The Koh-i-Noor diamond is among the most precious and storied gems belonging to the British royal family, but it is also the most infamous. This massive diamond is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world and is worth millions upon millions of dollars. It was last used for the coronation of the Queen Mother, the last Queen Consort before Camilla — yet you won't see it anywhere near her head at the coronation of King Charles III. For while the official story is that the diamond was a gift, historians have taken a dim view of its controversial past.
Taking the lead from the first televised coronation
The last time a monarch showed off “the splendor of Britain” was certainly at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Hers lasted nearly three hours, and those who watched it on TV would have seen the monarch wear no fewer than three extraordinary crowns: the George IV State Diadem, the St.
Edward's Crown, and the Imperial State Crown. She was also handed a symbolic orb of gold, jewels, and pearls. But times have changed, and Charles and Camilla evidently want to avoid any controversy.
The finest jewels are among the most troubling
Charles may not want to end up “prancing around in a jeweled crown,” as one expert put it, but he doesn’t have many choices when it comes to the coronation regalia. Like his mother, he’ll have to wear the St.
Edward’s Crown, a 5-pound beauty of a headpiece that features 444 gems. It’s already been resized for the new King and returned to the Tower of London in readiness. But the other crowns involved in the ceremony are more problematic.
The Imperial State Crown could be a problem
The new monarch will also have to wear the Imperial State Crown, arguably most associated with the late Elizabeth. Not only did she wear it at her coronation, but it was also placed on her coffin for her State Funeral in September 2022.
It’s one of the “newer” royal crowns, since it was only made in 1937. But it’s a remarkable, if morally suspect, creation.
Heavy are the heads that wear the crowns
The problem for some is that the Imperial State Crown includes a 317-carat diamond called Cullinan II — or the Second Star of Africa. It was cut from the world's largest diamond and presented to King Edward VII in 1907.
But the government of Transvaal that gifted the diamond was a British colony at the time. And the issues don't stop there. As Camilla will be Queen Consort, she gets a crown as well. And the one traditionally reserved for her has a troubling history.
A truly controversial crown
Some royal experts suggested that she would wear the Koh-i-Noor crown, which was used at the coronation of the Queen Mother. But in February 2023, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Koh-i-Noor crown would have no place in a 21st-century ceremony.
It said Queen Mary's crown was the best for Camilla in the "interests of sustainability and efficiency." It didn't say, of course, that the Koh-i-Noor crown was named after a diamond with a very unpleasant backstory.
A diamond with a dubious history
The Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of the most famous jewels in the world, and once upon a time, it belonged to Queen Victoria. But where she got it from is more problematic.
She was given it during the time of British colonial rule in India, and for a long time now India has demanded its return. At the moment, though, the royals keep the massive jewel stowed away in bombproof cases along with the Tudor Crown and St. Edward's Crown in the Tower of London's Jewel House.
The origins of a sought-after diamond
According to historians Anita Anand and William Dalrymple, the first mention of the Koh-i-Noor diamond occurred in 1628. The jewel was the prominent feature of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's aptly named Peacock Throne.
Yet the Koh-i-Noor diamond wasn't the most coveted jewel nestled in the throne. The Mughals were more impressed by the fiery color of the Timur Ruby, which was later determined to be a red spinel and not a ruby.
It was a Mughal treasure for a long time
Mughal rulers presided over a flourishing empire on their jewel-encrusted Peacock Throne for more than a century. That is until the temptations of their thriving realm caught the eye of other power-hungry nations.
In 1769 the great Koh-i-Noor diamond found a new owner when Persian emperor Nader Shah stormed the city of Delhi, ruthlessly seizing power and, of course, the Peacock Throne.
The stuff that dreams are made of
After Nader became aware of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, he had the one-of-a-kind jewel plucked from the throne. The diamond, and the Timur Ruby too, found a new resting place on the arm of Nader's coat.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond would find a home in what is now present-day Afghanistan for the next 70 years. Finally in 1813 the diamond made its return to India under Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh. But the British weren't far behind it.
The one ring to rule them all
Historian and journalist Anita Anand, co-author of the book Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond, pointed to this moment as a shift in thinking about the jewel. "It becomes this gemstone like the ring in Lord of the Rings, one ring to rule them all," Anand told Smithsonian Magazine in 2017.
And after Ranjit Singh's death in 1839 the fragility of the next rulers left the diamond open to threats.
The British are coming — and they mean business
Anand and Dalrymple argue that the British eyed the diamond and India as the ultimate emblem of their superiority. So after ten-year-old Duleep Singh took the Punjabi throne in the 1840s, the Brits made a predatory move.
British forces first imprisoned the young King's mother, Rani Jindan. Next, they coerced Duleep into giving up the Koh-i-Noor and handing over his claim to the Punjabi throne by making him sign an amended version of the Treaty of Lahore.
