The world’s most famous ruby is actually a red spinel. The famous stone’s value comes from its history and the hands it has passed through. (A small ruby was added to the spinel during the time it was set into a crown by King James I to fill in the hole at the top that may have been put there earlier on so it could hang around the neck). Known as the Black Prince’s Ruby, the gem was probably mined at Kuh-i-Lal (Badakhshan’s famous balas ruby mine) in what is now Tajikistan. The gem’s first documented appearance was in fourteenth-century Spain, back when Spain was ruled by many petty kings.
After being deposed from his stature by his brother-in-law Abu Said, the Moorish Prince of Granada, Mohammed, fled to nearby Don Pedro the Cruel’s kingdom of Seville. In 1366 Don Pedro’s army gained the upper hand over Granada and when Abu Said came to negotiate, Don Pedro assassinated him and his band and seized their jewels. Among the jewels was a large red spinel octahedron, the size of an egg, which would soon fall into the hands of the Black Prince.
Don Pedro soon had to flee himself due to his adversary being none other than his own brother, Henry. In 1366, he fled to Bordeaux, where Edward of Woodstock (a.k.a. ‘the Black Prince’) kept court. Don Pedro beseeched the Black Prince to help, promising untold treasures in return. Henry was duly defeated and the large red stone passed as payment to the Black Prince, in 1367.
Somehow from there the gem made its next public appearance in the hands of the English king, Henry V, at Agincourt, on Oct. 25, 1415 where he fought in battles against the French and only miraculously saved himself and the jewel. From here the precious gem passed through the hands of numerous British kings, including Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I, who kept it in her private collection.
After the coronation of Charles I, by a fortunate occurrence, the great gem was not placed in the jewel house along with the other royal treasures. If it had it would have been lost, for when Cromwell took power and Charles I was executed, all the treasures found there were either melted down or sold by order of the Commonwealth. Among the priceless pieces thus lost was the gold filigree crown of Edward the Confessor, which was broken up and sold for its weight of bullion. Orpen (1890) remarked… “Such vandalism is almost enough to make one a Jacobite.”
In any event, in 1660 it was bought by an unknown party, who resold it to Charles II after the restoration of the Stuarts. During the reign of Charles II, the stone, by now set in Charles II’s State Crown, had another narrow escape. It was nearly stolen by the notorious Colonel Blood, who, unbelievably, was later pardoned by the King.
Once again, in 1841, the crown was almost lost, this time by fire. Only the quick actions of police inspector Pierse saved the day. As the Tower burned, Pierse broke through the iron bars with a crowbar to rescue these irreplaceable objects. Again, during World War II, the royal regalia was once more in danger, this time from Hitler’s bombers. However, they survived undamaged and today the giant Black Prince’s Ruby can be viewed in all its glory in the Tower of London, along with the rest of the English Crown Jewels.
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