Today in Edinburgh, the King and Queen will attend a traditional service of thanksgiving at St Giles’ Cathedral to celebrate their recent coronation. Charles III will officially be presented with the Honours of Scotland, a collection of regalia that includes one of Europe’s oldest surviving crowns.
The magnificent Crown of Scotland is the oldest surviving crown in Britain. The current crown was made by Scotland’s royal goldsmith, John Mosman, in 1540, but the materials used to make the crown were recycled from an even older state crown. The base of the piece is made of solid gold, featuring alternating fleur-de-lis and strawberry leaf elements studded with pearls.
Four gold arches rise to meet at an orb—called a “monde” because it represents the world over which the monarch reigns—which is painted blue and decorated with stars. The monde is topped with a gold and enamel cross which is also decorated with pearls. The crown is also studded with additional gemstones, including garnets and amethysts. The pearls on the crown are, appropriately, Scottish freshwater pearls.
Like many crowns, the Crown of Scotland includes a cap, or “bonnet,” made of velvet and ermine. The velvet portion of that bonnet was originally purple, but James King II and VII ordered that the color be changed to red. The crown still features a red velvet cap today.
Scottish monarchs have been depicted wearing crowns since the reign of King Edgar at the end of the eleventh century. Over time, various crowns and pieces of regalia were captured during conflicts with the English. The present crown probably originated with an earlier crown made for either Robert the Bruce or his son, King David II. That crown was remodeled significantly at least once before King James V ordered Mosman to dismantle it, melting down the gold and silver to make a new crown out of the old materials.
The crown has been used at Scottish coronations since the 16th century. King James V wore his new crown for the first time during the coronation of his second wife, Marie de Guise, in 1540. The crown has either been worn at or present during the coronations of several other Scottish monarchs, including Mary, Queen of Scots (1543), James I and VI (1567), Charles I (1633), and Charles II (1651).
During the interregnum period in Britain, when Oliver Cromwell was the leader of the land, the Scottish crown jewels were hidden. Cromwell reportedly wanted to destroy the collection, just as he had done in England, but the crown, sword, and scepter were successfully buried out of sight before they could be dismantled. When Scotland officially joined England to form Great Britain, the crown was locked away once more, this time in Edinburgh Castle. There the crown was hidden for more than a century, until the novelist Sir Walter Scott led a push in 1818 to try to find its whereabouts. Four years later, the crown was presented to King George IV at the Palace of Holyroodhouse during his landmark 1822 visit to Scotland. It’s sitting beside a kilted George IV in the fantasy portrait above, painted by Sir David Wilkie in 1829 to commemorate the earlier visit.
Today, the crown resides in Edinburgh Castle, where it is usually on display in the Crown Room. Occasionally, though, the crown is brought out of the castle for special occasions. Most of these are ceremonies related to the Scottish parliament, including the annual opening of parliament. It is always carried by the Duke of Hamilton, who holds the positions of “Hereditary Crown Bearer.” The current occupant of that position is Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 16th Duke of Hamilton and 13th Duke of Brandon.
Alexander inherited the crown-bearer role along with his dukedoms in 2010 on the death of his father, Angus Douglas-Hamilton, 15th Duke of Hamilton and 12th Duke of Brandon. Angus’s father, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon, was the one who carried the Crown of Scotland during the last coronation thanksgiving service at St Giles’ Cathedral on June 24, 1953. Above, the 14th Duke rides in a carriage with the crown during a procession along the Royal Mile.
During the service of thanksgiving, the 14th Duke officially presented the crown to Queen Elizabeth II as she received the Honours of Scotland. The Guardian‘s special correspondent wrote that the service took place “in brilliant sunshine.” The Daily Record wrote that the proceedings inside the cathedral were “simple, straightforward, as Scotland likes these things.” The Associated Press reported, “A radiant Queen Elizabeth II received the ancient crown of Scotland at a solemn ceremony Wednesday, but she didn’t wear it. At St Giles’ Cathedral, where she was the central figure in a national service of thanksgiving and dedication, she held the crown for a moment, then handed it back to the robed Duke of Hamilton.”
The Queen encountered the Crown of Scotland often during her 70 years on the throne. Above, she glances at the crown, held by the grandson of the man who presented it to her during her coronation year, at the opening of Scotland’s parliamentary session in July 2016.
Most recently, we saw the crown resting on Elizabeth II’s coffin as she lay in state inside St Giles’s Cathedral in September 2022. Her passing at Balmoral allowed the Scots to say a magnificent farewell to their monarch before she returned to England for a final time.
Now, the Scots again welcome their newly-crowned monarch, King Charles III, with a grand procession along the Royal Mile and a service of thanksgiving at Edinburgh’s cathedral. The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay (as the Prince and Princess of Wales are known when in Scotland) will join King Charles and Queen Camilla for the service, during which the Honours of Scotland, including the spectacular crown, will be presented to the monarch once more.