Interested in history? Now that the summer holidays are upon us, why not visit Hampton Court, just an hour’s drive away. Get lost in the famous maze, walk in Henry VIII’s footsteps through his sumptuous apartments and marvel at the extraordinary replica of his crown, made by Tunbridge Wells-based Harry Collins in his capacity as Crown Jeweller
Lavishly decorated with 344 gems, fleur de lys and five sculptures, the original Crown Imperial was made for the much-married Tudor monarch or his father, Henry VII, around the beginning of the 16th century.
The crown was later used at the coronations of Henry VIII’s children – Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was heartbreakingly destroyed, with the rest of the Crown Jewels, on the orders of Oliver Cromwell over a century later.
The replica crown is displayed at Hampton Court Palace in the recently-repaired Royal Pew, within the magnificent Chapel Royal.
“The story we’re telling in the royal apartments is all about dynasty and the succession. During the last years of Henry’s reign, the big question is who will wear the crown next?” explains Aileen Peirce, Historic Royal Palaces’ Deputy Head of Interpretation. “The crown is the physical embodiment of this and a ‘wow’ moment at the end of the visitor route.”
Since 2000, Harry Collins has been the Queen’s Personal Jeweller, responsible for maintaining her majesty’s extensive private collection. Appointed as Crown Jeweller in 2007, he was later asked to undertake the recreation project – and responded enthusiastically. “When asked by Historical Royal Palaces whether I would be interested in creating Henry VIII’s royal crown, it was a big yes! Crown jewellers don’t usually get to make crowns, just to look after them!” he says.
Happily for Harry and Aileen, King Henry’s servants kept careful records. The inventories of 1521, 1532 and 1547 describe the crown in detail and helpfully, it is also vividly depicted in Daniel Mytens’ 1631 portrait of Charles I.
Recreating the crown
The project took many months of painstaking work, with the materials and process carefully mirroring those originally used, as far as possible.
The 16th century crown was made from 84oz of gold but the replica is solid silver with a gilt finish. The 21 sapphires, 21 rubies, two emeralds, 233 freshwater pearls and 27 rock crystals (used instead of expensive diamonds) replicate stones routinely used in late medieval jewellery.
The Tudors prized size and shape above clarity and the 21st century gems (sourced from Sri Lanka and Madagascar) were given an irregular surface using antiquated wheel cutters.
The crown is set with five miniature sculptures – the Virgin and Child, St George and three royal saints. The 1532 inventory describes three Christ figures, while that of 1547 mentions three kings, most likely including Edward the Confessor. These were added after the Reformation, probably to emphasise the King’s authority over the Church after the break with Rome.
The appearance of majesty at the Tudor court was extremely important. Henry wore his crown (and full coronation regalia) at key ceremonial moments – such as the annual Epiphany procession within Hampton Court – to highlight his power and regality. This was also underlined by the opulence of his palaces, dress, decor and vast quantity of food cooked in the royal kitchens.
A fitting home for a royal crown
Transformed from a medieval manor into a magnificent palace by Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey (Henry’s first ‘Mr Fixit’), Hampton Court was angrily appropriated by Henry in 1529, after the wealthy cleric failed to secure his royal master’s much-desired divorce from Katherine of Aragon.
Sparing no expense, the king remodelled the palace and it became the venue for three of his honeymoons and the birthplace of his longed-for son, Edward VI. Sadly, Jane Seymour, Edward’s mother, died there after giving birth.
Hampton Court is open every day from 10am-6pm. The Royal Pew (where the Crown Imperial is displayed) is open 10am-5.30pm Monday-Saturday and 12.30pm-3pm on Sundays. Entry (including the crown display) is free to members and under fives. Online tickets are cheaper, costing £18.40 for adults and £9.20 for children aged five-15.
• Visit www.hrp.org.uk or call 0203 166 6000 for opening hours, admission prices and general information.