The Black Prince's Ruby: An Historical Account

The history of the Black Prince's Ruby in the possession of the crown of England and the incidents occuring with the ruby in England

To give a full account of this precious stone would almost involve the writing of the history of England from the reign of Edward III. down to the present time. We shall therefore limit ourselves to a few of the most striking scenes in which the Ruby figured.

Though differing much in appearance--the one being red and the other blue--the ruby and the sapphire are, chemically speaking, the same, viz. pure alumina. The perfect ruby is very rare and more valuable, size for size, than the diamond. It is tested in a curious manner. If it exactly agrees in tint with the fresh blood of a pigeon dropped upon the same sheet of white paper on which it lies, it is pronounced perfect. A stone of such beauty and rarity was of course supposed to be endowed with miraculous powers and affinities by the ancients; as, for instance, "the Osculan," dedicated by the Lady Hildegarde to St. Adelbert of Egmund. Of this stone, says a sixteenth-century writer:

"In the night-time it so lighted up the entire chapel on all sides that it served instead of lamps for the reading of the Hours late at night, and would have served the same purpose to the present day, had not the hope of gain caused it to be stolen by a runaway Benedictine monk, the most greedy creature that ever went on two legs."

The Black Prince's Ruby is only by courtesy called a ruby. It is in reality a "spinel," a stone of inferior hardness and less intense color and brilliancy than the true ruby. All the large historic stones which are called rubies are declared by Mr. King to be undoubted spinels. There is yet another class of rubies of an inferior type known as "balais," a name probably derived from the place in India whence they came. The inferior ruby is found in all parts of the world; but Burmah is the home of the true ruby, a region that has just been added to the widely-spreading empire of the British Queen.

In the middle of the fourteenth century Spain was ruled by a number of petty kings whose wars, assassinations and executions leave a general impression of bloodiness upon the mind by which all distinct detail is engulfed. It is essential however to remember that Granada was ruled by a Moorish prince, Mohammed by name, and Castile owned for Lord Don Pedro, the Cruel by title. The Moorish Mohammed, an easy-going personage, was dethroned by his brother-in-law Abu Said. Flying for his life, he escaped to Seville and threw himself upon the mercy of this Pedro the Cruel. This monarch espoused the cause of his kingly neighbor, and after several defeats the usurper thought it best to come to Seville and arrange a peace with his foe. Abu Said accordingly repaired to the capital of Don Pedro accompanied by a numerous and most magnificent suite. He was politely received, but the next day, by Don Pedro's order, Abu Said and all his attendants were set upon and murdered. This was done for the sake of the Moorish prince's jewels which were many and valuable. Among the treasures thus evilly acquired was the Ruby now set in the crown of England.

Though enriched by this spoil, Don Pedro soon felt the instability of human greatness, and in his turn had to fly for his life. His adversary was his own brother, Henry, the son of the beautiful and unfortunate Leonora de Guzman. This Henry raised a goodly army for himself composed for the most part of Gascon mercenaries, and he had for counselor and captain the famous French knight, Bertrand Duguesclin. Against such a foe Don Pedro could make no stand, so he hurried to Bordeaux, where the Black Prince along with his wife Joan, called the Fair Maid of Kent, was keeping his Christmas in right royal style. This was in 1366. Don Pedro promised untold treasures to the Black Prince if he would come to his aid. Tempted by such bait, the Black Prince led his troops into Spain, fought for Don Pedro and conquered Henry for him at the battle of Najera on April 3, 1367.

This was the first, but unhappily not the last, battle-field on which English and French slaughtered each other for the sake of a Spanish tyrant.

Overjoyed at this success Don Pedro presented to his deliverer then and there the splendid Ruby in order to get which he had murdered Abu Said. Immediately afterwards he went off to Seville to collect the rest of the promised treasure. So he said at least, but the treasure never came, and the Black Prince, after losing half his army from sickness, was obliged to quit Spain without other payment than the Ruby. He wore the gem in his hat, as an original and contemporaneous picture of him which Walpole saw testifies. It is said that in the fever-stricken plains of the Peninsula the Black Prince inhaled the germs of the disease which a few years afterwards carried him to the grave. The Ruby, large and splendid though it be, was dearly bought at such a price. Don Pedro was stabbed to the heart a few years afterwards by his victorious brother Henry, as he knelt before him praying for mercy. Here the curtain falls upon the first scene in the drama of our Ruby.

