Searching for Scotland’s Crown Jewels
Updated: Jul 11
After visiting Dunnottar Castle earlier this year, we found that the story which captured our attention the most was the part that the castle played in saving Scotland’s Crown Jewels from the army of Oliver Cromwell. The Honours of Scotland, as the crown jewels are formally known, were spirited out of the besieged castle to an unassuming church just seven miles south of the castle and hidden there for the next eight years.
The Honours of Scotland were made up of the crown, the sceptre, and the sword of state. The gold crown, decorated with gems and pearls, was made from Scottish gold, and the sceptre was a gift from Pope Alexander VI to James IV, while the sword was also a papal gift to James IV, presented by Pope Julius II. The regalia were used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs from Mary I in 1543 until Charles II in 1651.
The story began in 1651, following the crowning of Charles II at Scone, in Perthshire. 38 kings of Scots had been inaugurated and crowned at Scone, on top of Moot Hill, but Charles II was to be the last. Oliver Cromwell’s army by this time were marching through the Lothians, near Edinburgh, and were intent on capturing the crown jewels and destroying them, just as they had done to the English crown jewels.
The Honours were brought to Dunnottar Castle for safe keeping by Katherine Drummond, hidden in sacks of wool. Sir George Ogilvie of Barras was appointed lieutenant-governor of the castle, and given responsibility for its defence. By November 1651, the castle was being besieged by Cromwell’s army and it was obvious to the small garrison that the castle would be captured sooner or later. By May 1652 siege artillery had been brought to the castle which would have been sufficient to demolish the castle. It was at this point that the plucky garrison surrendered.
To the shock of Cromwell’s troops, however, the Honours had gone. Elizabeth Douglas, wife of Sir George Ogilvie, and Christian Fletcher, wife of James Granger, minister of Kinneff Parish Church had hatched a plan that saved the royal regalia. Firstly, the king's papers were removed from the castle by Anne Lindsay, a kinswoman of Elizabeth Douglas, who walked through the besieging force with the papers sewn into her clothes. Then over the course of three visits to the castle, Christian Fletcher carried away the crown, sceptre, sword and sword-case hidden amongst sacks of goods. Fletcher and her husband then buried them under the floor of Kinneff Old Church.
Kinneff Old Church
The story had stuck with us and we decided that we wanted to find out more about where the Honours had been hidden, so we set off to the little village of Kinneff, on the coast just south of Stonehaven, and found the hero of our story, Kinneff Old Church.
The church can be found off the A92, the old coast road, down a narrow road leading towards the sea. The church is open daily, from 9:00am to 6:00pm. The church is normally left unattended, allowing visitors to browse the highly informative displays and explore the site by themselves.
On our visit, however, we were very lucky to meet two of the knowledgeable trustees of the Church, Diana and Mike, and we received a rare insight into this historic little sanctuary. We were shown the area where the Honours were hidden and learned the fascinating history of the church itself and how it had developed over the years, from being consecrated by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews on 5th August, 1242 to the present day.
For eight years the Honours were kept at Kinneff Old Church in secret, with Cromwell scouring the country and believing the rumours that the jewels may have been smuggled abroad. Once every three months the Regalia were dug up at night to be aired before a fire and preserved from damp and injury. Wrapped in fresh cloths, they were buried again.
The whole scene is captured in a print displayed at the church called “The Concealment of the Scottish Regalia in the Kirk of Kinneff, 1652.” This imaginative picture was created by A. Chisholm of the Rev. James Granger and his wife airing the Scottish Regalia before burying them again under the floor of the church.
At last, during the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the honours were removed from Kinneff Church and returned to the king. Christian Fletcher was awarded 2,000 merks by Parliament as a reward for saving the Honours. Parliament noted that the award was “because she was most active in conveying the royal honours…out of the castle…and that by her care the same was hid and preserved.” However, the sum was never paid!
Of course, the story of the Honours did not end with Charles II. They went from Kinneff Old Church to Edinburgh Castle for safe keeping, being locked away in a chest. Disappointingly for Scotland, they remained hidden away neglected for over one hundred years while the regents held court in far away London. It was only until the famous writer Walter Scott and a group of officials petitioned the future George IV in 1818 to be allowed to unlock the royal regalia, that the Honours were again to see the light of day. The group had to break down the wall of the ancient Crown Room and half expected to find the wooden chest empty. Thankfully, they were still there and went on public display in the Crown Room on 26 May 1819, being guarded by two veterans of the Battle of Waterloo dressed in a Tudor-style Yeoman's outfit.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The regalia was paraded down the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1822 when George IV visited Edinburgh – the first time in almost two centuries that a reigning British monarch had visited Scotland. In a ceremony, the king symbolically touched the Regalia.
The Crown Room
It is in the Crown Room, on the first floor of the Royal Palace in Edinburgh Castle, that the Honours can still be seen today. We last visited the Honours in 2017 and are happy to report that the Regalia takes pride of place.
Join us next time when our family adventures take us on a tour of the filming locations of the TV series Outlander.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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