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Guy Fawkes Night: The Tower of London & The Crown Jewels

'Guy Fawkes Night', also called 'Bonfire Night' or 'Fireworks Night', which commemorates the night the Gunpowder Plot was averted, is only a few days away. Across Britain, the story of the failed attempt to blow up parliament and the King on the 5th November 1605 is common knowledge. As a day celebrating the preservation of the Royal family, what could be more fitting than taking a look at the brilliant spectacle of the crown jewels themselves, now held in the very same Tower of London where the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot were imprisoned and tortured...

The absolutely spectacular Imperial State Crown is part of the Crown Jewels held in the Jewel House vault at the Tower of London. It is mounted with three very large stones and set with 2868 diamonds in silver mounts as well as 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 269 pearls. This crown as it is now was made by Garrard & Co for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, based on a crown designed for Queen Victoria in 1838 by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. The stones, however, date back much further and include: St Edward's Sapphire, Cullinan II a.k.a the 'Second Star of Africa', The Black Prince's Ruby (supposedly worn by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, and set by James I into the state crown near the beginning of the 17th-century), and The Stuart Sapphire (which was passed back and forth between Scotland - who originally owned it - and England, until it finally ended up among England's crown jewels on the accession of James I of England & VI of Scotland).

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021


"Remember, remember! The fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason, and plot; I know of no reason why Gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot! Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent To blow up the King and Parliament Three score barrels of powder below Poor old England to overthrow By God's providence he was catched With a dark lantern and burning match Holloa boys, Holloa boys God save the King!" - A traditional poem for Guy Fawkes night


What was the Gunpowder Plot?

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes, was not the only one involved in the Gunpowder Plot, but he was the only one of the 12 conspirators to be caught so damningly involved. He was found in the cellar of parliament in the early hours of 5th November 1605, hiding with a lantern beside 36 barrels of poorly hidden gunpowder. There he lay in wait for the Opening of Parliament, which was to be attended by King James I of England & VI of Scotland, along with his wife, Anne of Denmark, and his heir.

James I & Anne of Denmark Jewels

Here are some of James I and Anne of Denmark's jewels not featured in the Crown Jewels collection at the Tower of London. Not many of James I's jewels remain in the Crown Jewels collection because one of Charles I's first acts after succeeding James I to the throne was to load 41 masterpieces from the Jewel House onto a ship bound for Amsterdam, desperate for the money.

The Honours of Scotland - consisting of Europe's oldest crown, first worn by James V at the coronation of his wife, Mary de Guise, and last worn by Charles II; and the Sword of State and Sceptre. As James VI of Scotland, James I would have also worn The Honours of Scotland. Left Via Royal Exhibitions. Right via Historic Environment Scotland.

A 1604 portrait of James I & VI wearing a jewel known as 'The Mirror of Great Britain' in his hat, by John de Critz. The jewel was described in a 1606 inventory as: 'containing one very faire table diamonde, one very faire table rubie, two other diamonds cut lozengwise, the one of them called the stone of the letter H. of SCOTLANDE, garnished with small diamonds, two rounde pearles fixed, and one fayre diamond cut in fawcetts, bought of Sancy.' The jewel was pawned in 1625 and is considered lost.

National Galleries Scotland

The 14th-century pendant known as 'The Three Brothers', worn here by Queen Elizabeth I suspended from an elaborate Carcanet in a painting known as the Ermine Portrait. - Via Wikimedia Commons.

