When staff at charity Historic Royal Palaces started to work on a new exhibition for the Crown Jewels four years ago, they did not know the circumstances in which it would be unveiled. However, when Queen Elizabeth died last September it quickly became clear that they would be showcasing these gems right as the world had seen them in action in the first coronation for 70 years.
A new display opens at the Jewel House in the Tower of London on May 26 exploring the priceless collection from a new perspective. Featuring images and footage from coronations including King Charles III’s, the exhibit showcases Queen Camilla’s coronation crown for the first time - which was made for Queen Mary in 1911 and adapted for the 2023 ceremony. And it also explores in greater depth than ever before the controversial history of the Koh-i-Noor and Cullinan diamonds.
“We wanted to do a refresh of the Jewel House, but we didn’t know it was going to be in a coronation year,” historian for Historic Royal Palaces, Charles Farris, told reporters. “But it's an amazing opportunity to showcase this amazing collection while it’s in the public eye as it hasn’t been for many years. There is a new-found context for a lot of people, they recognise some of the objects from the ceremony.”
All the key crowns and other regalia from King Charles and Queen Camilla’s coronation are on display for visitors to view up close. This includes the sacred St Edward’s Crown that the King was crowned with and the Imperial State Crown that he wore after the ceremony and on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Other objects that are part of the collection but not used in coronations, such as the Lily Font used for royal christenings, are also displayed.
Following an evaluation in 2019, it was found that the public wanted more information about the origins of the Crown Jewels. This led to a decision to open this new exhibit with three stories told through objects and 90-second videos. They are the story of the Koh-i-Noor which was taken from India and presented to Queen Victoria, the story of the destruction of the original Crown Jewels in 1649 during the English Civil War, and the story of the Cullinan diamond which was brought from South Africa for King Edward VII.
Described as “a symbol of conquest,” the information about the Koh-i-Noor diamond tells visitors that it "has had many previous owners, including Mughal Emperors, Shahs of Iran, Emirs of Afghanistan, and Sikh Maharajas. The 1849 Treaty of Lahore compelled ten-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh to surrender it to Queen Victoria, along with control of the Punjab. Koh-i-Noor means ‘Mountain of Light’ in Persian.” Noting that they consulted academics in the UK to help tell the story of the history of the jewels, Charles Farris said, “We’ve really aimed to be as concise and open as possible to tell what is of course an incredibly complex story.”
In November, the Tower of London will also host an immersive sound and light installation that celebrates the collection. Created in partnership with Luxmuralis Artist Collaboration, Crown and Coronation will feature imagery and footage of monarchs and coronations past, along with images of the regalia. Running across nine nights in November, it will take place inside the inner ward of the Tower, projected on buildings which have stood for nearly 1,000 years, such as the iconic White Tower.
The new Jewel House exhibition opens to visitors on May 26, 2023 and is included in general admission. The Crown and Coronation light show will run from November 17–25 and will be separately ticketed. For more information and to book tickets visit the Historic Royal Palaces website.
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