Last weekend’s major announcement about the future title of the Duchess of Cornwall has naturally led to questions about the eventual coronation and the jewels she’ll wear. Today, we’re looking at the crowns of British queens consort—and talking about which one Camilla may wear in the future.
On Saturday, in the message she released to mark the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, the Queen paid special tribute to the royal consorts, the Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh, who so capably supported her reign and the reign of her father before her. And then she made big news by singling out the support of a third royal consort, saying, “And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when the time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.”
On Sunday, the Prince of Wales issued a congratulatory statement for his mother, which included the following: “We are deeply conscious of the honour represented by my mother’s wish. As we have sought together to serve and support Her Majesty and the people of our communities, my darling wife has been my own steadfast support throughout.” So it seems certain at this point that, when Charles becomes King, Camilla will be the Queen Consort.
I’m not going to get into the finer points of the decision behind Camilla’s title—plenty of others have and continue to do that. My wheelhouse is royal jewelry, so let’s talk about the jewel that Camilla may wear when, “in the fullness of time,” another coronation is celebrated in Britain. (Also, can we talk about the gorgeous little diamond and enamel brooch that the Duchess wore for a reception at Clarence House on Tuesday?)
After the Queen’s message was published, several royal correspondents revealed that the decision has been in the works for several years. One of them, Rebecca English of the Daily Mail, wrote that Charles’s coronation vows were updated to include a reference to “Queen Camilla” when the coronation service was revised several years ago. More interestingly for us, English also stated: “It can also be revealed that Camilla will have the Queen Mother’s priceless platinum and diamond crown placed on her head when Charles is made king. It was created for King George VI’s coronation in 1937.”
Lots of publications have picked up the reference to the Queen Mother’s coronation crown and run with it. So, let’s talk about the crown, and the crowns of other British consorts, and whether or not it makes sense that Camilla will wear the 1937 crown for her own eventual coronation.
For several years, all queens consort in Britain used the same crown at their coronations. It was made in 1685 for Mary of Modena, the wife of King James II. The new crown had to be made at the time because Mary was the first royal consort to be crowned after the restoration of the monarchy, and all of the previous coronation jewels had been dispersed by Oliver Cromwell during the interregnum. (King Charles II hadn’t been married when he was crowned; he and Catherine of Braganza had wed two years later.)
Mary was crowned using the new coronation crown at Westminster Abbey on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1685. She also had two other new crowns made for her subsequent use: a state crown (worn when her husband wore his Imperial State Crown) and a diadem. Mary’s coronation crown was later used by several other British queens: Queen Mary II and Queen Anne (who were both queens regnant), and Queen Caroline, wife of King George II.
When King George III and Queen Charlotte were crowned in 1761, a new coronation crown was made specifically for her. It has not survived. The next consort to be crowned was their daughter-in-law, Queen Adelaide, the wife of King William IV. A new crown was also made for her coronation. You can see it resting on the pillow beside her in her coronation portrait above. (She’s wearing the Diamond Diadem that was made for her late brother-in-law, King George IV, in the painting.)
At this time, it was standard practice in Britain to rent the gemstones used in royal crowns. After the coronation, the gems would be removed from the crowns and returned to the jeweler from whom they’d been borrowed. Adelaide, though, apparently decided to use her own diamonds in her crown instead of renting them from someone else. But after the coronation, the diamonds were still removed, leaving just the frame of the crown to be stored. Eventually, that frame was sold. It went through a meandering chain of ownership until it was reunited with the Royal Collection in the 1990s.
In 1902, when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were crowned, a new coronation crown was also made for Alexandra’s use. The new crown prominently featured a diamond that had been acquired during the reign of Queen Victoria: the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. You’ll see the large diamond fixed at the front of Alexandra’s crown in this coronation portrait.
The transaction through which Queen Victoria acquired the Koh-i-Noor is incredibly controversial. Here’s how it happened. In the late 1840s, the British East India Company waged war on the Sikh Empire in India. Following the conflict, the Company annexed the Punjab region and compelled the ten-year-old maharaja, Duleep Singh, to sign over his kingdom. Duleep Singh was placed in the care of a Scottish guardian and isolated from almost all contact with his fellow countrymen.
