Origin of Name
The Black Prince’s Ruby gets its name from the Prince of Wales, Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Aquitaine from 1362 to 1372, the eldest son and heir apparent of King Edward III of England, a brave soldier and outstanding military commander, who distinguished himself in the hundred years war between England and France, over a series of disputes including the question of legitimate succession to the French Crown. He is believed to have worn black armor during his military campaigns that earned him the sobriquet Black Prince. In the year 1367, Edward the Prince of Aquitaine, undertook to assist Peter the Cruel of Castile to regain his throne, and after winning a classic victory at Nagera on April 3rd, 1367, Peter was restored to his throne. The Black Prince’s Ruby was believed to have been given as a gift to Prince Edward, by King Peter of Castile, as an appreciation for his services in regaining the throne.
Characteristics of the gemstone
The Black Prince’s Ruby is a 170-carat uncut gemstone shaped as an irregular octahedron, 5 cm long, polished in the rough, with a spectacular red color, glowing with an internal fire of its own and previously thought to be a ruby, but later discovered to be a large spinel. The entire stone appears at one time to have been used as a bead, with a drill hole passing through the center. A small genuine ruby have now been used to plug the opening to the drill hole. Photographs of the Black Prince’s Ruby mounted on the Imperial State Crown used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, show the Black Prince’s Ruby as a large dark red stone, with a small light red ruby plugging the hole at the top center. The Black Prince’s Ruby is a Balas Ruby that possibly originated in the Badakhshan mines of Afghanistan, like the Timur Ruby.
Similarity in properties of rubies and spinels
Rubies and spinels usually occur together in the same gravel mines and have somewhat similar physical and optical properties. The red spinels and rubies have almost similar colors, the top quality in both having blood-red colors, though the spinels seem to have more fire than the rubies, due to their high refractive index coupled with good dispersion. Due to the close resemblance in properties the two types of gemstones were not identified as separate minerals in ancient times, and were all considered to be rubies. Hence the names Black Prince’s Ruby and Timur Ruby for the large red gemstones in the British Crown Jewels, when in fact these gemstones were spinels. The mistaken identity continued until the second half of the 18th century, when in 1783 the French mineralogist Louis Rom de Lisle identified spinel as a separate mineral from ruby.
Differentiation of spinels from rubies in the late 18th century
Louis Rom de Lisle showed by chemical analysis that while rubies were a form of corundum, composed of Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3), Spinels were not corundum and were composed of Magnesium Aluminum Oxide – MgAl2O4 - (Magnesium Aluminate). He showed that rubies usually contained inclusions, but spinels had good clarity and were only slightly included. Both rubies and red spinels were colored by chromium atoms, but spinels usually had more fire than the rubies. He also showed that while spinels could form crystals of enormous size (Timur Ruby-361 carats, Samarian ruby-500 carats), rubies very rarely formed large crystals and were usually smaller in size.
Identification of spinels as a different species in ancient times
In terms of hardness rubies are slightly harder than spinels. The hardness of ruby is 9 on the Mohs scale, but the hardness of spinel is 8 on the same scale. Rubies are also slightly heavier than spinels. The specific gravity of rubies is 3.99-4.02, but the specific gravity of spinels is 3.57 to3.63. This slight difference in the hardness and weight of the two stones, were the criteria used by ancient cutters and polishers of Sri Lanka to distinguish between the two varieties of gemstones, where spinels were known as “Kirinchi” since ancient times. Even in Burma, another source country for rubies and spinels, the two species of minerals seem to have been differentiated since the beginning of the 17th century.
Source of the Black Prince’s Ruby
The Black Prince’s Ruby seems to have originated in the Badakhshan mines of Afghanistan, a main source of large Balas spinel rubies in the middle ages. Most of the large spinels in the crown jewels of Iran, Britain, Turkey, and Russia all originated in these mines. The Badakshan mines are situated in the upper valley of the Kowkcheh River, one of the main tributaries of the Oxus River, in the northeastern region of Afghanistan, close to the border with Tajikistan. The mines were discovered in ancient times immediately after an earthquake split up a mountain called the Syghinan, exposing large deposits of sparkling red and pink gemstone bearing gravel.
History of the Black Prince’s Ruby
The Black Prince’s Ruby is without any doubt one of the most celebrated and treasured gemstones in the world, with a long and colorful history, dating back to the 14th century.
It is almost certain that the Black Prince’s Ruby was given as a gift or as payment by King Peter the Cruel of Castile, for the services rendered by the Black Prince, Edward Woodstock, the Prince of Wales and heir apparent of King Edward III of England, in regaining his throne, after defeating the forces of his brother Henry in battle at Nagera on April 3rd 1367. The question then arises as to how the Black Prince’s Ruby came into the possession of Peter the cruel.
