History

Queen Mary II’s Coronation Ring

One of the exhibits in Unseen Treasures of The Portland Collection is a beautiful ruby ring which belonged to Queen Mary II (1662 – 1694). The Queen chose this ring, which was a gift from her husband William III, to be used at her coronation.

The ring features an astonishing ‘Pigeon Blood’ ruby. These stones are found in Myanmar and are extremely rare. They are the purest, most vividly hued rubies.

Queen Mary IIs coronation ring

Queen Mary’s ruby and diamond coronation ring, around 1677. © Harley Foundation, The Portland Collection

 

Dr Fiona Clapperton, Education and Engagement Manager, says:

“This is the coronation ring of Queen Mary II, who reigned jointly with her husband and first cousin, William III. Mary was the daughter of the catholic King James II. Yet, both she and her husband were protestants. When parliament rebelled against the King, they invited Mary and William to take his place. They were crowned in a joint ceremony, in which this ring played an important role.

Traditionally, during the coronation of an English monarch, a ring is placed on the fourth finger of the sovereign by the archbishop of Canterbury as a symbol of ‘kingly dignity’. It forms part of the investiture of the monarch and is followed by the crowning itself.  This practice supposedly dates back to the thirteenth century, though it may be even older than this. Apparently, Matilda of Flanders, Queen of England and the wife of William the Conqueror, received a ring of gold with a sapphire at her Westminster Coronation in 1068.

If this is true, then a sapphire was an unusual choice. Traditionally, coronation rings included a ruby as the principal stone. This ruby ring was a personal choice for Mary as it was one of the first gifts given to her by her husband William when they married. She wrote, ‘being the first thing he gave me, I have ever had a particular esteem for it.’ The coronation ring is often referred to as the wedding ring of England, and in this instance, the term is particularly appropriate.

However, there was a mix up on coronation day. Mary later recalled, ‘when I was to be crowned, I had it made big enough…for that occasion, but by mistake it was put on the King’s finger & I had that put on mine that was designed for him, but we changed & I have worn it ever since.’

Until the twentieth century, each monarch had their own coronation ring which was not kept with the regalia but with the personal jewellery of the sovereign. The ring which will be used in King Charles III’s coronation is now known as the Sovereign’s Ring. It combines sapphires, rubies and diamonds, echoing the colours of the union flag. This ring was made for the Coronation of William IV in 1831, and all sovereigns from that point except Queen Victoria have used it at their coronations.”

Fiona Clapperton – Education

Dr Fiona Clapperton

Fiona is a historian and educator. She has a PhD the social history of Country Estates, and her experience includes working at Chatsworth, English Heritage, and the Wallace Collection.

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