The First Irish Crown Jewels


The stolen jewels weren’t the first Irish Crown Jewels. In 1154 the one and only Englishman to become Pope, Nicholas Breakspeare, was elected as Pope Adrian IV. The next year he presented Ireland to the English king, Henry II, as a papal fief or lordship, he himself remaining overlord. There was also a theory, probably spurious, that all islands belonged to the Pope.

John of Salisbury, one of the few reliable historians of the Middle Ages, wrote: “It was at my prayer that he [Adrian IV] have and conceded to the illustrious King of England, Henry II, Ireland, to be possessed by hereditary right; for by ancient right, according to the Donation of Constantine, all islands are said to belong to the Roman church. Through me, too, did the Pope transmit a golden ring, decked with a single emerald, with which the king’s investiture was to be completed.”

This then can be called the first Irish Crown Jewel. Unfortunately the investiture was never completed because Henry refused to accept the Pope’s terms, one penny each year for every house in Ireland, and present papal rights to remain intact.

Henry II, however, appointed his son, Prince John, Lord of Ireland in 1185, and the Pope, by this time Pope Urban II, sent a gold crown adorned with peacock feathers for the coronation of John as Lord of Ireland. However, John offended the Irish chieftains by laughing at their long beards (it was the fashion then in England to be clean-shaven), and they not unnaturally took umbrage and defied the upstart prince. John was never crowned with this, the second Irish Crown Jewel. What happened to the emerald ring and peacock crown is not known.

The lordship of Ireland came to an end when Henry VIII broke with the Pope. In 1541 the Irish Parliament gave him the title “King of Ireland,” which, he repudiated, only to proclaim himself King of Ireland on his own authority!

In 1782 Henry Gratan, an English minister intent on ameliorating the Irish situation, had the Irish Parliament declared independent of the English one, and the following year, 1783, George III, who in a 60-year reign never set foot outside England, created the Order of Saint Patrick.

It was for this order that the Irish jewels were created in 1830, to be worn by the Grand Master of the Order and by visiting sovereigns.

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