A gift "handed over at the point of a bayonet"
This is where, according to Anand and Dalrymple, the British history books usually veer off into a neater tale of how the jewel came into their possession. The popular idea is that the jewel was a gift to the U.K.
from the colony. Yet, as Anand wrote for the BBC, "I don't know of many "gifts" that are handed over at the point of a bayonet." All the same, the diamond was transported to London and displayed during 1851's Great Exhibition in London.
The diamond was a disappointment at first
But when people came to check out the Koh-i-Noor diamond, they left disappointed. "Many people find a difficulty in bringing themselves to believe, from its external appearance, that is it anything but a piece of common glass," printed newspaper The Times in June 1851.
So Prince Albert felt compelled to recut the diamond to bring it up to crown jewel standard. Though there was one small consequence to the jewel's makeover that no amount of diplomacy could fix.
A brooch that became a crown
Recutting the Koh-i-Noor reduced its size by half. Still, Victoria wore her new light-refracting token as a brooch; doubtless it was an attention-grabbing accessory.
Ever since Victoria passed away, though, the diamond has most prominently featured in the crowns of three British Queens. The first monarch to use the diamond in a crown was Queen Alexandra in 1902, followed by Queen Mary in 1911.
The crown takes pride in place
It was finally used in the crown placed on the head of the Queen Mother at the 1937 coronation of her husband, George VI. And the last time the diamond made a public appearance was for the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002.
The crown with the prominently placed diamond rested atop her casket for all to see. It was not used during Elizabeth's coronation because she was taking the throne and not her husband. If history is anything to go by, then, it wasn't unreasonable to think it would now be used to crown Camilla at Charles' coronation.
The diamond is still in dispute
But Koh-i-Noor has hardly been out of the limelight since its show-stopping appearance in 2002. For example, in 2016 the diamond was at the center of an international dispute.
India's Ministry of Culture claimed that its government "further reiterates its resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Koh-i-Noor diamond in an amicable manner." The Asian Age newspaper added that "the Koh-i-Noor is linked in people's minds to national pride."
Others have a claim to the diamond, too
This was just the latest in a long line of attempts to reclaim the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Also in 2016 barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffry fronted a petition to return the stone to Lahore, the heart of Duleep Singh's empire.
"Grabbing and snatching [the Koh-i-Noor] was a private, illegal act which is justified by no law or ethics," he said. Others, though, wanted the controversial diamond returned to Delhi.
Its history has always been a point of contention
Anand and Dalrymple also turned up evidence that the real history of the diamond has always been an open secret. In May 1848 the Delhi Gazette — a paper owned by the British — reported, "This famous diamond (the largest and most precious in the world) forfeited by the treachery of the sovereign at Lahore, and now under the security of British bayonets at the fortress of Goindghur, it is hoped ere long, as one of the splendid trophies of our military valor, be brought to England in attention of the glory of our arms in India.".
It belongs in a museum
Dalrymple has a more damning opinion of the case, too. "If you ask anybody what should happen to Jewish art stolen by the Nazis, everyone would say of course they've got to be given back to their owners," he told Smithsonian Magazine.
"And yet we've come to not say the same thing about Indian loot taken hundreds of years earlier, also at the point of a gun. What is the moral distinction between stuff taken by force in colonial times?"
But who is the real owner?
Smithsonian Magazine pointed out that there is at least one major distinction between artwork pillaged by a dictatorship and objects changing hands in colonial warfare. In one, there is a clear case of ownership.
In the other, things are a little more opaque. "There can be a reassessment for certain objects of, ‘We may have legal ownership, but does it make sense to keep this material?'" the Smithsonian's Jane Milosch said.
It's not a simple open-and-shut case
"You're dealing with countries that existed when the object was acquired, but they may not exist now, and countries who we had trade agreements with that may have different export laws now," Milosch explained. "Provenance is very complex and people aren’t used to processing a chain of ownership.
By the time you hit the second or third owner over time, the information can get more difficult to research."
Rewriting its history
In light of this, Anand and Dalrymple said that simply letting people know the true history of the diamond could do a lot of good. "What I would dearly love is for there to be a really clear sign by the exhibit," said Anand.
"People are taught this was a gift from India to Britain. I would like the correct history to be put by the diamond." Dalrymple added, "Whenever we lecture, we find people who are horrified by the history. But they're not resistant; they just weren't aware of it."
Setting the record straight
There are plenty of other myths and legends about the Koh-i-Noor diamond that can be debunked, too. For starters, this diamond was not the only massive diamond taken by Nader Shah in 1739.
Other just-as-impressive stones included the Darya-i-Noor and the Great Mughal Diamond. The former is assumed to be between 175 and 195 metric carats, and the latter is 189.9 metric carats — compared to Koh-i-Noor's 190.3 metric carats.
The diamond is by no means perfect
All this attention might also make you think that the much-talked-about diamond is a perfect specimen — but you'd be wrong. The whole reason Prince Albert felt that he had to have the diamond recut was because of a flaw in the middle of the Koh-i-Noor.
Yellow spots in the diamond were what stopped it from refracting light and looking as shiny as people expected.
Its origins are still a mystery
The other legends about the Koh-i-Noor diamond deal with its complicated history. As we've seen, it's incredibly difficult to trace the origins of the stone.