The same 'Three Brothers Jewel', at the time called 'The Brethren' , worn here in a portrait by James I as a hat jewel. The jewel earned its name for the 3 great balas rubies set around a pointed diamond and further decorated with 4 pearls, one a pendant. - Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie

The Lyte Jewel - A gold diamond-set locket containing the portrait of King James VI of Scotland and I of England by Nicholas Hilliard. Of open-work, filled with the letter R, with diamonds on the outside and brilliant enamel within. In 1610 it was presented by King James I of England to Thomas Lyte.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Jeweled aigrettes were very in fashion during the reign of James I, and he himself is described in several accounts as wearing a 'jewel of gold in fashion of a feather, set with diamonds'. These drawings are not that feather jewel but are other jeweled feather-like aigrettes designed by Arnold Lulls, jeweler to James I.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Two more jewels designed by Arnold Lulls, jeweler to James I, including a diamond and pearl ornament given to the Queen in 1605 and a 'rope of round pearls, great and orient'—forty-seven in number—given to the Queen. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Portraits of Anne of Denmark - Queen Consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland - decked out in jewelry. She had a reputation for extravagant taste in jewelry, often wearing diamonds and other gems in her hair. Left: wearing an ornate pearl necklace, her dress strung with layers of pearls with a gem at the center and a matching smaller gem in her hair. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021. Middle: Depicted with a diamond and pearl aigrette and a diamond necklace in a portrait by John de Critz, 1605. - Via Wikimedia Commons. Right: A portrait of Anne of Denmark wearing what may be the famed 'H' jewel originally belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots. - Via Wikimedia Commons.

These jewels demonstrate perhaps one of the most significant changes to jewelry in the 17th century - the ability to cut diamonds in new ways. Previously only table and point-cuts could be achieved, but Dutch knowledge soon led to the rose-cut diamond. Other gemstones also transitioned from cabochon form to faceted cut gems. For more descriptions of Anne of Denmark's jewelry see VIII. Anne of Denmark's Jewellery Inventory | Archaeologia | Cambridge Core.

Why Kill the King?

England was in a state of turmoil at the beginning of the 17th century. After the Protestant Queen Elizabeth died, James I inherited the English throne to add to his Scottish throne. James I was the son of Mary Queen of Scots, and though Scotland had professed itself to be mostly Protestant by this time, many Catholics in England had high hopes that he would be lenient or at least sympathetic towards Catholics in England because of his mother's reputation as a devout Catholic queen. Sadly, this was not the case. Again, it became dangerous to be Catholic in England, with priests who were found leading secret services being tortured and executed. Guy Fawkes was one such devout Catholic, who avoided conflict in England by going off to Europe to fight for Catholic Spain against Protestants. He was then sought out by an Englishman called Thomas Wintour, whose cousin Robert Catesby was leading a group of Catholic conspirators back in England. Guy Fawkes returned to England and joined the rebellious group. As the only explosives expert amongst them due to his military training, Fawkes was the one chosen to set the fuse.

An illustration from Old and New London: A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places', Vol II by Walter Thornbury, 1872-8.

To the Tower

Thanks to an anonymous letter that was given to the authorities, the Royal Guards were alerted to the plot with enough time to scour the House of Lords and find Fawkes hiding in the cellars. He was promptly arrested and taken to the King. When asked what he had been doing in the cellar, he replied:

"I wish to blow the Scottish King and all of his Scottish Lords back to Scotland".

The King himself signed an authorization for Fawkes to be imprisoned, tortured, and interrogated in the Tower of London. Fawkes eventually named his co-conspirators, whereupon they were all hung, drawn, and quartered. Their body parts were displayed throughout London to warn others against treason. The following year, James I passed an act calling for a celebration to be held every 5th November with special church services, bonfires, and fireworks, to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and to give thanks for his and his Royal family's deliverance from danger.

The Tower of London Crown Jewels

The jewels in the Tower of London Crown Jewels collection mostly consist of jewels from 1661 onwards, as Oliver Cromwell sold and melted down the vast majority of remaining older crown jewels during the Interregnum.

Charles II Coronation Regalia all together - made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, many of which were used for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. Including The Spurs, The Ampulla and The Coronation Spoon, St Edward's Crown, The Sovereign's Orb, The Jewelled Sword of Offering, The Sovereign's Sceptre with Dove, and The Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross.

Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

This crown - known as St Edward's Crown - is currently used for coronations and was made for the Coronation of Charles II as a replacement for the medieval crown which was melted down in 1649 and which was thought to date back to the days of Edward the Confessor (St Edward), the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. The design has four crosses-pattée, four fleurs-de-lis, and two arches. It is composed of solid gold set with tourmalines, white and yellow topazes, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, peridot, zircons, spinel, and aquamarines, step-cut and rose-cut and mounted in enameled gold collets, and with a velvet cap with an ermine band. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross, made for the coronation of Charles II by Robert Viner, with additions to the monde for George IV's coronation in 1820, and the huge drop-shaped Cullinan I a.k.a 'Star of Africa' diamond added in 1910. The scepter has 3 sections, surmounted by an enameled heart-shaped structure, which holds the diamond, with enameled brackets on top, mounted with step-cut emeralds, and a faceted amethyst monde, set with table and rose-cut diamonds, rubies, spinels, and emeralds, with a cross above set with further diamonds, with a table-cut diamond on the front, and an emerald on the reverse. Beneath the Cullinan I diamond are further enameled brackets, representing a crown, mounted with rubies and diamonds. The pommel of the sceptre is enameled and mounted with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The Sovereign's Sceptre with Dove made for the coronation of Charles II by Royal Goldsmith Robert Viner. The sceptre is formed from a plain gold rod in three sections, with enameled collars at the intersection mounted with rose- and table-cut diamonds, step- and table-cut rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and spinels. Surmounted by a gold monde, with an applied silver zone and arc set with rose diamonds, and a gold cross supporting an enameled dove with outspread wings. At the base of the sceptre is a compressed spherical pommel set with further rose-cut diamonds.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The gold Sovereign’s Orb (1661) symbolizes the Christian world with its cross mounted on a globe. Mounted with clusters of emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, surrounded by rose-cut diamonds, each in a champleve enamel mount, between single rows of pearls. The monde is an octagonal step-cut amethyst, surmounted by a cross set with rose-cut diamonds, with a table-cut sapphire in the center on one side and an emerald on the other, with pearls at the angles and at the end of each arm.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Mary of Modena's Diadem, for the coronation of Mary of Modena, consort of James II, on 23 April 1685. The diadem is formed from a gold circlet, rising to a peak at the front, with a border of pearls, above foliated scrolls of rose-cut quartz crystal clusters and rosettes (replacing the original diamonds hired for the coronation), mounted with gold wire. The diadem is fitted with a purple velvet cap and ermine band. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Mary of Modena's Crown of State, for the coronation of Mary of Modena, consort of James II, on 23 April 1685. The crown is composed of a gold frame, set with rock crystals in closed silver collets, with cultured pearls, and fitted with a purple velvet cap with an ermine band. The frieze is set with eighteen oval rose-cut crystals between rows of pearls, supporting four fleurs-de-lis and four crosses-pattée composed of large crystals, and a narrow festoon of rose-cut crystals. The four half-arches are each set with a central row of pearls, flanked by rows of rose-cut stones, supporting a pavé-set monde and surmounted by cross-pattée, the arms terminating in pearls. The rock crystals in this crown replace the original diamonds hired for the coronation. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

Queen Consort's Sceptre with Cross, for the coronation of Mary of Modena, consort of James II, on 23 April 1685. The scepter is formed from a gold rod in three sections and is surmounted by a monde with a zone and arc of molded gold set with table-cut quartzes, with a cross above mounted with rose-cut and shaped quartzes. The monde sits in a bracket of quartz-set petals representing a fleur-de-lis. The sections of the rod are joined by collars similarly mounted with rose-cut stones; the lowest section with a silver openwork sleeve set with rose-cut stones arranged as scrolls. The gold pommel is mounted with a silver band set with table- and rose-cut quartzes. The quartzes replace the original diamonds which were hired for the coronation. The scepter has been used by every subsequent Queen Consort.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

The Crown Jewels contain some of the world’s most exceptional diamonds, shown here with the blue Stuart Sapphire which was reputedly smuggled out of the country by James II when he fled in 1688 and now adorns the back of the Imperial State Crown (1937). The magnificent Cullinan I (top left) is the world’s largest top-quality, white-cut diamond and one of the nine major stones cut from the original diamond. Cullinan II (bottom right), is the second-largest stone from the same diamond, now set into the front band of the Imperial State Crown. The Koh-i-Nûr (top right) was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849 and now adorns the front of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Crown (1937).

Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Queen Mary II's Orb, made for the coronation of Mary II in 1689 by the royal goldsmith Robert Viner. A hollow gold orb, surmounted by a cross mounted with rose-cut and step-cut crystals; the zone and arc bordered by single rows of pearls in between which are silver collets set with rose-cut and octagonal step-cut quartz and imitation gems. As Mary II ruled as a joint sovereign with her consort William III, she required a new orb and a new scepter for the coronation ceremony of 1689. The stones in the orb, which were hired for the occasion, would originally have included diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, all of which were removed after the ceremony and replaced with pastes.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Left: The Sovereign's Ring, supplied for the coronation of William IV in 1831 by the royal goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, with a mixed-cut octagonal sapphire in a gold setting and a diamond on each shoulder. Right: Queen Victoria's coronation ring (1838) with a step-cut octagonal sapphire open-set in gold and brilliants decorating the shank and band. In both rings, the sapphires are overlaid with four oblong rubies and one square ruby, butted together in a gold strip setting to form a cross, with a border of cushion-shaped diamonds. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown, made for Queen Victoria in 1870 by the Crown Jewellers, R.S. Garrard & Co, designed to be worn by Queen Victoria on top of her widow's cap. The crown comprises an openwork silver frame, set with 1,187 diamonds in open-backed collet mounts. The band is formed with a frieze of lozenges and ovals between two rows of single diamonds, supporting four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, with four half-arches above, surmounted by a monde and a further cross-pattée.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Crown of Queen Mary, consort of George V, commissioned for the coronation on 22 June 1911. Composed of a silver frame with an openwork band, lined with gold, and set with 2,200 diamonds. Set at the front is a detachable rock crystal replica of the diamond, Cullinan IV, and a frieze of quatrefoils and rosettes, between borders composed of single rows of brilliants. Above the band are four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis. The front cross is set with a detachable rock crystal replica of the Koh-i-Nûr diamond. The eight detachable tapering half-arches terminate in scrolls and contain six graduated brilliants, between borders of stones. The monde is pavé-set with diamonds and surmounted by another cross with a rock crystal replica of the Cullinan III in the center. The crown is fitted with a purple velvet cap and ermine band. The Koh-i-Nûr was later moved to the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Cullinan III and IV were set as a brooch. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

The Imperial Crown of India supplied to King George V for the Delhi Durbar of 12 December 1911. The crown is formed from a frame of silver, laminated with gold, set with 6,100 diamonds. The band is set with sixteen jeweled clusters forming the frieze, with emeralds and mixed-cut sapphires surrounded by diamonds, alternating with lozenges set with diamonds, between borders of brilliant-cut diamonds and trefoils. Above the band are four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis; the crosses set in the center with rubies, the fleurs-de-lis with emeralds, all with further diamonds. The eight tapering half-arches, cast in a pattern of paired leaves and stylized buds, spring from the crosses and fleurs-de-lis and terminate in scrolls, supporting the monde, and surmounted by another cross-pattée with an emerald in the center.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

The Queen Mother's Crown, created for Queen Elizabeth for the coronation of King George VI on 12 May 1937. The crown has a platinum frame set with 2,800 diamonds, the band comprising alternating clusters formed as crosses and rectangles, bordered with single rows of brilliant-cut diamonds and set at the front with a large diamond, which was given to Queen Victoria in 1856 by the Sultan of Turkey. Above the band are four fleurs-de-lis and four crosses-pattée. The front cross holds the Koh-i-Nûr diamond in a detachable platinum mount. The four tapering half-arches are removable and are surmounted by a pavé-set monde and a cross, set with a rock crystal replica of the Lahore Diamond (presented to Queen Victoria by the East India Company in 1851). Fitted with a purple velvet cap and ermine band.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

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