Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Black Prince’s Ruby

Black Prince's Ruby
Photo Source: Intec2000

Though definitely not the most beautiful of gems, the Black Prince’s Ruby has a history which has bestowed upon it incalculable value and prominence. So much so, that it has been included as a primary feature of the Imperial State Crown of Britain. Although it’s value is likely greater than most known rubies, the Black Prince’s Ruby is not actually a ruby. Reported to have been mined from the balas ruby mines near Afghanistan, this blood-red gemstone is actually a spinel (magnesium aluminum oxide).

Up until the 18th century, spinels and rubies were considered interchangeable in name and value. However, as scientific understanding of the chemical differences between the two became known, rubies moved into a class of their own.

The Black Prince’s Ruby first surfaced in Spain in the 14th century, where several minor kings (most of them brothers) were engaged in combat against one another. The fighting was vicious, and victory was short-lived for each one of them.

The famous stone is documented to have begun its journey to the Tower of London in the possession of Abu Said in Spain, who lost it to his brother Don Pedro in what sounds like an ambush. Soon after his victory over Abu Said, Don Pedro fled (with the gemstone) from another brother, Henry, to Bordeaux. In Bordeaux, Don Pedro engaged the assistance of Edward of Woodstock, who was more than happy to help defeat Henry in exchange for treasure, including the Ruby.

It was this same Edward of Woodstock from whom the stone inherited its now-famous name. Though he does not give an explanation, other than that “some writers name him” such, Edward’s nickname, The Black Prince, was first documented by Richard Grafton in his book titled, Chronicle of England.
The gem seems to have gone underground for the next fifty years, only to reappear in yet another king’s possession, this time Henry V of England. Henry mounted the gemstone in his battle helmet, and although he lost part of his crown and nearly his head, he and the Ruby remained firmly established in England in 1415.

In subsequent years, the Ruby passed through the hands of several kings and should have met its doom when Cromwell melted down and sold the entire royal treasury after the execution of Charles I in 1649. However, it is reported that Charles I sold the gem before this most destructive event.

Though the amount he sold it for is in dispute, it resurfaced in 1660, when an unknown party sold it to Charles II. The gem narrowly escaped robbery and fire in subsequent years and has resided in several different crowns over the years. In 1821, it was set into the Imperial State Crown for George IV’s coronation and resides there to this day.


1. Grafton, Richard. Grafton’s Chronicle; or, History of England. London: J. Johnson, et. al., 1809.
2. Bowersox, Gary W. and Bonita E. Chamberlin, Ph. D. Gemstones of Afghanistan. Tucson: Geoscience Press, Inc., 1995.
3. Oldershaw, Cally. Firefly Guide to Gems. Toronto: Firefly Books Ltd., 2003.
4. Hughes, Richard. Ruby & Sapphire. Bangkok, Thailand: RWH Publishing, 1997.
5. Mineral Gallery. "The Mineral Spinel." Accessed June 11, 2012.
6. Ferrebee, Wayne. "The Black Prince's Ruby." ferrebeekeeper blog. Posted September 27, 2010. Accessed June 11, 2012.
7. Ruby-Sapphire. "The Black Prince's Ruby." Accessed June 11, 2012. ;

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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