Stuart Sapphire

Origin of name

The Stuart Sapphire gets its name from the House of Stuarts, the Royal House of Scotland from 1371, and of England from 1603 to 1714 except for a short period of interruption between 1649 and 1660, during the republican commonwealth. The sapphire came into the possession of Robert II (1371-90), the first monarch of the Stuart dynasty and passed down a succession of monarchs until it was inherited by James II (1685-88), who escaped with it to France when he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. James II gave the sapphire to his son James Edward, the old pretender, on whose death in 1766, it passed to his son Charles Edward, the young pretender, and then to the last legitimate descendant of the deposed James II, the brother of Charles Edward, Henry Stuart, the Cardinal of York. King George III (1760-1820) of England, the 3rd King of the House of Hanover, was gracious enough to provide the Cardinal of York an yearly pension towards the latter part of his life, and the Cardinal transferred the ownership of the sapphire and other Stuart relics to George III.

Stuart Sapphire Mounted on the Imperial State Crown

Characteristics of the gemstone

The Stuart Sapphire is a 104-carat, oval-shaped, cabochon-cut sapphire with a rich medium blue color, the most preferred color for blue sapphires. The stone is presently set on the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain, and is one of the historic stones, together with other stones such as the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Edward’s Sapphire, adorning the Crown. The stone has a length of 38 mm and a width of 25 mm. The stone is not completely flawless, and has a drill hole at one end indicating that it was once worn as a pendant. Yet, the stone has a great value, enhanced by its historical significance.

Being a blue sapphire, the Stuart Sapphire, is the blue variety of the mineral corundum, which is crystalline aluminum oxide in which the blue color is caused by a few atoms of titanium and iron displacing aluminum atoms in the crystal structure. It has a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, which is only one less than that of diamond. The toughness and durability of sapphire is only second to that of diamond, little wonder that the stone had survived over the centuries since it first appeared in the crown of the Scottish King Alexander II, at his coronation in 1214.

Origin of Sapphires and Rubies

Sapphires and rubies which are the same form of the mineral corundum, have a very ancient origin like diamonds, extending back to 500 million to 2.5 billion years, when they were first formed in the upper mantle of the earth, 60 to 400 km deep inside the earth, under conditions of extremely high pressures and temperatures. The corundum was incorporated into the basaltic magmas, which rose to the surface forming igneous rocks. Some of the igneous rocks were later transformed to metamorphic rocks, and both were later subjected to the agents of erosion such as rainfall, heat, and wind for millions of years, releasing the corundum crystals, which were later washed down the hills and carried along streams and rivers and deposited on the river basins as alluvial deposits.

Source of the Stuart Sapphire

Thus corundum is mainly mined from secondary alluvial deposits in different parts of the world, the most ancient sources being  Afghanistan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Myanmar (Burma) and Kashmir. The most ancient source of sapphires in the world is Sri Lanka, where rubies and sapphires seem to have been mined since the time of King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. Afghanistan was also an ancient source of corundum, but mainly rubies and balast rubies which subsequently came to be known as spinels. Afghanistan was also famous for its lapis lazuli the blue variety of gemstone, which in the olden days were also classified as sapphires (Sappheiros in Greek meaning blue). Thus in all probability the source of the Stuart Sapphire was Sri Lanka,  the only known source of large blue sapphires in the world in the 13th century, when the stone first appeared in Europe. During this period in Sri Lanka, the main source of sapphires and rubies were the alluvial deposits in the plains at the foot of  the Adam’s Peak mountain range, in south central Sri Lanka, known as the Ratnapura (City of Gems) district, the most ancient gemstone producing area of Sri Lanka.

Early History of the Stuart Sapphire

The early history of the Stuart Sapphire is not well authenticated, but the stone is believed to have made its first appearance in the early 13th century, when it was set on the crown of the Scottish King Alexander II (1214-49), at his coronation in 1214. The stone was then inherited by his son Alexander III (1249-86). The death of Alexander III caused a crisis in the succession as all his heirs had predeceased him. The Scottish Lords proclaimed the infant Margaret, the grand-daughter of Alexander III, who came to be known as the Maid of Norway, the Queen of Scotland. In 1290, King Edward I (1272-1307) of England arranged for a marriage between Margaret and his son Edward, who later became King Edward II of England. However, during her voyage from Norway to England, Margaret fell ill and died.

The Stone of Scone and Stuart Sapphire taken to England by Edward I

King Edward I, made a swift move and proclaimed himself the overlord of Scotland, but was resisted by the Scots. Several claimants to the Scottish throne emerged and Edward I undertook to adjudicate on these claims, and finally  in 1292 John Balliol was proclaimed the King of Scotland, by Edward I. Balliol resisted Edwards intervention in the affairs of Scotland, and eventually in 1296, Edward I attacked Scotland and forced Balliol into submission. During this campaign Edward I, captured the “Stone of Scone” also know as the Stone of Destiny, and the Stuart Sapphire belonging to the monarchy of Scotland. The “Stone of Scone”, weighing 336 pounds was a rectangular pale yellow sandstone, associated with the crowning of Scottish kings. and encased in the seat of the royal coronation chair. Edward I took the symbolic “Stone of Scone” to England, where at Westminster Abbey he got a special throne constructed in 1307, called the coronation chair, with the stone fitted under it. The placing of the stone under the chair  also had a symbolic meaning that the kings of England would at the same time be crowned the kings of Scotland as well.

