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In all of our explorations of crowns and crown jewels, we have barely addressed the most famous crown jewels of all–those of the United Kingdom. Ferrebeekeeper posted about the giant dark spinel in the imperial state crown (aka “the black prince’s ruby“) and about the crown of the Tudor kings–which was destroyed back in the 17th century–and that is about all we have said about the most famous royal regalia. The reason for the paucity of posts is that the crown jewels of the United Kingdom were themselves destroyed in 1649 at the order of Oliver Cromwell, a puritan anti-monarchist who seized control of England and had no use for such things. Interestingly, this was (at least) the second time that all of the crown jewels were lost: in 1216 Bad King John somehow sank all of the previous crown jewels (and most of the treasury) in the Wash River (we will explore that humorous catastrophe in a future post).

Anyway, the real point of all of this is that although Cromwell destroyed all of the golden crowns, jeweled scepters, ancient magic swords and whatnot, he did not quite destroy all of the crown jewels. A single metal item from the ancient medieval royal collection of England survived the meltdown and is now the oldest item in the crown jewels (although the Black Prince’s ruby (which was sold and later returned) is pretty ancient too). The sacred coronation spoon of the ancient kings of England survived the Commonwealth. As the crown jewels were being torn apart and melted by stern religious zealots, there was apparently a spoon enthusiast (?) in the crowd. This Mr. Kynnersley bought the ancient coronation spoon for 16 shillings.

The first mention of the coronation spoon was in 1349, but even then it was said to be “of ancient form” so the true age and origin of the spoon are lost in history (although experts surmise that it is from the 12th century). The coronation spoon is decorated with monster’s heads and ornate medieval scrollwork. It was probably originally used to mix water and wine (a critical component of drinking in ancient times which ensured that the imbiber neither died of dysentery nor blacked out from alcohol poisoning). If you squint a bit, the spoon has quite a lot of resemblance to a modern bartender’s mixing spoon.

As far as I can tell, the spoon is too famous and special to be photographed, but there are many high quality drawings and reproductions of it. I wonder how this spoon will fare during the next 800 years of royal history, or will it fall victim to a new King John or another Cromwell somewhere down the line?

Above is the emerald and diamond tiara of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the Duchess of Angoulême.  Through several peculiar quirks of fate it is one of the few crown jewels of France to remain unaltered after the rest were sold or stolen. It can be found today in the Louvre surrounded by various crowns which are made of paste or missing their valuable jewels.

Marie-Thérèse was a strange figure in history.  She was the only child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to survive the French Revolution.  During the Reign of Terror, her royal relatives in the Temple prison were carried away and beheaded one by one until she alone was left.  On May 11th 1794, two days after sending her aunt to the guillotine, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse.  The details of their discussion are unknown to history but whatever she said seems to have saved her life since the Terror ended 2 months later.

Marie Thérèse Charlotte (painted by Antoine Jean Gros)

In 1799, she married a powerful nobleman Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême who was also her father’s brother’s son (her first cousin). When her uncle Louis XVIII died in1824, her father-in-law became King Charles X and her husband became heir to the throne. She was the Queen of France for 20 minutes during the time between when her father-in-law signed a document of abdication and when her husband was reluctantly forced to sign one himself.

To quote InternetStones.com, “The tiara which was designed and executed by the French Royal Jewelers Evrard and Frederic Bapst in 1819, was a masterpiece of the French jewelry craftsmanship of the early 19th century. The design of the tiara was a symmetrical design of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand diamonds set in silver, and 40 emeralds set in gold.”  The piece was technically part of the crown jewels because it was assembled from the royal jewel collection for a noble directly in line for the throne.

The tiara today (photo courtesy of the Louvre)

When Marie-Thérèse abdicated she returned the tiara to the French treasury.  During theSecond Empire it was the favorite crown of Empress Eugenie.  However she too returned it to the treasury when Napoleon III abdicated in the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian war.  The tiara was auctioned off by the National Assembly during the third republic. It passed through private hands until it was purchased by the Louvre in 2002 thereby falling into the hands of the fifth republic (the current government of France).

The Cap of Monomakh

The Cap of Monomakh is the oldest crown among the crown jewels of Russia.  An ancient symbol of Russian autocracy, the crown consists of an onion shaped skullcap manufactured from eight joined panels of filigreed gold which sit on top of a wide sable brim.  The crown is ornamented with large cabochon jewels and smaller pearls.  It is topped by a cross with a pearl at each end (which was added centuries after the cap was originally made).   It was worn by the grand princes of Moscow and then by the first Czars up until Peter the Great, who commissioned a new crown when he styled himself as an Emperor.

The cap of Monomakh was probably manufactured by Central Asian goldsmiths of the late 13th or early 14th century.  Some Russian historians have theorized that the cap was a gift to the grand prince of Moscow from Uzbeg Khan who reigned over the Golden Horde from 1313–1341. If such is the case, the crown probably represented Moscow’s political subjugation to the Khan, however, the crown’s true origins are lost in the puzzling depths of Russian history.

The Golden Horde in Action!

During the 15th century a story was confabulated that the cap was a present from the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachus to Vladimir Monomakh, prince of Kiev, in the 12th century.  The legend was probably engendered to give credence to the Russian monarchs’ assertion that the Tsars were the heirs to the Caesars and that Moscow was a “third Rome” (with Constantinople being the second). Today the cap of Monomakh can be found under heavy guard at the other great onion shaped symbol of Russian autocracy, the Kremlin (along with the other crown jewels of the Russian monarchy).

The Cap of Monomakh today in the Kremlin armory

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