But the experts have said that it wasn't found in a mine in the 1200s, nor was it discovered in the time of Krishna, as some people believe. It seems that in reality, Koh-i-Noor was found in a dry river bed, just like every other diamond in India back in the day.
It wasn't perceived as the best diamond at first
There was a time, too, when the Koh-i-Noor wasn't the most coveted diamond in the world. In fact, the Mughals — as well as the Persians — were more likely to be impressed by colorful gems, such as the Timur Ruby.
According to the BBC, Mughal emperor Humayun actually gifted a diamond — possibly the Koh-i-Noor itself — to a Persian Shah after being exiled.
Another myth busted
One other story that people like to tell about this diamond is that Nader Shah actually stole Koh-i-Noor from the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila in 1739 — by swapping turbans. The tall tale has it that Muhammad Shah kept the stone in his turban at the time Nader Shah conquered Delhi.
As we already know, though, the Koh-i-Noor was really part of the Peacock Throne and that's how it ended up with Nader Shah. Besides, it's hardly the sort of stone you'd keep in a turban!
Operation Golden Orb is afoot
Suffice it to say, the coronation of Charles will go ahead with Mary's crown for Camilla — and not the Koh-i-Noor. In case you were in any doubt about how seriously Britain takes these things, the coronation planning committee operates under the grand name of “Operation Golden Orb.” Everything involved in the coronation must be held to the highest possible standards, and some of the things that the ruler will use on the day — not even just the jewels — are absolutely invaluable..
A very special throne
There will still be special chairs involved, for instance. In order to be crowned, Charles must sit on an ancient seat called King Edward’s Chair, and when we say ancient we really do mean ancient.
King Edward I had it made sometime around 1300 to house Scotland’s Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. In 1996 the stone was returned to Scotland, but it revisits England for coronations; the chair itself has been used for crownings since at least 1399.
He'll have to wear six robes
Charles — like Elizabeth before him — will likely wear a grand total of six robes, one for each stage of the coronation. The names of these robes, in order of appearance, are as follows: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture, the enthronement, and the homage.
A couple of these robes will be historic pieces, but most of them will have been made especially for Charles.
Another controversial stone
The Stone of Scone may be involved, too, and that was a matter of some contention between Scotland and England for a while. Even though both places are part of the United Kingdom, there’s some bloody history between them.
And, just as is the case with the countries who originally owned some of the gems that festoon the Crown Jewels, Scotland wanted it back. Some university students even stole the stone back in 1950.
An ominous prediction
And now a man who calls himself a “psychic medium” has been speaking to the British newspapers about Charles’ use of the Stone of Scone in the coronation. A 68-year-old called Craig Hamilton-Parker told the Metro at the beginning of 2023 that he believed there would be some misfortune for the new King if the stone came back to England..
He has weird feelings
Hamilton-Parker informed the paper, “The Stone of Scone was used during the old coronation of the Scottish kings… [it] was stolen by Edward and brought back to Westminster and only in recent years was it given back to the Scots. I have weird feelings about Scotland, some kind of protest or someone trying to steal the stone.” But that's not the only ominous predication Charles has to deal with.
Is the future bright?
Mario Reading published a book called The Nostradamus Prophecies in 2005 that predicted that after Charles got his crown, things would take a turn for the worse. He wrote, “The pressure on him is so great, and his age so much against him, that Charles agrees to abdicate in favor of his son.” And indeed the prospect of the royals “skipping a generation” had been talked about even before Elizabeth passed away..
King William could be a possibility
Some people have wondered whether Charles might one day end up abdicating because of advancing age, rather than because the people of Britain seemingly prefer his children. In 2022 Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic suggested, “A more consequential use of Charles’s reign would be to rule briefly and abdicate at 75… while touting the importance of passing the throne to Prince William in his son’s prime rather than his dotage.”.
And what about Harry?
In the next part of the prophecy, Reading posed the question, based on Nostradamus’ “never expected to be King” line, “Does this mean that Prince William, who would have expected to succeed his father, is no longer in the picture? And that Prince Harry, by process of default, becomes King in his stead? That would make him King Henry IX, aged just 38.”.
There are contingency plans
The British government may actually be making plans for the possibility, however slight, that both Charles and William die before George comes of age. In October 2022 Viscount Stansgate asked peers in the House of Lords if they were “happy to continue with a situation where the counsels of state and regency powers may be exercised by the Duke of York or the Duke of Sussex, one of whom has left public life and the other of whom has left the country?”.
The worst possibility
There is a second and even more tragic way Harry could become King, and not just a regent. If something dreadful happened that wiped out Charles and the entire Cambridge family — Prince William and all three of his heirs — the throne would go to Harry.
He would rule as king with Meghan as Queen Consort.
Care for an heir
Obviously, that scenario is a horrible one to consider, but there are members of the royal household who very much have to think about it anyway. There is actually a royal protocol dictating that two heirs to the throne should never travel together, in case of an accident.
But William has broken that rule and often gone on planes with his children.