On the 6th May 2023 over twenty million Britons tuned in to watch the historic coronation of King Charles III and his Queen Consort, Camilla. A once in a lifetime moment for many of us who have only known the stoic reign of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II. And whilst many were focused on the guest list, outfit choices and the order of service, we were focused on one thing: the jewels.
The King had long warned us of a ‘paired back’ coronation, sympathetic to the national cost of living crisis and the position of the monarchy in the modern era. He opted for a smaller ceremony, limited guest list and much less regalia than the coronations of his ancestors; and this meant far less jewellery.
There was however some jewellery so vital to the ceremony of the coronation it was always going to make an appearance. Among these significant jewels were two very important rings: the sovereign’s ring and the Queen consort’s ring.
The sovereign’s ring is presented to the monarch during their coronation by the archbishop, who slides it onto the royal’s fourth finger as a symbol of ‘kingly duty’. This has been the tradition since the 1300s and continues up to the present day. Currently the royal jewellery collection holds four such rings in its collection, however there are others that reside in different collections, such as Queen Mary’s coronation ring which is held by the Harley Foundation.
The Stuart Ring
The oldest coronation ring held in the royal collection, currently on loan to Edinburgh castle, was used at the coronation of James II. The ring features a large table cut ruby, thought to have been fashioned from a medieval bead, set in a foil backed setting and engraved with a cruciform on the table. Interestingly the ring is thought to have been extensively re-worked overtime, with the diamond halo and engraving being later additions.
Despite its prominence the history of the Stuart ring is shrouded in confusion. There are conflicting tales of the origin of the piece, as well as periods of history where it goes unaccounted. We have confirmation that this ring was used at the coronation of James II in 1685, but it is likely it was also used by his brother (Charles II) and father (Charles I) at their coronations.
William IV’s Ring
This exquisite ring was commissioned by His Majesty in 1831 for his coronation and is the second ring in the royal collection. Up until this point it was custom for each monarch to commission their own coronation ring that remained with them as their personal property, instead of the property of the crown.
Since the 13th century each coronation ring traditionally featured a ruby as its centre stone; however, William IV chose instead to focus around a large octagonal cut sapphire, with only an accent of baguette cut rubies, which formed a cruciform across the table.
This is arguably the most important coronation ring in the collection, as it has seen the crowning of all monarchs since, and also forms the basis of the design for Queen Victoria’s coronation ring.
Queen Adelaide’s Ring
Before we explore Queen Victoria’s own coronation ring we must first take a look at Queen Adelaide’s ring, as it arguably forms the second most important ring in the collection.
Queen Adelaide was the wife of William IV, and like him commissioned a coronation ring for his crowing in 1831. A woman with an intriguing past, Adelaide’s marriage to William was out of his own necessity after his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth. Unfortunately, Adelaide suffered many miscarriages and was unable to produce an heir, frustrating as William IV had ten illegitimate children already, but nonetheless the crown passed to William IV upon the death of his father George IV, but this would be where their succession ended. On the death of Adelaide the crown instead passed to Victoria.
Adelaide’s ring features a large octagonal cut ruby to the centre, surrounded by old cut diamonds, much like William’s own ring. However, her ring has additional rubies in graduated sizes set the entire way around the shank: a Georgian eternity ring. This ring has since been used to crown all queen consorts.
Upon her death Queen Adelaide bequeathed her own coronation ring, known now as the Queen’s consort ring, and William’s ring to Queen Victoria, as her successor.
Queen Victoria’s Ring
As heir apparent to the throne Victoria opted to commission her own coronation ring. The ring itself resembles William IV’s almost exactly and was made for her by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. Unfortunately, there was some miscommunication in the ring size, with in the ring being made for her little finger opposed to her fourth. This resulted in it being too small and the Queen needing to place her hand in a bowl of ice water in order to get it off after the ceremony.
Queen Victoria decided to leave the ring to the crown upon her death, along with the rings of William IV and Queen Adelaide, which are still used in the coronation of the monarch today.