Return of the Stone of Scone and the Stuart Sapphire to Scotland by Edward III

After Edward I’s death in 1307, the Stone of the Scone and the Stuart Sapphire was inherited by his son and successor Edward II (1307-1327), who in his attempt to exert England’s over lordship over Scotland led an army against the Scottish King Robert I, in 1314, and was decisively defeated. In 1327, Edward II was deposed in favor of his son 15-year old son Edward III (1327-1377), by his own Queen, Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, who virtually ruled England for the next four years in the name of the young Edward III. In 1327, Isabella and Roger Mortimer conducted an unsuccessful campaign against the Scottish King Robert I, which resulted in the Treaty of Northampton, granting independence to Scotland, which Edward III was reluctantly compelled to sign. Under this treaty, in 1328,  Robert I’s four-year old son David was married to Joanna, sister of King Edward III of England. In 1329, after the death of Robert I, David, who was 5 years old, succeeded his father as King of Scots. In November 1330, Edward III took control of affairs of the State, after getting Roger Mortimer executed. In 1333, Edward III moved against the Scots, and defeated the forces of David II’s regent, and installed his vassal Edward Balliol as king of Scotland. David went into exile in France in 1334, and returned only in 1357, after having fought on the side of King Philip VI of France for several years, and being captured and imprisoned in 1346. Henceforth, David II’s relationship with his brother-in-law Edward III became very cordial, and Edward III returned the Stone of Scone and the Stuart Sapphire to David II, previously captured by Edward I, in 1296.

Stuart Sapphire Mounted on the Imperial State Crown

The Stuart Sapphire returns to England

David II gave the Stuart sapphire to his sister Marjory Bruce, daughter of King Robert I Bruce, who married Walter Steward, the 6th in the line of stewards to the king of Scots. They had a son Robert who in 1371, after the death of David II was installed as the first Stewart king of Scotland as Robert II, who reigned between 1371 and 1390. After  Robert II the Stuart Sapphire was successively inherited by Robert III (1390-1406), James I (1406-37), James II (1437-1460) and possibly James III (1460-1488). It appears that during the reign of James III, the Stuart Sapphire again passes into the hands of the English king Edward IV (1461-1483), possibly in 1482 when English troops invaded Scotland. Edward IV incorporated the Stuart Sapphire in the state crown, where it remained for several centuries until the civil war of 1642, which eventually led to the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

The sale and subsequent restoration of the Stuart sapphire

Oliver Cromwell who was the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653-58 during the Republican Commonwealth disposed of all the crown jewels of the monarchy, after its abolition. The state crown on which the Stuart Sapphire was mounted was also sold. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II (1660-85) ascended the throne of England, and the Stuart Sapphire was returned to the king, by whoever who purchased it at the time of its sale. The sapphire was then inherited by King James II (1685-88), who later escaped with it to France, when he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. The sapphire then passed from James II to his son James Edward and then his grandson Charles Edward and finally to Henry Stuart, the cardinal of York, the brother of Charles Edward and the last surviving member of the Stuart dynasty. The Cardinal of York surrendered the Stuart Sapphire and other Stuart relics to King George III (1760 – 1820), the 3rd king from the house of Hanover, and the sapphire had remained in the royal family ever since.

Modern History of the Stuart Sapphire

A new crown was designed for the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 28, 1838. This crown which came to be known as the Imperial State Crown, had several historic diamonds incorporated in it. The Black Prince’s Ruby which is actually a large spinel was set in the central panel of the Imperial State Crown. The 104-carat oval shaped Stuart Sapphire was mounted on the brow of the Imperial Crown, just below the Black Prince’s Ruby. The Historic St. Edward’s Sapphire was set in the center of the cross that stands atop the Imperial State Crown. However after the discovery of the Cullinan diamond in South Africa in 1905, which was subsequently gifted by the Transvaal Government, to King Edward VII on his 66th birthday on November 9th, 1907, and later cut into nine large diamonds in Amsterdam, a slight modification was made in the Imperial State Crown. In 1909, the second largest of the Cullinan diamonds, the 317.40-carat Cullinan II aka the “Lesser Star of Africa” was mounted in front of the crown on the same position previously occupied by the Stuart Sapphire, which was moved to the back of the crown.

In 1937, a new crown was made for the coronation of King George VI who ascended the throne on December 11, 1936, almost identical to Queen Victoria’s Imperial State Crown, which was almost 100 years old, and had become weak and needed replacement. All the historical stones from the old crown were transferred to the new crown, the Cullinan II occupying the front of the crown just below the Black Prince’s Ruby, and the Stuart Sapphire set on the reverse side of the crown. This is the same crown that was used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, on June 2nd, 1953, after she ascended the throne on the death of her father King George VI, on February 6, 1952.

Today the Imperial State Crown is on display together with other Crown Jewels of Britain, in the Tower of London.

Related :-

Famous Gemstones of the World

Famous Diamonds of the World

History of the Gem Trade in Sri Lanka

Star of India

Logan Blue Sapphire

Blue Giant of the Orient

References :-

1) Encyclopaedia Britannica-2006

2)The Royal Insight Website of the British Government.

3)Ruby and Sapphire by Victor Hughes

4)Corundum-From the website of the University of Texas at Austin

External Links :-

1)Corundum-University of Texas at Austin

2)Royal Insight Website

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