind and understanding.”

In his will, Henry left a moving tribute to Leonora, saying “I have lived in perfect appreciation of all her loving and unselfish devotion throughout our happy life together… My love for her has been the one perfect happiness that life has given to me, and I leave my son the solemn duty of taking my place to make her declining years happy and comfortable as she deserves of us both.”

Leonora would live to be 105. On her 100th birthday, she said “One hopes that women of the future will organise themselves into groups or unions and that they will use their vote intelligently to ensure that we will have the very highest standards of womanhood.”

Acknowledgements: Research kindly supported by Leeds Museum and Galleries.

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.