It rises again on the field of Agincourt, October 25, 1415. Henry v. of England, with his army reduced to fifteen thousand men, was falling back upon Calais from Harfleur when at Agincourt he encountered the French king and his nobility followed by an army of nearly fifty thousand men. The night before the battle Henry spent in disposing his forces to the best advantage, and on the morning he arrayed himself with a gorgeousness which has been commented upon by all contemporary writers. It was the fashion for kings to go splendidly into battle, and for a handsome young king of twenty-five like Henry it was only natural that he should follow such a fashion to the fullest. His armor was gilt-embossed, but his helmet was the theme of especial praise. The useful iron head-piece was surmounted by a rich crown garnished with rubies, sapphires and pearls valued then at six hundred and seventy-five pounds. In this glittering ornament the Black Prince's Ruby was a conspicuous feature. During the fight the king and his shining crown were to be seen in all parts of the field where the battle raged hottest. He fought like a lion for his life, unlike the kings of modern times who, if present at all, sit afar off and view the battle-field safely through telescopes.

Henry's crown and stout iron casque did him good service on that eventful day, for it is related how the French Prince, the Duke of Alencon, struck it a heavy blow with his battle-axe, which came near finishing Henry's career on the spot. Again several Frenchmen, excited by the blood-red glitter of the Ruby perhaps, swore to strike Henry's crown from his head or perish in the attempt. They accordingly rushed upon him in a body, and one of them knocked off a part of the crown, but the king defended himself bravely until supported by some of his own knights.

The sequel of this broken fragment of the crown is not so picturesque or heroic. One of the prisoners taken in the fight, a person named Gaucourt, declared after he was brought to England that he knew where the jewels were which had been struck from the crown. On promise of his liberty without ransom if he restored them, he went to France and got the lost gems, returning with them to London. It is a sorry thing to have to record of the hero of Agincourt that he appears to have taken the recovered jewels and then neglected to liberate Gaucourt.

The identical helmet worn by Henry, now shorn of all its jewels and only decked with the dust of four centuries, hangs high aloft in Westminster Abbey where it is never seen without causing interest in the mind of even the most unimaginative visitor. The two deep marks, one made by the battle-axe of the Duke of Alencon and the other by the sword of the nameless Frenchman, are plainly visible, enduring evidence of the fierceness of the fighting on the stricken field of Agincourt.

Henry VI. followed his father's example in carrying his crown to the battle-field, but further than that the parallel cannot lie, for instead of winning a kingdom the luckless Henry lost his crown at Hexam (1464) and only saved his life by the fleetness of his horse. The crown which probably mounted our Ruby, was borne by a page who was killed, and the regal bauble was instantly carried off to Edward IV. who had himself forthwith crowned with it at York.

In that long and bloody struggle the honors of which are somewhat concealed in its graceful and poetic name, the Wars of the Roses, the Ruby adhered to the winning side. When Lancaster was bowed in the dust, it gleamed on the head of York, and so we bring it down to the youthful days of bluff King Hal. At his coronation Henry VIII. is thus described by a contemporary:

"He wore a robe of crimson velvet furred with ermine, his jacket of raised gold, the placard (tabard?) embroidered with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and great pearls, and other rich stones, a great Bauderike (collar) about his neck of great Balasses, while as for his beautiful features, amiable visage and princely countenance, with the noble qualities of his royal state, they are too well known by everybody to need mention by me."

