Black Prince's Ruby

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Portrait for the Coronation of Queen Victoria by George Hayter (detail), wearing the new Imperial State Crown made for her by the Crown Jewellers Rundell and Bridge, with 3093 gems, with the Black Prince's Ruby at the front.

The Black Prince's Ruby is a bead-shaped spinel weighing roughly 170 carats (34 g), approximately the size of a chicken egg. It is currently set in the cross pattée above the 317.40 carats (63.480 g) Cullinan II in the front of the Imperial State Crown. The Black Prince's Ruby is one of the oldest of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, with a known history dating back to the middle of the 14th century and having been in the possession of the rulers of England since it was given in 1367 to its namesake, Edward of Woodstock (the "Black Prince").


Until fairly modern times, all red gemstones were referred to as "rubies". It was only relatively recently that the rarer ruby has been differentiated from the more common spinel. The two gemstones can be distinguished on the basis of hardness and density, namely that a ruby is slightly harder and denser than a spinel. The two stones can also be told apart by their optical properties: a true ruby is dichroic while a spinel is singly refractive. The rarity of the spinel in this case though, makes it the biggest, uncut spinel in the world, given that it has only been polished slightly, but it hasn't received a proper cut, gemologically speaking.


Don Pedro of Seville[edit]

The Black Prince's Ruby enters the "stage of history" in middle of the 14th century as the possession of Abū Sa'īd, the Moorish Prince of Granada. At that time, the rule of Castile was being centralized to Seville and the Moorish Kingdom 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 Don Pedro the Cruel. 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 don had Abū Saī'd's servants killed and may have personally stabbed Sa'īd to death himself. Upon searching Sa'īd's corpse, 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. While historians speculate that this was contrary to Don Pedro's desires, he had just suffered a costly civil war and was in no position to decline. It can be assumed that The Black Prince took the Ruby back to England, although it is absent from historical records until 1415.


It is possible that the gem originates from the historic ruby mines in Badakshan – present day Tajikistan.[1]

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. In the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415, the French Duke of Alençon struck Henry on the head with a battleaxe, and Henry nearly lost the helmet, along with his life. However, the Battle of Agincourt was won by Henry's forces, Henry did not die, and the helmet was preserved along with the Black Prince's Ruby. Richard III is reported to have also worn the Black Prince's Ruby in his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth Field where he died.

Crown jewel[edit]

James I had the Black Prince's Ruby set into the state crown near the turn of the 17th century, where it remained until the time of Oliver Cromwell. With the exception of The Coronation Chair, and several other minor items, Cromwell had the principal symbols of the king's power within the Crown Jewels disassembled and sold, having the metal melted down and made into coins. A British jeweller bought the Black Prince's Ruby in the days of the Commonwealth, but sold it back to the crown (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 the Crown Jewellers Rundell and Bridge, with 3093 gems, including the ruby at the front. This was then remade in 1937 into the current, lighter, crown.


Further reading[edit]