THE Crown Jewels of England are historically and, indeed, intrinsically, of a value impossible to compute. Great or small, ancient or new, they are the hallmarks of the British Sovereignty and of the former British Empire's glory.
In the time of Edward the Confessor, the Regalia, along with other royal treasures, were kept in Westminster Abbey in a small room in the eastern cloister. This room was in fact the "Treasury of England." In times of trouble or danger, the treasures were sent to the Tower of London for safety.
In 1303 the Treasury at Westminster was broken into by a monk, and some articles of value stolen. With this warning, it was at last considered that at Westminster sufficient care could never be taken of so valuable a collection, and the Regalia were finally and permanently removed to the Tower during the reign of Henry VIII.
The Royal Treasury underwent many trials and tribulations at the hands of several of our Kings. If Parliament would not grant supplies, Kings still had great treasure that they could rapidly sell or pawn for ready money.
In 1623, when Prince Charles went to Spain to woo the Infanta, it is said that he took from the Tower treasure valued at £600,000. Two years later, when he was King, he fitted out a fleet, under his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, to carry on a war with Spain, and, supplies not being obtainable from Parliament he parted with a large amount of treasure to finance the expedition.
In 1643 Charles turned the Crown and Sceptre into money, and in 1644 the Commons ordered the King's Plate in the Tower to be melted down and coined. The Lords, to their lasting credit, remonstrated against this, and declared that the workmanship was worth far more than the precious metals; but in 1649 the Commons ordered that the Regalia should be delivered to the trustees for the sale of the goods of the late King, to be melted down into gold and silver bullion, with the jewels auctioned off as part of the Commonwealth.
The Coronation of Charles II., after several delays, was celebrated on April 23, 1661, and very probably among the reasons for its postponement was the fact that there were no Regalia with which to complete the ceremony. An order was accordingly given to the royal goldsmith, Sir Robert Vyner, to provide new Regalia made after the old fashion. Sir Robert Vyner's receipt for payment for these articles, dated June 20, 1662, still exists, and he acknowledges having received from the Royal Treasury £21,978 9s.11d., for -
"2 Crowns; 2 Sceptres; A Globe of gold set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and pearls St. Edward's staffe; The Armilla; The Ampull."
Fortunately, several drawings still exist which, although somewhat elementary, are sufficient to show us that many of the designs then used, probably copies from some authority not now available, have been carefully preserved.
The Sceptre with the Cross shows the upper part wreathed as it now is; the Spurs, St. Edward's Staff, and the Sceptre with the Dove differ but slightly from those now in the Tower.