From which comment we must perceive that the estimate entertained of Henry VIII. has altered decidedly for the worse. This Bauderike, or collar of rubies, was a famous jewel and one which appeared at all the great pageants of the pleasure-loving king. It was entirely broken up by Charles I. and sold to raise funds for his army. We are disposed to conjecture that it included our Ruby either as pendant or other portion of the collar. It was worn at the Field of the Cloth of Gold where Henry and Francis I. outdid each other in splendor. Notwithstanding all this display of gold and jewels, they were but half civilized at the court of Henry, as the following quaint incident proves. At a certain splendid pageant the King and some of his nobles attired themselves in fanciful costumes upon which their chosen names such as "True-Love," "Good Cheer" and the like were written in large letters of bullion. After the mask the King intimated that the court-ladies might take for keep-sakes those gold letters, and they, delighted, proceeded instantly to snatch them from the dress of the King and his courtiers. The crowd which was witnessing this show from afar rushed in to share the spoil, and in a twinkling had stripped the King to his jerkin and hose; they then attacked the Queen and her ladies and "worse would have befallen" if the royal guards had not opportunely arrived and driven off these grabbing subjects.

Henry's daughter, Elizabeth, was even more extravagantly fond of jewels than he was himself. The numerous well-known pictures of the queen are more especially portraitures of Her Highness's dresses and jewels than anything else. Elizabeth did not set the Ruby away in her state-crown but kept it by her, no doubt for the frequent bedecking of her royal person.

She showed it upon one occasion to the Scotch envoy, Sir James Melville, under circumstances of peculiar interest. It was in 1564 when Elizabeth and Mary Stuart were both young women, the one comely, the other beautiful, and both were eagerly sought by every unmarried prince in Europe. Elizabeth had rejected all her offers. Mary had done the same. The English queen was lavishing honors upon her handsome Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley, and was generally understood to be preparing him for a seat on the throne beside herself. At this juncture she astonished the world by announcing that she had found a husband for Mary Stuart. This husband was Robert Dudley. The Scottish queen was considerably amazed at this proposal, and not a little annoyed at being offered for her consort a subject of such mean descent as the handsome Robert. However she did not say nay, and Melville was sent to London to negotiate the marriage. He stayed nine days at the court of Elizabeth and has given most vivid pictures of that great Queen. He found her intensely jealous of Mary's superior personal attractions and pressed the envoy hard to say which had the most beautiful hair. She also resorted to a childish trick to show him how well she could play on the virginals. She likewise danced for him, detaining him two whole days for the purpose, and his comment upon this performance is historic: "I said, 'My queen danced not so high or disposedly as she did.'" All this and much more the canny Scotsman tells us about what he saw and said and did during his nine days visit.

One evening the Queen took him into her bed-chamber to show him some of her most precious belongings. She first opened a lettroun (cabinet) where he beheld a number of little pictures wrapped up in paper, with its name on each one written by her own royal hand. The first one was thus labelled: "My Lord's Picture." It was Leicester's portrait, and Melville holding the candle begged to see it, but Elizabeth made difficulties about it; then the envoy pressed her to let him carry it back with him to show to his own queen, thinking apparently that the sight of the handsome face would move her to the marriage more than all political considerations. Elizabeth declared that she could not give it up as she had but that one, upon which Melville retorted that she had the original. "She shewed me a fair ruby, great like a racket-ball. I desired she would either send it to my queen or the Earl of Leicester's picture. She replied 'If Queen Mary would follow her counsels she would get them both in time and all she had, but she would send a diamond as a token by me.'" It was the Black Prince's Ruby for which the envoy begged, but the poor Queen of Scots was fated never to get either the jewel or the earl.

This ruby was pierced at the top with a small hole to enable it to be worn suspended from the neck, a frequent occurrence with oriental gems which are worn without setting. The hole is now filled up by a small ruby, but this fact proves it to have been among the jewels with which James I. adorned his state-crown. The Earl of Dorset made a careful inventory of the royal treasures, which is signed by the King himself. The description of the imperial crown, after reciting a bewildering number of diamonds, pearls, rubies and sapphires, winds up thus: "and uppon the topp a very greate ballace perced." This is manifestly the ruby in whose fate we are concerned.

