Kohinoor Diamond: During his coronation, King Charles will be directed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “punish and reform what is amiss, confirm what is in good order.”
There is more to this language than just symbols. There is a contract between the monarch and the British people.
The Crown Jewels and other coronation regalia have often illustrated that contract throughout British history, which will play a key role in Charles’s formal ascension to the British throne. The Crown Jewels have traditionally enhanced the aspects of majesty, spectacle, and celebrity associated with the British Royal Family.
It’s time for the monarch to fulfill his vow to “reform what is amiss” and repatriate those priceless gems.
The jewels take center stage
In addition to my research and teaching in the history of identity politics, historical trauma, and British history, I am also a settler researcher.
The colonizing and imperial history of three famous pieces of British regalia — the St. Edward’s Crown (Imperial State Crown) and the Sovereign’s Sceptre and the late Queen Mother’s crown — includes colonial marks in their designs in the form of the Cullinan I, Cullinan II, and Koh-i-Noor diamonds, among thousands of others.
At a time of acute post-colonial pain, two of these diamonds are taking center stage at King Charles’s coronation. As a result, the Royal Family opted not to include the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the coronation ceremony.
Public debates about British colonialism have called for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to be repatriated to South Asia (although the Indian government has publicly abandoned this claim).
Additionally, other Crown Jewels will be on display throughout the ceremony: St. Edward’s Crown, the Sovereign’s Sceptre, the Sword of State, and the Sovereign’s Orb, as well as precious gem-encrusted coronation clothing.
British identity is reinforced, British identity is reinforced, and British and Commonwealth citizens are immersed in the sovereign-subject relationship through this display. Achieving that goal is especially important today because the monarchy’s identity is at stake.
Crown Jewels stolen
Decolonization efforts in the United Kingdom during the 20th and 21st centuries are associated with trauma and questions of identity and nationhood.
Back to Edgar’s coronation in 973 CE, English coronations marked transitions in power, defined monarchs and their subjects, and distinguished human skills of governance from divine ones.
Due to decolonization and efforts to repair Britain’s global relationships, the Crown Jewels and coronation regalia are under intense scrutiny in the 21st century.
Currently, identity and repair are at the center of developments, reinforcing the importance of this coronation.
In light of Queen Elizabeth’s death, the public is debating the relevance and value of the monarchy in the 21st century.
I have observed the dispassionate response of Indigenous leaders to invitations to attend her funeral while living and teaching in Canada, on unceded territory of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc. Colonization’s impact on the monarchy is evident in the fact that some Indigenous leaders did not mourn her passing.
Aggression by colonialism
Because the Crown Jewels include artefacts of colonial aggression and ideology, they represent much more than the majesty of British history.
The majesty and historical grandeur of the coronation ceremony captivates viewers, but is Britain’s brutal colonial past also captivating?
Will viewers be struck by the contradiction between St. Edward’s Crown, the Imperial Crown, the Sovereign’s Sceptre, and Orb, and the savage and demeaning colonial origins of the gems embedded within them?
In order for the monarchy to remain relevant, it must fully acknowledge and engage with its origins.
Cullinan I and Cullinan II diamonds represent Britain’s colonial and imperial past. Their respective crowns are set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre and Imperial State Crown.
In spite of their appearance, they do not possess the attributes of power, justice, or righteousness. A stain on the coronation is their presence in the Crown Jewels.
Maharajah Duleep Singh, then 10-years-old, forcibly “gifted” the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the British East India Company in 1849. In 1937, it was placed in the crown of the late Queen Mother.
In spite of the fact that it won’t be seen at Charles’s coronation, it’s still one of the Crown Jewels – and it’s hardly the embodiment of virtue.
One descendant of Mahatma Gandhi has pointed to the Koh-i-Noor’s return as a critical component of British “atonement” for brutally colonizing India from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Some Crown Jewels aren’t subject to repatriation requests. St. Edward’s Crown, created in 1661, contains a blue sapphire, and the Imperial State Crown, created in 1937, contains a spinel known as the Black Prince’s Ruby.
Nevertheless, they detract from the attributes of a monarch. Their symbolism raises questions about the monarchy’s function in a country beset by economic challenges, cultural disruptions, immigration challenges, climate crises, and institutional racism.
In order to punish and reform what is amiss and confirm what is in order, King Charles must acknowledge and repair the damage done in the acquisition of the Crown Jewels.
Bringing them home would strengthen and modernize the contemporary British monarchy at a time when it desperately needs it.
(Author: Annie St. John-Stark, Thompson Rivers University Assistant Professor of History)
Annie St. John-Stark is affiliated with the Memory Studies Association, co-chair of the Memory & Trauma Working Group (MSA), and co-editor of Transdisciplinary Trauma Studies (De Gruyter Press).
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