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Bill's crowning glory

25 June 2007

On 30 June 2007, spectators all over the country and beyond will once again witness the rare and unique procession of the Scottish crown as it leaves its home at Edinburgh Castle and goes down the Royal Mile to take pride of place at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in the attendance of HM The Queen. However, as the Commissioners of the Regalia begin the task of signing over this beautiful symbol of Scottish sovereignty to the care of the Duke of Hamilton for the day, there will be one man who will be able to sit back and relax knowing his role in the proceedings is complete.

At 87 years old, Edinburgh born Bill Jameson has been cleaning the Scottish crown for over 50 years. In 1954, he was tasked with this prestigious role while working at a jewellers in Princes Street, however on leaving to start his own business, he was not able to keep the contract until specialists realised there was no better man for the job.

Bill explains: "leaning the crown is more complicated than you might think.  It has to be carefully taken to pieces with every part cleaned individually. The problem for anyone not experienced at working on such an intricate object is piecing it all back together again, and this is why I was asked to continue with the contract until this day.

Back then, it was cleaned a lot more frequently, but due to the secure glass casing in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle, this is no longer required, so it is definitely a rare treat when I do it now, and something I look forward too immensely.  I don’t think anyone has handled the Scottish crown more than I have!"

The crown took its present form in the mid 16th century after being refashioned by Edinburgh goldsmith, John Mosman, from one that was heavier and had been damaged. The crown is highly ornate, encrusted with 22 gemstones, 20 precious stones and 68 pearls. It was first worn by King James V for the coronation of his queen, Mary of Guise in 1540. The first coronation for a Scottish monarch using this crown was Mary, Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle in 1543. Mary was just 9 months old, meaning Cardinal Beaton had to simply hold it to her tiny brow. Before the opening of the new Scottish parliament in 1999, the crown had not been used since 1953.

Richard Welander, Head of Collections at Historic Scotland said: "With over 50 years experience cleaning the crown of Scotland, we would be hard placed to find someone else with the skill and dedication of Bill. The crown along with the sceptre and sword of state are the oldest royal regalia in the UK and powerful symbols of Scottish sovereignty. Given their turbulent history it is remarkable that they still survive, so their preservation is vital."

Notes for editors
What are the Honours of Scotland: The crown, sceptre and sword of state and are the country’s crown jewels.

What is their importance: They are the oldest royal regalia in the UK, the symbols of sovereignty of Scotland. The crown plays an important role during great ceremonies of state, like the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

Where are they kept: The Honours of Scotland, along with other historic regalia, and the Stone of Destiny are all on public display in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle. From time to time they are taken elsewhere for important official functions.

How was Sir Walter Scott involved: The 1707 Treaty of Union declared that the Honours should be kept in Scotland. They were supposed to have been placed in a chest in the Crown Room, and the door was bricked up. But there were dark suspicions that the chest was empty. Walter Scott finally got permission from the future King George IV to unseal the room and they were recovered on 4 February, 1818.

How old is the crown: The crown took its present form in 1540 and was first worn by King James V for the coronation of his queen, Mary of Guise, in 1540.  But its story goes back much further. When Edinburgh goldsmith John Mosman was commissioned to create a new crown he was given the old one to reuse, along with 41 extra ounces of gold mined in Clydesdale.  The circlet was melted down and mixed with the new metal, but its four arches were kept and reattached. Mosman also removed 20 precious stones and 68 pearls. These, plus 22 new stones, were all reincorporated in the new crown.  The result is that the Scottish crown is a hybrid, part fashioned in the 16th century with the rest dating back further – probably to the later 15th century.

Why was a new one wanted: The old crown weighed around 16 ounces, suggesting there was not a great deal of gold in it. Repairs were recorded in 1503 and 1532. An inventory of 1539 says one of its fleur de lis was broken and lost.  The king had also commissioned Mosman to make a new crown for his queen in 1539. So it seems he felt the time had come for something new and more impressive.

How is it decorated: The crown is highly ornate with ten alternate golden fleur de lis and crosses fleury, each separated by a pearl. The crown also contains precious stones of various shapes, sizes and colours. Perched on top, where the four arches meet, is a gold-enamelled orb and cross which is decorated with pearls and an amethyst. The orb is of French workmanship and James may have brought it back from Paris in 1537.

Who has worn the crown: The first coronation for a Scottish monarch using the new crown was Mary, Queen of Scots. It was at Stirling Castle in 1543. Mary was nine months old, so Cardinal Beaton had to hold it to her tiny brow.  The next coronation, again in Stirling, was for Mary’s son in 1567. Again, the crown was not a good fit as James VI was just 13 months old. The crown was later placed on the head of King Charles I in 1633 at a ceremony at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. His execution in 1649 heralded the last coronation on Scottish soil, when Charles II was crowned in a tiny church atop the Moot Hill at Scone in 1651.

Historic Scotland has 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae.

Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information

Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959