Charles I. seems to have used his father's crown at his own coronation in 1626, a ceremony which was marked by two incidents after-wards found to have been ominous. There being no purple velvet in London Charles was robed in white velvet, which is an unlucky color it seems, and the Queen, Henrietta Maria, a silly and obstinate girl, refused to be crowned with him, owing to their religious differences. Fortunately the great Ruby was not left in the jewel-house at the time of Charles' execution, for had it been there we should have heard no more of it. Every thing which was found there was either melted down or sold by order of the Commonwealth. Amongst other things thus treated was the gold filigree crown of Edward the Confessor, which was broken up and sold for its weight of bullion. Such vandalism is almost enough to make one a Jacobite.

With the return of the Stuarts the Ruby came back and ascended once more to its proper place in the Crown of England. All the appliances of a coronation had to be made anew for Charles II., so that the ceremony was in consequence some what shorn of its impressiveness. Charles' crown was, according to an old writer, "especially praise-worthy" for an enormous emerald seven inches in circumference, a large pearl and a ruby set in the middle of one of the crosses. This ruby although not particularized is sure to be the one we have traced thus far. It is so very much larger than any other ruby belonging to the Crown of England that whenever we find a pre-eminently large one mentioned in English history we may safely take it to be the Black Prince's Ruby. It could be mistaken for no other stone by any one who had ever seen it. A shining ball of blood-red fire slightly irregular in shape, "great like a racket-ball," is not so common an object that it could pass unnoticed by writers who take it upon them to describe crowns and other royal ornaments.

During the reign of Charles II. the Crown of England had a narrow escape of being stolen. This singular adventure happened as follows:

The Regalia then as now was kept in the Tower and was shown to visitors as still is the case. The person in charge was an old man named Edwards who was in the habit of locking himself in with his visitors when showing the treasure. One day a gentleman, apparently a parson, and a lady, apparently his wife, called and saw the crown which they particularly admired, of course. The parson was Colonel Blood, a notorious Irish desperado. The lady became suddenly faint and was accommodated with a chair and other restoratives in the keeper's sitting-room where quite a friendship was struck up. The soi-disant parson cultivated the friendship assiduously, and finally proposed to cement it by a marriage between his nephew, apparently a soldier, and the daughter of the keeper. Blood came with the nephew who it is needless to say was merely an accomplice, and another friend. They asked to see the regalia and the unsuspecting old man led them into the strong room and locked himself in as usual. The moment he had done so he was set upon by the three ruffians, beaten, thrown down, gagged, stabbed in the body and left for dead. Then they managed to force open the case containing the Crown Jewels. Blood hid the crown under his cloak, the other two took the scepter and the globe, and then they opened the door intending to steal away. Just as they did so, young Edwards, a soldier, who by a singular chance arrived at that moment from Flanders, entered. In a moment after the Tower rang with the cry of "Treason! treason! the crown is stolen!"

The young man gave chase, aided by the guard at the gate, and eventually they succeeded in capturing Blood after a "robustious struggle" during which some pearls and diamonds were knocked out of the crown.

"It was a gallant attempt for a crown," observed Blood, as they led him to prison. He was condemned, but Charles pardoned him, and even admitted him to favor, though Blood was a known ruffian who had nearly succeeded in hanging the Duke of Ormonde on the public highway not long before. It is suggested that he terrified the king into liking him owing to the boast that he had five hundred friends who would do anything to avenge his death. Blood was constantly seen at court and eventually he obtained a pension of five hundred pounds a year, while poor old Edwards was never recompensed and died in the greatest want and misery. Truly the ways of princes are inscrutable!

James II. gave his whole soul to the glories of his coronation, reviving ancient ceremonies and doing every thing with exactness, much in the same way as did Charles x. of France, and they both succeeded in losing the crowns thus elaborately set upon their heads. James used the crown made for his brother Charles whose head was somewhat larger. The result was what might have been expected--the crown did not fit, and was with difficulty kept in its place. Indeed, it wabbled so much that Henry Sidney put forth his hand to steady it saying: "This is not the first time, Your Majesty, that my family have supported the crown."

James fled and the Ruby remained to greet William and Mary at their double coronation, and then it descended peacefully to the House of Brunswick, in whose service it has ever since remained.