How Peter the Cruel Acquired the Black Prince’s Ruby ?
According to historians the Black Prince’s Ruby was originally the property of the Moorish Princes of Granada, in Spain. Around that time Granada was ruled by a Moorish Prince, by the name of Mohammed, and neighboring Seville was ruled by Don Pedro (Peter) the Cruel. King Mohammed of Granada was then ousted in a palace coup in the year 1366, by his brother-in-law Abu Zaid, and Mohammed fled to the neighboring state of Seville, and sought the assistance of Peter the Cruel. Peter saw this as an opportunity to attack Granada and annex it to his territory. His forces invaded Granada and Abu Zaid was brought to his heel. Abu Zaid agreed to surrender, and arrived with his attendants. Peter welcomed them warmly, and invited the guests to dinner, having heard that Abu Zaid had gemstones of great value with him, that included a spectacular large ruby. While the banquet was in progress Peter got his attendants killed one by one, and finally Peter himself stabbed Abu Zaid and killed him. A search of the corpse later revealed several valuable gemstones including the spectacular Black Prince’s Ruby.
Peter seeks Black Prince Edward’s help to regain his throne
Thus Peter the Cruel was able to annex Granada to his own territory. However within a short period his elder half brother Henry, the illegitimate son of King Alfonso XI of Castile, rebelled against him, and attacked Castile with the help of the French. Peter fled Castile to Bordeaux in France, where the Prince of Aquitaine, Black Prince Edward was holding court. Peter sought the help of Prince Edward to regain his throne, and Edward agreed. In 1367, Prince Edward led an army against Castile, and routed Henry’s forces at Nagera on April 3rd, 1367, and restored Peter the Cruel to his throne. Peter in return, out of gratitude for the services rendered by the Black Prince Edward, gifted the spectacular ruby to the Prince.
Prince Edward returns to England
Prince Edward returned to his domain in Aquitaine, but the campaign in Seville had ruined both his health and his finances. He was also noted for his extravagant style of living, and eventually his subjects turned against him, and the Prince finally left Aquitaine for England in 1371, a sick and broken man, and formally surrendered his principality to his father. Prince Edward never ascended the British Throne, as he died in 1376 at the age of 46 years, one year before the death of his father King Edward III. The Black Prince Ruby which Prince Edward brought to England, entered the British Crown Jewels in 1377, just before the coronation of Richard II, the only surviving son of the Black Prince.
Peter the Cruel is murdered by his half-brother Henry II
Peter the Cruel who regained his throne from his half-brother Henry II, in 1367, was not able to hold it for long. Henry II sought French help again and two years after in 1369, attacked Seville for the second time, captured Peter and murdered him on March 23, 1369.
Black Prince’s Ruby saves King Henry V from death at the battle of Agincourt
We next hear of the Black Prince Ruby mounted on the helmet of King Henry V of England, together with other rubies, sapphires and pearls. On October 25th, 1415, King Henry V led his relatively small army of 15,000 men against the 50,000 strong army of the French Prince Duc d’Alencon at Agincourt. It is said that Henry V got the Black Prince Ruby mounted on his helmet as a protection. When the battle started the French Prince Duc d’Alencon set upon the King, dealing him a mighty blow on his head with his battle axe, nearly killing Henry. The blow landed on his helmet, but miraculously both the King and the Black Prince’s Ruby survived. Eventually the battle ended in a great victory for the smaller army of King Henry V, and the King attributed his miraculous escape from death, to the protection provided by the Black Prince’s Ruby. The original helmet worn by Henry V at Agincourt with its jewels removed is said to reside in the Westminster Abbey, clearly showing two deep gashes, the result of the mighty blow received on it during battle.
The myth of the Black Prince’s Ruby’s protective power is broken
Following Henry V’s claim that the Black Prince Ruby protected him from certain death at the battle of Agincourt, his successors held the renowned gemstone with great esteem, and the stone was set and re-set in various crowns worn by the Yorks, Tudors and Stuart Kings. But for the last York King, Richard III, the Black Prince Ruby, was not a particularly lucky gem as he was killed while wearing the reputed stone in the battle of Bosworth on August 22nd, 1485, by Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, who later ascended the throne of England as Henry VII (1485-1509). Thus the myth of the protective power of the Black Prince Ruby had been broken by this murder. Henry Tudor was the founder of the dynasty of Kings called the Tudors, who were of Welsh origin and provided five sovereigns of England.
