Kohinoor Diamond’s Inclusion in Queen Consort’s Crown Could Spark Controversy
Shortly after Queen Elizabeth II passed away early last month, Twitter trends in India were buzzing with the word ‘Kohinoor’ (also stylized as Koh-i-noor). Literally translating into ‘The Mountain of Light’ from Persian, the Kohinoor is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world at a staggering 105.6 carats (21.12 grams), and was included in the Crown Jewels of the Queen Mother in 1937. Now, reports are emerging that including the Kohinoor in Queen Consort Camilla’s crown could bring back “painful memories” of British colonialism, according to India’s ruling party, the BJP.
Replica of the Koh-i-Noor diamond at Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai (aiva / CC BY 2.0)
At the Center of a Diplomatic Conflict: The Kohinoor
The Telegraph has reported that this nearly thousand-year-old symbol of Britain’s cruel empire is now the center of a diplomatic quarrel. In the post-war era, the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all laid a claim to the precious stone, but it is India which shares the most economically relevant relationship with the government of the UK.
The British government has had a consistent stance on the diamond – it claims that under the terms of the Last Treaty of Lahore in 1849, it obtained the diamond legally. India and other governments have disputed the claims of the treaty, particularly as the primary signatory, Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh king of India, was only 11 years old at the time of signing it!
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Maharaja Duleep Singh, aged 16, pictured at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight, 1854 (Public Domain)
“The coronation of Camilla and the use of the crown jewel Koh-i-Noor brings back painful memories of the colonial past. Most Indians have very little memory of the oppressive past. Five to six generations of Indians suffered under multiple foreign rules for over five centuries. Recent occasions, like Queen Elizabeth II's death, the coronation of the new Queen Camilla and the use of the Koh-i-Noor do transport a few Indians back to the days of the British Empire in India,” an unnamed BJP party spokesperson was quoted saying by The Telegraph.
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A replica of the Kohinoor in its original setting as an armlet (Shankar S / CC BY 2.0)
Another anonymous source from the palace has explained that the original plan had always been to crown the Queen Consort with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s crown. In fact, an agreement to this extent had been publicly shared all the way back in 2015, a few months before the late queen’s 90th birthday, The Daily Mail reported.
However, given the winds of change, the worldwide furor over the lavish display of wealth and power that the British monarchy represents, and the public disdain over King Charles’ coronation, the king has been in constant communication with his advisors. The political and religious sensitivities that come into play, along with the attached historical connotations, are what the new king and queen seek to avoid.
“The Coronation has deliberately been kept quite unplanned, unlike the Bridges program [for the late Queen’s death] to ensure it can best reflect the climate at the time at which it happens,” they said. Now is when the planning will begin in earnest, and people at the palace will be acutely aware of and wanting to reflect tradition whilst being sensitive to the issues around today. At this stage it’s entirely possible that the Koh-i-Noor will be in or out. Bluntly, people will be wondering whether they really want a row over a diamond right now,” said another political aide.
In India, the Kohinoor diamond has always held great presence in popular imagination, and reclaiming it is seen as a rightful restoration of pride. A new kind of politics has also swept the subcontinent in the last decade, with the emergence of social media, where the Kohinoor often figures as a part of historical reparations.
The Kohinoor: A Blood Diamond Passing Through Many Hands
India’s pre-medieval, medieval, and post-medieval history comprises of a series of comings and goings by different players and ruling clans from Central and Western Asia, among others.
The Kohinoor’s origins are somewhat murky. Although it is thought to have been mined over 800 years ago, its first official mention was in the mid-18th century, when Nadir Shah infamously looted, among other things, the Mughal Peacock Throne, a throne that the Kohinoor was once a part of. It changed hands with a number of players within Asia for the next 100 years – bringing with it torment and tragedy to many people across Delhi, Kabul, and Lahore.
The Kohinoor Diamond was the crowing jewel of the Mughal Peacock Throne. The child Mughal king was forced to sign a treaty with the British, which included the surrender of the Kohinoor. (Public Domain)
After the British Annexation of Punjab in 1849, the Kohinoor was ceded by child-king Maharaja Duleep Singh, and went on display at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It failed to attract and impress too many because of what was considered a lackluster cut, before Prince Albert ordered a re-cut as an oval brilliant by Coster Diamonds (Holland).
The Kohinoor’s fiery reputation, that it brought death and despair to many men who either held it, or desired to possess it, led to it only being used by female members of the royal family. In chronological order, it has been worn by Queens Victoria, Alexandra, Mary, and Elizabeth II.
Queen Victoria wrote in the 1870s, "No one feels more strongly than I do about India or how much I opposed our taking those countries and I think no more will be taken, for it is very wrong and no advantage to us. You know also how I dislike wearing the Koh-i-Noor". A multimedia portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria by George Stuart shown wearing the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in a brooch, 20th century (Public Domain)
Noted historian William Dalrymple described the Kohinoor as “arguably the single most valuable object in not just the Punjab but the entire subcontinent”. It remains to be seen whether a new crown will be built from scratch for the Queen Consort, or if they decide to brave the current climate and risk committing diplomatic suicide.
By Sahir Pandey
Furness, H. October 13, 2022. Controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond could be ‘in or out’ of Queen Consort’s crown. The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2022/10/13/controversial-koh-i-noor-diamond-could-queen-consorts-crown/.
Low, V. October 12, 2022. Camilla may be denied Queen Mother’s crown with Koh-i-Noor diamond. The Times UK. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/no-10-bank-holiday-king-coronation-downing-street-nz92p7nv9
Robinson, J. October 12, 2022. The Daily Mail. 'It brings back painful memories of the colonial past': India's governing party backs plans to axe the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond from Camilla's coronation crown. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11309773/India-says-Koh-Noor-diamonds-use-bring-painful-memories-British-colonialism.html.
Whitehead, J. October 13, 2022. Camilla may not wear controversial Koh-i-Noor crown for coronation. The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/royal-family/camilla-coronation-koh-i-noor-diamond-crown-b2201825.html.