Two famous gemstones that had been in the young ruler’s possession, the Timur Ruby and the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, were also ceded to the British. This handover remains incredibly controversial to this day, with some depicting it as a gift exchange, others interpreting it as a part of a military treaty negotiation, and even others arguing that it was outright theft. The British East India Company then took both the Koh-i-Noor Diamond and the Timur Ruby and handed them over to Queen Victoria.
Queen Alexandra wasn’t the only British queen consort to wear the Koh-i-Noor on her coronation day. In 1911, a new coronation crown was created for Queen Mary, the wife of King George V. The crown was made by Garrard, and Mary funded its creation herself.
Just as it had been in her mother-in-law’s crown, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond was placed front and center on Mary’s crown, which could also be worn without its velvet cap and arches. (Mary is wearing it without the cap and arches in this portrait from 1923.) The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV were also set in the crown. All three of the large diamonds were later removed and replaced by crystal copies.
The most recent British queen consort to be crowned was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was crowned alongside her husband, King George VI, in May 1937. (Above, she appears on the balcony of Buckingham Palace wearing the crown after the ceremony, with her daughter, Princess Elizabeth.) She also had a brand-new coronation crown created for her use by Garrard. Its design was patterned quite closely on Queen Mary’s coronation crown, though Queen Elizabeth’s was set in platinum, and it has four arches instead of eight.
Just as it had been in the crowns of the previous two consorts, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond was set in the front of the Queen Mother’s crown. Below the Koh-i-Noor is another major gemstone: a 17-carat diamond that was given to Queen Victoria by the Sultan of Turkey in 1856, following the Crimean War.
Here’s the Queen Mother’s official coronation portrait. You’ll spot her coronation crown resting on a cushion beside her in the painting. (You can read all about the rest of her coronation jewels in our previous article here!)
Like Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth often wore her coronation crown without its velvet cap and arches. She wore it in that setting for state openings of parliament and state banquets, including a dinner during her famous 1938 state visit to France. Most notably, she wore the crown without its arches for the coronation of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in June 1953. Above, she wears the crown in this setting as she stands beside little Prince Charles during the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
And here, she wears the arch-less crown in an official coronation portrait with her daughters, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, and her son-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Queen Mother’s coronation crown is usually on display at the Tower of London. One of the last times it was taken out of the Tower was April 2002, when it was placed on her coffin during her state funeral ceremonies.
So, what crown will Queen Camilla use during the future coronation? Will she wear a brand-new coronation crown, like the last three queens consort, or will she wear the one made in 1937 for the Queen Mother? I doubt that a new crown will be made for Camilla. I’m just not sure that the British public will look kindly these days on the making of an expensive new crown when a perfectly good one already exists. Beyond that, Charles has always been keen to link his wife to previous queens consort to underscore her position in the family. Having Camilla wear his grandmother’s coronation crown would further reinforce this link. (I do think, if an existing crown is used, it will be the 1937 one. It’s set in platinum, so it is significantly lighter than the 1902 or 1911 crowns.)
But I do think that some serious changes may need to be made to the crown before it could be used again in a coronation. Crowns are generally adjusted and renovated slightly for new users, so that they fit more successfully on the new wearer’s head. Also, the crown is a full 85 years old, and it surely could benefit from some modernizing measures. Beyond that, I think the Koh-i-Noor is a real, serious sticking point. I would imagine that Charles and Camilla would be keen to avoid additional criticism when possible, and Charles particularly has always seemed sensitive to the fact that jewels can carry significant symbolism. I can’t imagine that the diamond would be retained as part of the crown when worn by any future queen consort. I don’t know the answer to the arguments about the Koh-i-Noor, but I do know that the British royals will probably want to avoid stirring the pot further by wearing it again.
So, to sum up: given the events of this weekend, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, when the time comes, the Duchess of Cornwall does wear the Queen Mother’s coronation crown. It honestly just makes sense. And finally, I’ll caution you all that, while discussing the question of the coronation crown is perfectly on topic today, I’m not interested in rehashing arguments about Charles, Camilla, and the past in the comment section. Thanks in advance for respecting my wishes on this, and as always, for keeping the comment section mature and civil!