We’ve got big coronation news, everybody: Queen Camilla’s crown has been chosen for the upcoming coronation! And it’s not the one I guessed, but an even older crown from the family’s collection.
We should have known that crown-related news was coming. Last week, Queen Camilla wore a small diamond brooch in the shape of a heraldic Tudor Crown during a visit to a mosque in east London. And now, Buckingham Palace has shared that Camilla will wear Queen Mary’s Crown for her coronation in Westminster Abbey this May.
Here’s Queen Mary wearing her crown in an official coronation portrait from 1911. Beside her, King George V wears the Imperial State Crown. Buckingham Palace has now announced that both of these crowns, plus St Edward’s Crown, will be used in the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
A press release from the palace on Tuesday stated that Queen Mary’s Crown has been removed from the Tower of London to allow time for it to be renovated for Queen Camilla’s use at the upcoming coronation. The crown, made by Garrard in 1911, is more than a century old. The frame is made of silver and gold, and the entire crown is set solely with diamonds—more than two thousand of them!
Originally, the diamonds set in the crown included the Koh-i-Noor Diamond (in the front cross), the Cullinan III Diamond (in the cross set atop the crown’s monde), and the Cullinan IV Diamond (on the base). Today, quartz crystal copies of those three large gemstones are set in the crown. Eight slender arches soar from the base to the top of the crown. The palace states that the profile of the crown will be made slightly smaller, with four arches instead of eight, for the upcoming coronation.
Additional changes will also be made to the crown ahead of its use this May. The palace explains, “The choice of Queen Mary’s Crown by Her Majesty is the first time in recent history that an existing crown will be used for the Coronation of a Consort instead of a new commission being made, in the interests of sustainability and efficiency. Some minor changes and additions will be undertaken by the Crown Jeweller, in keeping with the longstanding tradition that the insertion of jewels is unique to the occasion, and reflects the Consort’s individual style. ”
All recent queens consort (Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, Queen Adelaide, Queen Charlotte) have had new crowns made for their coronation. The last time a crown was “recycled” for a queen consort at a coronation was 1727, when Mary of Modena’s crown was used to crown Caroline of Ansbach, wife of King George II. (You can read much more about the crowns of British queens consort in our earlier article on the topic.)
But Queen Mary had always hoped that her crown would become part of a tradition, used to crown future queens consort in Britain. She had funded the construction of the crown herself, so it belonged personally to her, but a few years after her coronation, she gave her crown to the Crown, hoping future queens consort could also make use of it.
Though she had signed the ownership of the crown over to the Royal Collection, Queen Mary continued to wear it on occasions throughout her life. She wore it going forward as a circlet, with the arches and velvet cap removed.
When Queen Mary determined that future queens consort should wear her coronation crown in 1914, she likely thought that the day of a future coronation was far, far in the future. But only 23 years later, her second son, King George VI, was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Queen Mary decided that she would be the one to wear her own crown at her son’s coronation, not her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth. So a new coronation crown was made for Elizabeth, and Mary wore the circlet setting of her crown for the coronation ceremony.
Three of the diamonds originally placed in Queen Mary’s Crown were unavailable for the 1937 coronation. The Koh-i-Noor was set in Queen Elizabeth’s new crown, and the Cullinan III & Cullinan IV Diamonds were worn together for the day by Queen Mary as a pendant/brooch. The front cross of Queen Mary’s Crown was filled with another piece: the Cullinan V Diamond, still in its heart-shaped brooch setting.
Since Queen Mary’s death, her crown has been in the Tower of London, displayed with the other crown jewels. Quartz crystal copies of the three major stones have been in the piece for decades. But the palace’s press release indicates that the quartz crystals will be removed and replaced with three Cullinans for the upcoming coronation. They note that the diamonds “were part of Queen Elizabeth II’s personal jewellery collection for many years and were often worn by Her late Majesty as brooches.”
Here’s the Cullinan III and IV Brooch, displayed at the palace in 2012 during the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Presumably, the two diamonds will be used the same way that Queen Mary wore them in 1911: with the pear-shaped Cullinan III at the top of the crown, and the Cullinan IV on the base of the crown.
And I expect that we’ll see the Cullinan V (probably in its brooch setting) used in place of the Koh-i-Noor, just as Mary wore it for the 1937 coronation. It’s a neat solution that avoids the controversy surrounding the Koh-i-Noor, fulfills Queen Mary’s original wishes for her crown, and avoids the expense of constructing a new crown. I’m still surprised a bit at the choice of the heavier of the two crowns—but hopefully the renovations will be helpful in making the crown as comfortable as possible for Queen Camilla’s use!