Precious gemstones have been objects of obsession for centuries. While many of them are believed to have healing and protective qualities, others are known for the mystery and intrigue they hold. The Black Prince’s Ruby being infamous for the misfortune it attracts to its owners is still covered with myths.
Despite its name, The Black Prince’s Ruby is nither ruby, nor black which is why it’s also known as “the great imposter”.
The Black Prince’s Ruby is actually a blood-red uncut spinel which was named after the “Black Prince”, Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales.
At that time, all red transparent gemstones were thought to be rubies and it was only through technological advancement that the Black Prince’s Ruby was discovered to be red spinel.
Fine red spinels are considered to be rarer than rubies and can often be even more valuable. Being one of the world’s largest uncut spinels, the Black Prince’s Ruby weights 170 carats and has a length of almost 5 centimetres. The gemstone has a slightly polished surface and drills that have been plugged with a smaller real ruby.
The Black Prince’s Ruby is believed to have been mined from Badakhshan, present-day Tajikistan and was first recorded during the 14th century when it was stolen from the Prince Abu Sa’id of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada by Don Pedro the Cruel, the ruler of Seville, Spain.
According to historical records, Prince Sa’id was going to surrender to King Don Pedro when he was overtaking Granada, but Pedro had cruel plans. Don Pedro welcomed Prince Sa’id to discuss the terms of his surrender and have murdered him.
After searching the Prince’s body Don Pedro found the large red gemstone and took it to his possession. It is believed that the cruel murder sparked a curse that would follow Don Pedro from that day. Moreover, the curse was said to bring misfortune and death to those who owned the gem.
Shortly after the Cruel acquired the gem, his half brother, Henry of Trastamara declared war on Castile for the right to rule. Don Pedro had to ally with Prince Edward III to defeat Henry of Trastamara and gave him the gemstone as payment.
In 1367, the jewel was brought back to England and owned by Prince Edward III who was also known as “the Black Prince”.
In 1415, King Henry V had the Black Prince’s Ruby set in this battle helmet next to real rubies and wore it when he won a victory over the French forces at the Battle of Agincourt.
The gem was passed along to British royal family, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I until King Charles I was beheaded for treason in 1649.
The Black Prince’s Ruby was sold to unknown party and was bought back by Charles II who nearly lost the “ruby” when the Irish Colonel Thomas Blood tried to steal the crown jewels of England in 1671.
Currently, the Black Prince’s Ruby sits in the Imperial State Crown of England and is one of the most famous gems of the British Crown jewels.
Cover image credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020