Romantic poet, novelist and proud Scot, Sir Walter Scott was just the man to find Scotland’s long lost royal regalia – the Scottish crown jewels. The Prince Regent, the future George IV, was among his many fans and tasked Scott with finding them.
On 4 February 1818, Scott directed his team of workmen to prise open an old wooden chest that had sat gathering dust for over a hundred years in a strong room in Edinburgh Castle. In his own words, Scott described it as “neither an easy nor a speedy task”.
When the lid was at last heaved upright, Scott beheld the coronation crown, sword and sceptre of the kings and queens of Scotland.
The Honours of Scotland are older than their English counterparts. The crown, made from Scottish gold, was refashioned from an existing one in 1540, while the sword and sceptre were both papal gifts. Scott found them still nestled in the linen in which they had been carefully wrapped in 1707.
That was the year of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Henceforth the monarchs of the United Kingdom would be crowned in Westminster, and the Scottish crown jewels were stashed away to be forgotten. Scott’s discovery laid to rest a long-standing rumour that the Honours of Scotland had in fact been spirited away to England.
Such fears weren’t without foundation. Oliver Cromwell had tried to get his hands on them in 1652, presumably to melt down such a potent symbol of monarchical power. But he was thwarted when they were smuggled out under the noses of his soldiers.
It was precisely to allay such fears that Scott set out to find Scotland’s crown jewels. “For it was evident the removal of the Regalia might have greatly irritated people’s minds here, and offered a fair pretext of breaking the Union, which for thirty years was the predominant wish of the Scottish nation.”