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The British Crown Jewels: Triumph & Tragedy

They stand alone, above all others: the British Crown Jewels. Spanning centuries and offering bling on an unrivaled scale, they tell the story in gold and gems of the rise and fall of dynasties, of beheadings and coronations, all wrapped up with unparalleled magnificence.

The coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II in 1953 was hardly changed since a crown was place on the head of William the Conqueror in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066. And nothing brings to life the sacramental aura of a coronation, redolent as it is with British national symbols, like the Crown Jewels.

The concept of permanent collection of crown jewels was born in the 12th century, when the monks of Westminster Abbey took valuable and sacred gold items from the grave of Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England. This small collection ultimately grew into the spectacular display we see today in the Jewel House, probably the single biggest draw for the 2.5 million people who visit the Tower of London every year.

This lecture reveals the Crown Jewels in all their glittering splendor, from the enormous Black Prince’s Ruby (really a 170-carat red spinel) in the famous Imperial State Crown to the gold-and-gem-encrusted castle that is the Salt of State. The Crown Jewels offer more than just an endless sea of gold dotted with thousands of emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. What brings them alive are the stories of people who possessed these priceless jewels: the kings and queens of England.