What is the significance of the Imperial State Crown on top of Queen Elizabeth’s coffin?

Featuring more than 3,000 precious stones, it was worn by the monarch following her coronation and to open UK Parliament

The Imperial State Crown is resting on the coffin carrying Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall, London. Reuters
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With a provenance dating back to the 15th century, the Imperial State Crown, which sits on top of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as she lies in state in Westminster Hall, is steeped in history.

It is one of the most recognisable pieces of the Crown Jewels and was placed on the queen’s coffin when it was brought to London, where hundreds of thousands of mourners will pay their respects.

The crown throughout history

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown as she leaves Westminster Abbey, London, at the end of her coronation ceremony on June 2, 1953. AP

Although the crown on the queen’s coffin was made in 1937 for the coronation of her father, King George VI, the history of monarchs wearing an Imperial State Crown dates back more than 700 years.

The current iteration weighs 1.06 kilograms, and, although it was designed to be lighter than the previous crown which was created for Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth spoke about how difficult it was to wear.

“You can't look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up, because if you did your neck would break,” she said in 2018. “There are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”

When did the queen wear the Imperial State Crown?

The crown was worn by the queen after her coronation in 1953. Crowned with St Edward’s Crown, named for St Edward the Confessor, at the ceremony — a tradition dating back to the 13th century — afterwards she switched to the Imperial State Crown.

The piece was then worn annually for the state opening of the UK Parliament when the queen would sit on a golden throne and read out the government’s plans for the coming year.

By 2019, the monarch switched to a lighter crown. Last year, she opted not to wear one.

The jewels in the crown

The Imperial State Crown contains some of the most famous gems in the Crown Jewels, including stones said to have been worn by St Edward the Confessor and Henry V. EPA

Many of the gems in the priceless crown are as famous as the crown itself.

It features the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond, also called the Second Star of Africa, which was cut from the largest gem-quality rough diamond discovered — a 3,601 carat stone found in 1905.

The Cullinan II was given to Edward VII by the government of the Transvaal, a former British colony in present day South Africa, for his 66th birthday.

The stone in the centre of the cross on top of the crown is the oldest jewel in the royal collection — a sapphire thought to have been part of a ring worn by St Edward the Confessor who ruled from 1042 to 1066.

Another standout stone is the Black Prince’s Ruby set at the front of the crown just above the Cullinan II. The gem is said to have been worn by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, a famous English victory over the French during the Hundred Years’ War.

The ruby also comes with its own legend, that Henry drilled a hole into it on his helmet in order to stick a feather into it

“It’s fun to see,” the queen told the BBC in 2018. “The idea that his plume was put into the stone on his helmet. Bit rash, but that was the sort of thing they did, I suppose, in those days.”

At the back of the crown sits the Stuart Sapphire, a stone which was once placed at the front below the Black Prince’s Ruby. Debate continues over where it originated from, ranging from present day Afghanistan to Sri Lanka. The 104-carat gem was moved to the back of the crown to make way for the Cullinan II.

In addition to the main stones, the crown also features almost 3,000 stones, which includes 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies.

Updated: June 22, 2023, 1:08 PM