Precious stones from the crown jewels were hidden in a biscuit tin at Windsor Castle during the Second World War to make sure the Nazis couldn’t get hold of them, a documentary is set to reveal.
A BBC One programme about the crown jewels and the Queen’s coronation will reveal for the first time how the gemstones, including the Black Prince’s Ruby from the Imperial State Crown, were placed in the biscuit tin and buried under a sally port – a secret exit from the castle used in times of emergency.
It was known the stones had been taken to the Berkshire fortress in the early years of the war in case they fell into Nazi hands following an invasion, but details had previously not been known.
The Queen, who spent her war years at Windsor Castle for safety, was apparently aware of the general story but did not know the details either until told by royal commentator Alastair Bruce, who presents the documentary due to be screened on Sunday.
Mr Bruce told the Times newspaper: “What was so lovely was that the Queen had no knowledge of it. Telling her seemed strangely odd.”
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The story was unearthed for the documentary by Oliver Urquhart Irvine, librarian and assistant keeper of the Queen’s Archives.
He said documents from Sir Owen Morshead, the royal librarian to Queen Mary, mother of King George VI, shed light on how how a hole was dug in chalk earth and two chambers with steel doors created, with a trap door that still exists today.
In the documentary, the Queen also lifts the lid on the amusing trials and tribulations of being head of state – from the perils of wearing a heavy crown to her robes sticking to a thick carpet pile.
She joked that you cannot look down when wearing the Imperial State Crown, which weighs 2lbs 13oz (1.28kgs), as your neck would “break”.
The Queen also points out that the Imperial State Crown, worn by her for her speech during the state opening of parliament, and, has been reduced in height since her father King George VI wore it.
She says: “Fortunately, my father and I have about the same sort of shaped head. But once you put it on, it stays. I mean, it just remains on.”
The crown was made for George VI’s coronation in 1937 and is set with 2,868 diamonds including 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and hundreds of pearls, including four known as Queen Elizabeth I’s earrings.
It also features a gemstone known as the Black Prince’s Ruby, believed to have been worn by Henry V in his helmet at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
The documentary is part of the Royal Collection Season, a major partnership between the BBC and Royal Collection Trust, which also features the four-part television series Art, Passion And Power: The Story Of The Royal Collection.
The Coronation is screened on BBC One at 8pm on Sunday.