Most of us don’t have the ability to lock our precious valuables up like Fort Knox, so we put them in a safe, a lockbox, or tuck things away in a secret spot. Over the years, how do you think Britain’s royal family have kept their jewels safeguarded? During times of war, feast, or uncertainty, the monarchy had to get creative.
War times made ingenuity a necessity
You might be surprised to learn that during World War II, the crown jewels were kept in a cookie tin. That’s right. A Bath Oliver cookie container provided the perfect cover for a number of the kingdom’s prized treasures.
King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, devised a plan to protect the jewels in case they were invaded by the Nazis. The information was revealed last year in the BBC documentary, The Coronation.
A cache of valuable stones and riches were hidden
One of the gems that is of particular significance is what’s known as the Black Prince’s Ruby whose history stretches back to 1366. It has been mounted in the Imperial State Crown since the 1800s when Queen Victoria ruled, and remained part of the crown when it was refashioned in 1937.
Another gemstone that had to be secured? St. Edward’s Sapphire. Older than the ruby, it sits in the cross of the Imperial State Crown, per the Royal Collection Trust. Other pieces include large diamonds, one of which is in the Queen’s scepter.
Like the Black Prince’s Ruby, some jewels had to be removed from their settings before being placed in the secret stash box. Once concealed inside the old Bath Oliver tin, King George had another plan in place to hide the family’s treasures.
It was a cloak-and-dagger operation
According to the BBC, a chamber was dug underneath Windsor Castle to conceal the goods. Because German planes flew overhead, the digging location had to be covered at night to keep it hush-hush. Not all the family’s jewels were hidden in tins. Some were taken from the Tower of London and moved directly to the private vault at Windsor.
Secured with steel doors, it was a well-kept secret. So secret in fact, that Queen Elizabeth wasn’t aware of it until documentarian Alistair Bruce told her as the project was being filmed. She realized she and her sister were only children, and therefore her father did not tell them.
Bruce discovered the information through old letters written to Queen Mary by King George VI wherein the king described the plans for the cavern. It was a very covert undertaking that wasn’t shared with many who didn’t need to know. And, a trap door still exists near the site at Windsor Castle. We can’t help but wonder if there is anything of interest there now.
Not so different from an unassuming hiding place that we would use today, the cookie tin was a clever idea that could have protected the gems from damage and prying looters.
Listed to commentary from the Queen herself on what it’s like to wear the crown jewels. It’s not as easy as it may look!
These days, you can find most of the family’s jewels during a visit to the Tower of London. Knowing that some of these pieces were protected by a biscuit tin, you may never look at such containers in the same way again.