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Coronation crown taken from Tower to be resized for King Charles III

St. Edward's Crown will be worn by King Charles III during his coronation on May 6. (Royal Collection Trust/Getty Images)

LONDON — Sometime over the weekend, the historic centerpiece of the British crown jewels — St. Edward’s Crown — was very quietly, very stealthily removed by its caretakers from its display case at the Tower of London.

We were not told exactly when this happened, nor exactly where the crown has gone. Which is probably wise, as its theft would be one for the history books. (And hello, Hollywood? Not a bad idea for a caper flick.)

But St. Edward’s Crown is safe, Buckingham Palace assures us. It is at an undisclosed location where the crown jeweler has his people working on it.

King Charles III will wear the crown during his coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 6, if all goes according to schedule. But first, it needs to be altered to fit a head probably bigger than his mother’s.

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The 361-year-old St. Edward’s Crown is one of the most famous bejeweled headpieces in the world — and is a key part of the royal regalia, alongside the orb, scepter, heralds, robes and religious intonements (“God Save the King”) that give the British monarchy in the 21st century its air of longevity, power and divine right.

Charles became king when Queen Elizabeth II died in September. But at his accession ceremony, his head was bare. The world’s first glimpse of him in all that regalia will be a defining moment.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” is a slightly modified line from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” play. Truth be told, this crown is a whopper, weighing close to five pounds, the weight of a four-slice toaster or a gallon of ice cream or $100 worth of quarters.

The stats: It’s solid gold, 12 inches tall and 26 inches in circumference, and bedecked with 444 precious and semiprecious stones.

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For those keeping count, that’s 345 rose-cut aquamarines, 37 white topaz, 27 tourmalines, 12 rubies, seven amethysts, six sapphires, two jargoons, one garnet, one spinel and one carbuncle, which is not to be confused with a carbuncle, a type of abscess. A jargoon is a kind of smoky zircon.

“It’s an amazing object,” said Anna Keay, a former curator at the Tower of London and author of “The Crown Jewels.”

Has she tried it on? No, Keay said, with an OMG laugh. But she has studied it.

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“It’s absolutely ravishing to me. It’s this ancient object, the old gold with this lovely enameled look, and the colors around each of the stones are really beautiful,” she said. She added, “I think it stands slightly apart from all the other things in the collection.”


“Because it’s not about the bling, about big diamonds,” she said, adding that by today’s standards, the precious stones are not so precious. (The crown predates the discovery of large diamond mines.)

The historic St Edward's Crown has been removed from the Tower of London to be modified for the coronation of King Charles III, according to Buckingham Palace. (Video: Reuters)

What is most amazing, she said, is that the crown remains in service, meaning it might spend most of its time sitting on a pillow in a display case at the Tower of London, but when a new monarch ascends, it is put to use, for one day.

“It’s made for an institution that still exists and it’s still used for the same job, which is incredibly rare,” Keay said, and that job is to coronate a British king or queen in Westminster Abbey.

This version, today’s version, of St. Edward’s Crown was made for King Charles II, who rose to the throne in 1661.

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That crown was a replacement for an even older medieval crown associated with Edward the Confessor, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, from the 11th century. Because Edward was sainted, the crown was considered a holy relic, kept safe by the monks at Westminster Abbey. But it was melted down under orders from Oliver Cromwell in 1649, upon the execution of King Charles I, and its jewels were sold off.

Interestingly, only six monarchs have been crowned with St. Edward’s Crown since the restoration of Charles II in 1661. There was James II in 1685 and William III in 1689. And then the crown essentially went into the royal attic for 200 years.

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Keay, now director of the Landmark Trust, said St. Edward’s Crown might have looked “old-fashioned” and “dated” and “too medieval” for a subsequent string of British monarchs. It was only redeployed in the early 20th century by George V in 1911, followed by George VI in 1937 and his daughter Elizabeth in 1953.

Buckingham Palace said the crown has been removed from the Tower of London “to allow for modification work.” The crown jeweler has not said exactly what. It is possible that the gold crown will not need much work, that the cap — of velvet and ermine — only needs adjusting so it can accommodate Charles’s head nicely.