On the east side of Crown Square, tucked deep within the Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle, behind glass and guard, lay the Honours of Scotland: the Scottish Crown Jewels. Dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest regalia in the British Isles. Those that bemuse themselves with our reflections know: if there’s one thing we at Spey love just as much as the lustrous pearl, it’s bonnie Scotland. When those two come together as they do in the Crown Jewels, well…our imagination races and our pulse quickens. The Honours of Scotland are as encrusted in jewel and pearl as they are dipped in intrigue and legend. A look into that storied past is well worth the exploration. So pour a dram of whisky, nibble a bit of shortbread, and discover the Honours of Scotland with Spey.
Scotland, within which our namesake River Spey trickles and turns on its way to the sea, has given us many infamous kings and queens. For a hundred years the Honours of Scotland brilliantly ennobled these Scottish monarchs – from Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543 to Charles II in 1651. Composed of Crown, Scepter, and Sword of State, the regalia are still used to denote Royal Assent to legislation in the Scottish Parliament. On the royal coat of arms, the three ornaments are brandished by the red lion of the King of Scots. Together with the Stone of Scone, the Honours of Scotland are enduring symbols of Scottish pride and pageantry.
The Crown dates from 1540, being first worn for the coronation of Mary of Guise, wife of James V. At 3lb 10oz, the hefty coronet is fashioned from Scottish gold and set with 22 gemstones and 20 precious stones from the former crown. Freshwater pearls from Scotland’s rivers, like the Rivers Spey and Tay, are dotted among red enameled oak leaves, rich red velvet, and ermine – representations of majesty and sovereignty. Atop the four regal arches of the Crown, a cross of gold with an amethyst at its center perches on an orb of gold and blue enamel.
The Scepter of Scotland (pictured) is fashioned of silver gilt and encases both a finial of polished rock and a single, impressive Scottish pearl. A gift of Pope Alexander VI to King James IV in 1494, the Scepter was remodeled and lengthened in 1536. The present form boasts icons of Scotland and the Christian faith: St. Andrew bearing the saltire, the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ, and stylized dolphins (symbols of the Church). The Sword of State is a similarly impressive papal gift. Pope Julius II presented the etched blade to James IV in 1507. Measuring 4.5 feet, the Sword supports the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul, with a filigree of silver gilt oak leaves and acorns.
Brought together for the coronations of the Scottish monarchs, the Honours of Scotland were then left to the whims of history. First hidden in Dunnottar Castle to escape the insatiable Oliver Cromwell, the regalia were hidden again after the Treaty of Union 1707 (only to be rediscovered 100 years later under the direction of Sir Walter Scott), and then hidden again in 1941 amid fears of a German invasion. Presented to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the Honours of Scotland have since remained under the public, but watchful eye of Edinburgh Castle. Considered too delicate for public use, the Scepter and Sword are no longer present at State ceremonies, although the Crown accompanies the Monarch at the opening of each new session of the Scottish Parliament. The Honours of Scotland remain some of the most iconic crown jewels of Europe, and lasting symbols of the pride of Scotland.