Crown on Queen's Coffin Contains Controversial African Diamond

Queen Elizabeth's family members were seen following her coffin on foot in a solemn procession on Wednesday, as her body was taken from London's Buckingham Palace to nearby Westminster Hall.

While all eyes were on King Charles III, Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Anne, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew during the moving occasion, one item was hard to miss amid the pomp and ceremony—the Imperial State Crown.

As the body of the queen, who died September 8, was taken through the streets of London on a gun carriage, the heavily bejeweled crown was seen resting atop a velvet cushion on her coffin, which was draped in the Royal Standard.

The crown has become the subject of much contentious debate in the days since the sovereign died, as it contains the controversial 317-carat Cullinan II diamond, also known as the Second Star of Africa. Some on social media have called for the royal family to return the diamond, as well as the significantly larger 530.2-carat Cullinan I diamond set atop the Sovereign's Scepter, to Africa. The latter is estimated to be worth $400 million.

Queen Elizabeth's coffin adorned with controversial diamond
Queen Elizabeth II is pictured on October 27, 2016, in Poundbury, England. Her coffin (inset), adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown, is seen being pulled by a gun carriage on Wednesday during a procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster. The crown contains a controversial African diamond. DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images/Justin Tallis - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The royal family's possession of the diamonds, among other precious jewels, has been steeped in controversy, given the history of British colonialism. The Cullinan diamond was mined in what is now South Africa in 1905 and was the largest uncut diamond ever found, at 3,106 carats, which is a little more than 1 pound.

It was presented as a gift to King Edward VII after a failure to sell it privately in 1907. The rough diamond was cut into nine smaller stones, which are among the jewels for the queen's private use.

The Imperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown was transported from the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament on May 25, 2010. Stefan Wermuth, Pool/AP Photo/Reuters

The diamond was also cut into 96 smaller brilliants, with the British monarchy owning a number of them. The stones that made up the Cullinan diamond are valued in total at $2 billion.

The Imperial State Crown is the principal crown worn by the British sovereign and is kept at the Tower of London along with other regalia used in coronations and official ceremonies, such as the sovereign's scepter and Queen Mary II's golden orb.

The current state crown was made in 1937 for the queen's father, King George VI, and is based on the crown made in 1837 for Queen Victoria. It contains some of the British monarchy's most historic jewels, including St. Edward's Sapphire, the oldest gemstone in the collection. This blue stone has been set into the center of the crown and is said to have belonged to Edward the Confessor, who ascended to the throne in 1042.

In total, the crown is set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and four rubies.

Queen Elizabeth II procession
Prince William, King Charles III, Prince Richard, Princess Anne and Prince Harry walk behind the queen's coffin on Wednesday. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Most of the crown jewels are reserved for use in the coronation ceremony, but the Imperial State Crown was worn by the queen every year of her reign for the State Opening of Parliament, until 2017.

In 2019, it was decided that the crown was too heavy for the nonagenarian monarch, and she wore the George VI Diamond Diadem instead.

Another of the queen's jewels, the Koh-i-noor diamond from India, is estimated to be worth $400 million. Probably the world's most famous diamond, the Koh-i-noor weighed 105.6 carats when it was found in southern India, possibly as early as the 1300s.

It takes pride of place at the top of the crown made for the Queen Mother in 1937. Many people have claimed ownership of it over the centuries, including Mughal emperors, shahs of Iran, emirs of Afghanistan and Sikh maharajas.

Britain came into possession of the Koh-i-noor when the East India Company took the jewel from deposed 10-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849. It was part of the Treaty of Lahore, which declared that it had to be surrendered to Queen Victoria.

Following this week's proceedings, Queen Elizabeth II will lie in state in Westminster until next Monday, the day of her funeral. The ceremony will be attended by royals and political leaders from around the world.

Queen Elizabeth II ceremony
The Soldiers of the Life Guard dismounted detachment of the Household Cavalry are seen during the procession for Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday. Chris Jackson/Getty Images