Menu Close
William, Charles and Camilla sit in front of a gilded wall. The Crown sits in front on a red cushion.
What can the Crown Jewels tell us about the history and future of the British Royals? In this photo from last May, then-Prince Charles sits with Camilla and William by the Imperial State Crown in the House of Lords Chamber in London. Ben Stansall/AP

What the Crown Jewels tell us about exploitation and the quest for reparations — Podcast

Although King Charles will have a low-key ceremony on his coronation day this May 6, the Crown Jewels will still figure prominently. An exploration of the story of the jewels tells a tale of brutal exploitation, rape and the original looting. Join us on Don’t Call Me Resilient to follow the jewels.

Much of what was called the British Empire was built from stolen riches — globally — and much of that was from India.

In fact, India was such an abundant contributor to the Crown that at the time of its occupation of South Asia, Britain called India the Jewel in its Crown.

India was called this because of its location — easy access to the silk route, but mostly because of its vast human and natural resources: things like cotton, and tea and of course its abundance of jewels.

Literally, the brightest jewel in Britain’s Crown is the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Nader Shah on the Peacock Throne, whose jewels included the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

It is considered one of the world’s largest and most valued diamonds and it usually sits on top of the Crown of Queen Mary.

It has a controversial history — namely that it was “surrendered” to the British by an Indian 10-year-old boy, Duleep Singh, whose mother had been imprisoned and whose father had recently died. It’s likely for that reason, that it won’t be on display at the coronation. But plenty of other jewels will be part of the ceremony.

The Imperial State Crown on a cushion as it arrives for the State Opening of Parliament. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

There is the five-pound gold St. Edward’s Crown that Charles will be officially crowned with, the Sovereign’s Sceptre, which has the Great Star of Africa diamond in it and the Imperial State Crown, which is set with almost 3,000 diamonds - including another Star of Africa.

Joining me to explore the history and meaning behind these jewels is Annie St. John-Stark, assistant professor of British history at Thompson Rivers University. Also here today is: Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, instructor of history at both the University of the Fraser Valley and the University of British Columbia. Her newly minted PhD looks at how museums can grow to include voices previously left off the “official record.”

Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day. CC BY

Although many will be out partying next weekend, the pomp of the coronation - along with its display of the Crown Jewels - does not reflect current day British attitudes. Only 32 per cent believe the Empire is something to be proud of — that is down almost 25 per cent from 2014. That means, attitudes are changing quickly.

Will the Royal Family catch up?

It’s not just the jewels, it’s the pomp of everything that is attached to the ceremony is such a contradiction now to the things we are talking about globally in our world in terms of privilege, colonialism and class structures. - Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra

Union flags are raised to celebrate the upcoming coronation of King Charles, in central London, last week. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Resources

This black and white photograph of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last Indian owner of the Koh-i-Noor diamond was taken by Prince Albert in 1854 in England. CC BY

Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by Anita Anand, William Dalrymple

The True Story of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond—and Why the British Won’t Give It Back (Smithsonian Magazine)

Koh-i-Noor: Empire, Diamonds, and the Performance of British Material Culture by Danielle C. Kinsey

What Crown will King Charles Wear? (Cosmopolitan)

Indian Archive Reveals Extent of Colonial Loot in Royal Jewellery Collection (The Guardian)

Ghadar Movement

Expressing Indian Spirituality in Jeweled Form (New York Times)

How Britain Stole 45 Trillion from India (Al Jazeera)

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders (The Guardian)

Germany Returns Benin Bronzes (NPR)

The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World by Kehinde Andrews

Read more in The Conversation


Read more: King Charles's 21st century coronation: Repatriating the Crown Jewels is long overdue



Read more: King Charles's coronation: How the place of Britain and the Crown has shifted in Canadian schooling



Read more: Colonialism was a disaster and the facts prove it



Read more: No ordinary diamond: how the Koh-i-Noor became an imperial possession



Read more: King Charles’s coronation: Can the British monarchy shed its imperial past?



Read more: Historical lawsuit affirms Indigenous laws on par with Canada's



Read more: About the Queen and the Crown's crimes (or how to talk about the unmourned) — Podcast



Read more: The book that changed me: how Priya Satia's Time’s Monster landed like a bomb in my historian's brain


Listen and Follow

You can listen to or follow Don’t Call Me Resilient on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts. We’d love to hear from you, including any ideas for future episodes. Join The Conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and use #DontCallMeResilient.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 185,800 academics and researchers from 4,984 institutions.

Register now