Crown jewels sparkle on

Priceless Nuggets

Sparkle The glorious ‘Star of Africa.’

They are kept in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, protected in an octagonal armour-plated chamber, measuring 16 feet across. Approximately 2.5 million people visit the Tower to see the Crown Jewels every year.

There is a moving floor either side of the glass cases containing the major items like the crowns, to prevent people from standing too long staring at them.

Once when the Chief Warden of the Tower of London was queried as to their worth, he replied. “Why they are worth everything, as a symbol of 800 years of the English Monarchy.”  He added, “And yet, there is no way we can put a monetary value on them; they are not even insured. Who would underwrite the loss?”

According to experts they are  intrinsically valued at somewhere around  $ 34 Million ( Rs 1530 million).  But even the market price of the Star of Africa diamond ( 530.20 carats) the largest polished diamond in the world is estimated to be as much as  $400 million.

These treasures have faced major threats only three times in their  history. The first was when  Cromewell’s Republican Government ( 1642-1658) decided to encash some of these  symbols of royalty and actually melted down the crown worn by Alfred the Great in AD 871.

The second time was, when some of the Crown jewels  were  stolen in  1671 by an adventurer by the name of Colonel Blood. In an elaborate scheme that got him and his fellow conspirators inside the Tower of London, Blood managed to get the Royal Orb, which he stuffed down his pants to carry it off.

The Royal crown, was too big to smuggle out of the Tower. As such  he mashed it flat with a mallet. Blood was only inches from escape when he was tackled by a guard at the gate and taken prisoner.  The crown jewels were then recovered and repaired.

But the greatest danger to the Crown Jewels came in 1940, as Hitler was about to invade Britain. Now we have in the memoirs of  Sir Owen Morehead (Librarian to the King George VI)  the details of how the British monarch  tried to safeguard the treasures. Four German bombs had dropped close to the Tower of London during the bombing of London.

The first fell into the dry moat by the Parade Ground, the second hit the Royal Mint, the third landed north of the Tower destroying the railings and a fourth landed in the Thames river  closeby. Such close calls prompted a debate about the safety of the Crown Jewels and it was decided to move them to a safer location.

The more serious question was where  the treasures were to be kept in case the Germans landed in Britain? Rumours persist that the entire collection was sent to Canada and stored in the vault of an insurance company there. However, as the law forbids the removal of the Crown Jewels from the British Isles so presumably, they were looked after in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle.

Sir Owen  Morehead,  who died in 1977 states thus in his autobiography, “In 1940, with the Germans sweeping across France, King George VI asked me,  “What would happen if the German troops land on the Kent coast or the cliffs of Dover. They would immediately  be at London and Windsor and the Crown Jewels  would be their first target. In your opinion what should we  safeguard as a matter of priority?”  

I  answered:  “Your person, Your Majesty.”The King's immediate reaction was:  “No, I must share the fate of my subjects but the Crown Jewels should not be seized by the Germans.” And he  added, “One thing alone  can continue to represent England  even if all else  disappears  in this ordeal and that is the Crown jewels. We must at all costs place them in hiding so that no-one except you and I know where they are!”

Then the  King  ordered Garrard’s - the royal jewellers- to bring the jewels to Windsor castle. An unmarked car was driven up to the Wakefield Tower and the Crown Jewels, hidden in padded plain boxes, were loaded up and transported to Windsor Castle.
Here King George VI  took a literally personal hand in their fate. In Sir Morshead’s words, “He and myself  (Sir Owen Morshead) used pliers and other tools supplied by one of the royal chauffeurs to wrench the major gems out of their settings in the crowns.

The gems, including the Kohinoor  diamond,  were then wrapped in cotton  wool and kept in hatboxes. Initially they were to be kept in one of the underground vaults of the Windsor Castle.” This fact is corroborated by Marion Crawford, who was the governess to the two princesses namely Princes Elizabeth   ( the present Queen) and Princess Margaret .

She  mentions in her memoirs, “During the Second world war, one day, the King's Librarian, Sir Owen Morehead, took us  (Elizabeth, Margaret and Crawford) right down to the vaults under the  Castle. ‘Would you like to see something interesting?’ he asked us.

We said we would. He showed us a lot of rather ordinary-looking leather hatboxes  which seemed at first sight just to be all stuffed with old newspapers. But when we examined these, we discovered the Crown Jewels were hidden in them!”

But if the Germans landed in Britain, then the treasures were to be  placed in a tin and submerged in one of the ponds in the grounds of the  Windsor Castle.   There they were to  remain until the defeat of Germany.

Only the King and Sir Owen were to know of the actual location where they were buried in the pond. In Sir Owen’s words, “In the event  of one of us disappearing, a record  of these  facts was to be kept in a safe place. During the entire war I kept this secret.”

Maharaja Features
By arrangement with Albion Features  of UK.

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