The Black Prince's Ruby is a large, irregular cabochon red spinel weighing 170 carats (34 g) set in the cross pattée above the Cullinan II diamond at the front of the Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom.[1] The spinel is one of the oldest parts of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, with a history dating back to the middle of the 14th century. It has been in the possession of England's rulers since it was given in 1367 to its namesake, Edward of Woodstock (the "Black Prince").[2] The stone is believed to have originated from the Badakhshan mines in present day Afghanistan[3] and Tajikistan,[4] the principal source of large spinel gems in the Middle Ages.

The gemstone at the front of the Imperial State Crown

Spinel edit

All red gemstones used to be referred to as rubies or "balas rubies". It was not until 1783 that spinels were chemically differentiated from rubies.[5] They both contain aluminium and oxygen, and both derive their colour from chromium(III), but the spinel crystal also contains magnesium, which rubies lack.

History edit

Don Pedro of Seville edit

The Black Prince's Ruby dates back to the middle of the 14th century as the possession of Abū Sa'īd, the Arab Muslim Prince of the Emirate of Granada. At that time, the rule of Castile was being centralized to Seville and the Moorish Emirate of Granada was being systematically attacked and reverted to Castilian rule as a part of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. Abū Sa'īd in particular was confronted by the belligerency of nascent Castile under the rule of Peter of Castile, also known to history as either Don Pedro the Cruel, or Don Pedro the Just. According to historical accounts, Abū Sa'īd wished to surrender to Don Pedro, but the conditions he offered were unclear. What is clear is that Don Pedro welcomed his coming to Seville. It is recorded that he greatly desired Abū Sa'īd's wealth. When Abū Sa'īd met with Don Pedro, the King had Abū Sa'īd's servants killed and may have personally stabbed Sa'īd to death himself. When Sa'īd's corpse was searched, the spinel was found and added to Don Pedro's possessions.

In 1366, Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Henry of Trastámara, led a revolt against Don Pedro. Lacking the power to put down the revolt unaided, Don Pedro made an alliance with the Black Prince, the son of Edward III of England. The revolt was successfully put down and the Black Prince demanded the ruby in exchange for the services he had rendered. He later returned to England with King Pedro's two daughters, Dona Constanza of Castile and Dona Isabel of Castile, and marriages were contracted for them to the Prince's brothers. It is assumed that the Black Prince took the Ruby back to England at that time, although it disappears from historical records until 1415.

A wartime adornment edit

During his campaign in France, Henry V of England wore a gem-encrusted helmet that included the Black Prince's Ruby.[6] In the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415, the French Duke of Alençon struck Henry on the head with a battleaxe, and Henry nearly lost both the helmet and his life. The battle was won by Henry's forces and the Black Prince's Ruby was saved. Richard III is supposed to have worn the gemstone in his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, in which he was killed.

Detail of Queen Victoria's Coronation Portrait, showing the Black Prince's Ruby on the crown

Crown Jewels edit

Henry VIII's inventory of 1521 mentions "a great balas ruby" set in the Tudor Crown,[7] thought to be the Black Prince's Ruby.[8] It remained there until the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. With the exception of the Coronation Chair and several other items, Cromwell had the principal symbols of the king's power – the Crown Jewels – disassembled and sold, and the gold was melted down and made into coins. What happened to the Black Prince's Ruby, then valued at £4[9] (equivalent to £567 as of 2021),[10] during the Commonwealth of England is not clear, but it came back into the possession of Charles II when the monarchy was restored in 1660. At the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, she was crowned with a new Imperial State Crown made for her by Rundell and Bridge, with 3,093 gems, including the spinel at the front. The Queen can be clearly seen wearing the jewel in the Imperial State Crown in her official coronation portrait by Sir George Hayter. This was remade in 1937 into the current, lighter, crown. A plaquette on the reverse of the gemstone commemorates the crown's history.[1]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "The Imperial State Crown". Royal Collection Trust. Inventory no. 31701.
  2. ^ Butler, Sir Thomas (1989). The Crown Jewels and Coronation Ceremony. Pitkin. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-85372-467-4.
  3. ^ "Spinel History and Lore". Gemological Institute of America. Archived from the original on 2 August 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
  4. ^ Larif, Dr. Shihaan (27 February 2008). "Black Prince Ruby". Internet Stones. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  5. ^ "Spinel". Gemological Institute of America. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  6. ^ The Jewelers' Circular. Vol. 99. Jewelers' Circular Company. 1930. p. 121.
  7. ^ Plowfeld, John (1521). "King Henry VIII's Jewel Book". In Edward Trollope (ed.). Associated Architectural Societies Reports and Papers. Vol. 17. James Williamson. p. 158.
  8. ^ Loach, Jennifer; G. W. Bernard; Penry Williams (1999). Edward VI. Yale University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-300-07992-0.
  9. ^ Smith, George Herbert (1962). Gemstones. Pitman. p. 247.(calling the valuation "absurdly low").
  10. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 11 June 2022.