Black Prince Ruby with the Tudors
The gemstone was then inherited by King Henry VIII (1509-47), and then by Henry VIII’s children and successors, Edward VI (1547-53), Mary I (1553-58), and Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Elizabeth I added the Black Prince Ruby to her private collection. Elizabeth I offered to gift the Black Pince Ruby and other valuable jewels to Mary, the Queen of the Scots, if she would follow her counsels, but this never materialized, and Mary was eventually executed being tried and found guilty of several intrigues and plots to kill Queen Elizabeth I.
Black Prince Ruby with the Stuarts
Queen Elizabeth I was succeeded by King James I of Scotland, who was the first Stuart king of England who ruled between 1603 and 1625. James was a believer in royal absolutism and conflicts between the king and parliament over the separation of powers, started during his period which eventually set the stage for the rebellion against his successor, Charles I.
King James I got the Black Prince Ruby mounted on his state crown, and an inventory of the crown jewels during this period describes the gemstone in the following terms, “and uppon the topp a very greate ballace (balas ruby) perced.” There is no doubt that the reference is to the Black Prince Ruby, which has been drilled at the top and the hole is presently plugged with a small ruby.
James I was succeeded by his son Charles I, during whose reign conflicts with the parliament increased and came to a head, leading to a rebellion that finally saw the execution of Charles I by beheading in 1649. Oliver Cromwell who assumed power as the lord protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, from 1653 to 1658, during the republican commonwealth, ordered that all the crown jewels in the royal treasury be disposed of. Accordingly most of the treasures were sold including the Black Prince’s Ruby. The sales list of Charles I ‘s crown jewels shows two entries recording the sale of two balas rubies, one for £4, described as a pierced balas ruby, and the other for £15 referred to as the “Rock Ruby.” Opinion differs as to which one of them represents the actual Black Prince’s Ruby.
The lost Black Prince Ruby is restored
In 1660 Charles II, the eldest surviving son of Charles I, was restored to the British Throne after several years of exile in France. The Black Prince’s Ruby that was supposed to be lost had actually been purchased by an anonymous buyer who agreed to re-sell the gemstone to Charles II, who got the stone re-mounted on his state crown.
Building up of the crown jewels again – The crown jewels survive World War II
Charles II and the succession of monarchs that followed gradually built up an impressive collection of jewelry after the dispersal of the previous collection of crown jewels during the republican commonwealth. The crown jewels were kept in the Tower of London. The new collection of crown jewels were exposed to serious danger on two occasions. One was in 1841 when a fire broke out in the Tower. It was the timely action of a police inspector by the name of Pierse, that saved the crown jewels on this occasion. As the fire raged, the police inspector broke through the iron bars with a crowbar and rescued the invaluable pieces of jewelry. The second time the crown jewels were exposed to serious danger was quite recently, during World War II. This time it was from Hitler’s bombers and V-2 missiles. The crown jewels survived the second World War in spite of the devastating bombing of London.
The Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown designed and produced for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, is set with three famous gemstones. These are 1) The Black Prince’s Ruby 2) The Saint Edwards Sapphire and 3) The Cullinan Diamond.
The Black Prince’s Ruby is set in the central panel of the imperial State Crown, just above the Cullinan diamond. The blood-red polished octahedral spinel, weighing approximately 170 carats, is backed by a gold foil to improve it’s brilliance. The length of the stone along its longest axis is about two inches (5.08 cm). A small ruby plugs the opening of the hole drilled at one end. The Black Prince’s Ruby being a spinel may not be as expensive as a ruby, yet today the stone is priceless and inestimable as it is associated with a long and colorful history, making it one of the most famous gemstones in the world.
The other famous gemstone on the Imperial State Crown is the Saint Edward’s Sapphire, which is set in the center of the Maltese Cross at the top of the crown. The Edward’s Sapphire has a history that is older than the Black Princes Ruby, extending back to the 11th century A.D.
The third famous gemstone on the crown is the 317.40-carat Cullinan II diamond, which is mounted on the brow of the crown, just below the Black Prince’s Ruby. The Cullinan II is the second largest white diamond in the world and is one of nine other diamonds derived from the massive 3,106 carat rough Cullinan diamond, the world’s largest ever rough diamond, that was discovered in the Premier Diamond Mines of South Africa in 1905, and later, and was presented to the reigning British Monarch, King Edward VII, to mark the occasion of his 66th birthday, on November 9th,1907.
1) The Fourteenth Century,1307–1399-May Mckisack (1959)
2) Ruby and Sapphire – Richard W. Hughes
3) The Queen’s Jewels – Leslie Field
4) The Rubies and Spinels of Afghanistan – A Brief History – Richard W. Hughes
5) Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine-Richard Barber-1978.
6) Crown and Nobility 1272–1461: Political Conflict in Late Medieval England-Anthony Tuck (1985).
7) The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272–1377 Michael Prestwich (1980).
8) England in the Later Middle Ages: A Political History M.H. Keen (1973).