The coronation of George IV. on July 19, 1821, was probably one of the most gorgeous pageants of this century. The King spent an immense sum upon his adornment ($1,190,000), and not only that, but he gave close attention to the fashion of his clothes, spending days and weeks in anxious consultation over the length, size, shape, and material of all the garments that he was to wear.

At last, having got all ready to his perfect contentment, the trappings were all brought to the palace, and the King dressed up one of his servants in his own royal clothes and then put him through the paces of a coronation while he looked critically on.

Public feeling was very much excited at the time over the divorce proceeding between George IV. and his Queen, Caroline of Brunswick. When, therefore, it became known that the Queen was not to be crowned along with him, her partisans were very indignant. The King was in the Abbey in the middle of the gorgeous ceremony when amid the frantic cheers of the multitude Queen Caroline drove up to the entrance attended by Lord Hood. The doorkeeper however refused her admittance, and after a long parley the Queen was obliged to turn away. Meanwhile George IV. was going through the fatiguing fooleries which he had insisted upon reviving for his own glorification.

Six long hours the ceremony lasted, and as the day was very hot and the King very fat, he spent most of the time wiping his streaming face with dozens of pocket handkerchiefs which were constantly passed along to him for that purpose.

The crown for this occasion was large, costly and very heavy. It weighed nearly seven pounds and was made by Messrs. Rundell & Bridge. It was a mass of precious stones. At the back of the lower band was a large sapphire, one of the Stuart relics, and in front gleamed the fire-red stone which had looked down in Agincourt from the helmet of Henry v.

The last coronation although it occurred half a century ago is familiar to us owing to the revivifying process of the Queen's Jubilee. The crown, which was also made by Messrs. Rundell & Bridge, is less heavy than that of George IV. by three pounds and more. We will not enumerate its thousands of diamonds, its hundreds of pearls, and its scores of rubies and sapphires. The ornaments consist of fleur-de-lys and Maltese crosses done in diamonds. In the center of the lower band of the crown is placed the large sapphire already mentioned and just above it, in the middle of a superb cross composed of seventy-five diamonds, gleams the famous Ruby. It stands out in bold relief and the red flash of its rays gives the needful touch of color to the sparkling mass of diamonds. The French say that the crown is heavy and without elegance, being in short altogether in the English taste. The criticism may be just, for it is difficult to see how $5,638,000 worth of precious stones, exclusive of the Ruby, could be packed on to the gear for the small head of a small woman with any great attempt at elegance.

The Queen was crowned on June 25, 1838, and Dean Stanley tells of a sudden ray of sunlight which streamed down upon the youthful sovereign as she sat in the Coronation Chair with the crown upon her head, producing an effect which was beautiful in the extreme. A Queen has always been popular with the English, and we can well imagine the enthusiasm which Victoria's girlish gracefulness must have aroused in people who contrasted her with the heavy uninteresting kings who had preceded her. This was the last great occasion upon which the Black Prince's Ruby appeared before the nation whose sovereigns it had so long adorned; and viewing the beneficent reign of the gracious lady whose coronation it then attended we can only say we hope it may long continue its uneventful existence at the top of the glittering pile in the Wakefield Tower.

In October, 1841, the crown, and all that therein is, had a narrow escape of perishing unromantically by fire. The Tower being then used as a military storehouse the fire rapidly spread, and it was thought advisable to remove the crown. The keys of the strong case where the regalia is kept are in the hands of three different officials, all at a distance. There was no time to be lost, as the place was getting very hot, so police inspector Pierse with a crowbar burst through the iron bars, forced himself in and handed out the precious articles whose value is estimated at five millions of dollars. Soldiers and policemen ran with the coronation baubles to a place of safety, and everything was eventually saved, though not before Inspector Pierse had been well-nigh roasted.

This is the last adventure that the Black Prince's Ruby has met with, and when we last looked upon it peacefully glistening in the sunlight it seemed hard to imagine that it had passed through so many dangers by fire and sword and had looked down on so many great scenes of royal splendor.

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