Edward the Confessor wore his crown at Easter, Whitsun, and Christmas. In 1161, he was made a saint, and objects connected with his reign became holy relics. The monks at his burial place of Westminster Abbey claimed that Edward had asked them to look after his regalia in perpetuity for the coronations of all future English kings.
Although the claim is likely to have been an exercise in self-promotion on the abbey’s part, and some of the regalia probably had been taken from Edward’s grave when he was reinterred there, it became accepted as fact, thereby establishing the first known set of hereditary coronation regalia in Europe. A crown referred to as St Edward’s Crown is first recorded as having been used for the coronation of Henry III in 1220, and it appears to be the same crown worn by Edward.
An early description of the crown is “King Alfred’s Crown of gold wire-work set with slight stones and two little bells”, weighing 79.5 ounces (2.25 kg) and valued at £248 in total. It was sometimes called King Alfred’s Crown because of an inscription on the lid of its box, which, translated from Latin, read: “This is the chief crown of the two, with which were crowned Kings Alfred, Edward and others”. However, there is no evidence to support the belief that it dated from Alfred’s time, and in the coronation order it always has been referred to as St Edward’s Crown.
St Edward’s Crown rarely left Westminster Abbey, but when Richard II was forced to abdicate in 1399, he had the crown brought to the Tower of London, where he symbolically handed it to Henry IV, saying “I present and give to you this crown with which I was crowned king of England and all the rights dependent on it”.
The monarchy was restored in 1660 after the English Civil War (1642-1649) and in preparation for the coronation of Charles II, who had been living in exile abroad, a new St Edward’s Crown was supplied by the Royal Goldsmith, Sir Robert Vyner. It was fashioned to closely resemble the medieval crown, with a heavy gold base and clusters of semi-precious stones, but the arches are decidedly Baroque.
In the late 20th century, it was assumed to incorporate gold from the original St Edward’s Crown, as they are almost identical in weight, and no invoice was produced for the materials in 1661. A crown was also displayed at the lying in state of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England from 1653 until 1658. However, it is believed the crown at Cromwell’s lying in state was probably made of gilded base metal such as tin or copper, as was usual in 17th-century England; for example, a crown displayed at the funeral of James VI-I had cost only £5 and was decorated with fake jewels.
On the weight of this evidence, writer and historian Martin Holmes, in a 1959 paper for Archaeologia, concluded that in the time of the Interregnum St Edward’s Crown was saved from the melting pot and that its gold was used to make a new crown at the Restoration.
His theory became accepted wisdom, and many books, including official guidebooks for the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, repeated his claim as fact. In 2008, new research found that a coronation crown and sceptre were made in 1660 in anticipation of an early coronation, which had to be delayed several times.
Last evening I watched a documentary on YouTube called, The History of the British Monarchy Crown Jewels. In the documentary it is said that it is possible that the bottom half of St. Edward’s Crown is the original crown. Evidently there is only a record of a bill for the arches, the monde and the cross and this was due to the fact that the bottom half of the crown already existed and was in fact the original St. Edward’s Crown that had been saved from Cromwell’s destruction.