Did you know that the large ruby, called the Black Prince’s Ruby, on the front of Britain’s Imperial State Crown isn’t a ruby at all? For centuries there was no way to really tell the difference between red spinel and rubies. But this gem has such a rich history that its value stands out.
Touching the lives of royals
The gem’s first documented appearance is in fourteenth-century Spain. When Don Pedro the Cruel murdered its owner and fled Spain in 1366, he promised Edward of Woodstock (i.e. the Black Prince due to his black armor) untold treasures if he could assure the defeat of his brother Henry. In payment, the large red stone passed to the Black Prince in 1367.
Over many years, the gem passed to Henry V, who was known to wear it into war. In one battle with the French, Henry’s helmet was struck with a mighty blow by an axe. Although part of his crown was lost in the battle, both the stone and Henry survived.
The gem touched the lives of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. King James I had the stone set in his state-crown. It’s escaped being melted down by Oliver Cromwell years later, but passed out of their possession until 1660 when it was resold to Charles II.
Escaping great peril time and again
Two more times the stone has escaped being ruined or stolen. When the vicious Colonel Thomas Blood visited the Tower of London, where the jewels were kept, dressed as a priest with a lady pretending to be his wife. She faked stomach problems and was invited upstairs by the Master of the Jewel House, Talbot Edwards. Although they left thanking his wife for helping with her stomach, Blood returned over the following days with gestures of thanks, like four pairs of white gloves as a present. There were even promises of marriage between their children! Eventually he attacked poor Edwards and ran off with the crown jewels, but was captured by guards. Later, he was pardoned by the King. What a smooth talker!
Another time, in 1841, the crown was almost lost by fire. A police inspector broke through the iron bars with a crowbar to rescue the Crown Jewels as the Tower of London burned. And it narrowly escaped danger from Hitler’s bombers in WWII. Today the giant Black Prince’s Ruby can be viewed in the Tower of London, with the English Crown Jewels.
Incredible! If these jewels could talk, what stories would they tell?
Photo: Courtesy of Lotusgemology.com (link below).
The history of The Black Prince’s Ruby