Famous Gemstones - Black Princes Ruby


As the Black Prince’s Ruby is red in colour, and red is a passionate colour, it probably comes as no surprise that the Black Prince’s Ruby has a history drenched in blood and betrayal. Surviving mortal combat, fires, bomb warfare, and envied by the kings and queens of Spain, England and Scotland, it is amazing that this precious gem remains intact.

Although in ancient times, all red gemstones were called ‘rubies’, it has only been recently that the Black Prince’s Ruby, has become classified as a ‘spinel’. A spinel is actually rarer than a ruby, slightly softer on the Mohs scale of hardness, and less dense. Roughly the size of a chicken egg, the Black Prince’s Ruby measures approximately 5.08 cm in length, 34 g in weight (170 carats). It is drilled at one end with a small ruby stuck to the opening.

The Black Prince’s Ruby received its name from the infamous Edward of Woodstock, who was known as the Black Prince of Bordeaux. It is believed that the gem was mined at the famous ruby mines of Badakshan, along the Afghanistan border, but its first recorded appearance is in 14th century Spain, under the ownership of Abu Said.

Said was a Moorish noble who ruled a region of Spain after deposing his brother-in-law, Mohammad of Granada. Mohammad sought the aid of his ally, Don Pedro the Cruel, whose armies overthrew Said, and stole his jewels. In 1366, Pedro was forced to flee to Bordeaux, to the court of the Black Prince, after he was betrayed by his brother. Pedro paid the Black Prince with the gem for helping him to defeat Henry.

The Black Prince’s Ruby seems to have disappeared from history, until it again appears as the gem of King Henry V of England. Henry wore it mounted on a bejewelled helmet. On 25th October 1415, Henry received a near fatal blow to the head from the battle axe of the French Duke of Alencon, and was then set upon by other French soldiers, who stole a portion of the cracked helmet. Amazingly, Henry fought them off, and his army won the Battle of Agincourt.

Kept safely in the British royal line, the gem was inherited by Queen Elizabeth 1, and envied by her great rival Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s desire for the gem, and also for Elizabeth’s crown, came at the cost of her life. The Black Prince’s Pearl seems to be in itself, charmed. When Oliver Cromwell seized power and Charles 1 was executed, most treasures were melted down. Somehow the gem had not been found, and was spared.

When the Black Prince’s Ruby came to light again, by an anonymous party, it was sold back again to the royal family; this time to Charles II in 1660. In 1841, the Pearl then set in Charles II’s State Crown, survived a fire at the Tower of London, and later on still remained intact, despite being threatened in World War II by Hitler’s bombers.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.