The Survival of the Scottish Crown Jewels

The Scottish Crown Jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland, are a regular feature for any visit to Edinburgh Castle. Within the last week, the Honours crown was placed on top of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as she lay at rest in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. What is little known is the rather amazing survival story behind the jewels, a story I didn’t know myself until a I watched a programme during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations only a few months ago. For that reason, I found it only fitting to write about it in the lead up to the Queen’s funeral.

The Honours are used as a collective term to include a crown, sceptre and sword. The sword and sceptre were given to James IV of Scotland by two separate popes in 1494 and 1507, with the crown having an unknown date, but it was certainly in existence before 1540, when James V ordered alterations to it.[1] The first time all three items were used together was during the coronation of the nine-month-old Mary Queen of Scots in 1543.[2] Within a century, the jewels were placed in immense danger. Following the English Civil War, Charles I, the grandson of Mary Queen of Scots, had been executed in January 1649 by the Parliamentarians, and the country was made a Protectorate, with Oliver Cromwell in charge.

Replicas of the Honours of Scotland, © Copyright kim traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Scots, although they were against Charles I for his religious policy, were outraged at the murder of a king. On 1 January 1651, Charles II, son of the late king Charles, was crowned with the Honours. This angered Cromwell, who sent forces to Scotland as a punishment for their Royalist sympathies. The Honours were immediately at risk because Cromwell had already ordered the destruction of the English crown jewels, so the Scottish ones would be next if he could lay his hands on them. Following the coronation of Charles II, the Honours were unable to return to their home in Edinburgh as the city had already fallen to Cromwell’s troops, so another place of safety had to be chosen.

Dunnottar Castle, situated just under 20 miles from Aberdeen was chosen. It made sense to choose the castle as it was strategically placed on top of giant cliffs along a headland of coast. It was a good place to make a stand, but also to smuggle the jewels out from if necessary. The Honours arrived at Dunnottar not long after Charles II’s coronation by hiding them in sacks of wool. This in itself posed a threat as they had to be carried through territory occupied by Cromwell’s troops.[3] Whilst Dunnottar was a safe haven for a while, troops began to besiege the castle from September 1651, which would last for eight months in total.[4] A plan to smuggle the jewels out was now the only option. The question was how was it managed?

Dunnottar Castle, © Copyright Stephen McKay and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

There have been two theories placed forwards as to how the jewels actually were smuggled, the first was given my Christian Fletcher, the wife of the minister of nearby Kinneff Church, who played a major part in the planning. In her account of the event later spoken in front of the Privy Council, she claimed to have visited the castle on three separate occasions to undertake the task of smuggling. She was also helped by Mary Erskine, dowager countess of Marischal, who’s son was in control of the area, and Elizabeth Douglas, wife of the Castle Governor. The first attempt launched the rescue attempt, in which Christian left the castle with the King’s papers sewn into her belt.[5] She then returned in February 1652 to collect the crown and sceptre. She had arrived on horseback to collect them and left the castle by keeping close to the cliff in order to stay hidden.[6] The final attempt was in March 1652, when she came back with a servant to collect the sword. The servant took the sword away hidden in a sack of flax on her back, with the sword case later being taken away in a sack of pillows.[7]

Christian Fletcher’s account was seen as too boastful and later on a different set of events was released to explain the rescue attempt for the jewels. This account suggests that all of the items were taken in one go, with them being tied up and lowered down to the beach below, were a servant girl collected them and hid them inside a basket of seaweed.[8] Whichever account is accurate, the Honours were certainly successfully rescued. They were taken to nearby Kinnaff Church, where Christian’s husband served as a minister, and buried there. The Honours were dug up every three months to be checked for any damage, a process that would go on for nine years before they could be returned to Charles II, once had been restored as king.[9]

Tableau at Edinburgh Castle of the Saving of the Honours of Scotland, © Copyright kim traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

When the jewels were returned to the monarchy, arguments began to ensue over who had really had the largest part in the rescue attempt. Dowager Countess Marischal managed to convince people that her son had smuggled them to the continent, meaning that he received money and titles for his supposed efforts, Elizabeth Douglas claimed she was the person in charge of the operation and also received rewards. This meant that Christian Fletcher, her husband, and their servants, had their roles diminished.[10] It wasn’t until Fletcher told her side of the story that she was offered 2000 Scots merks, but it was never paid to her.[11]

Upon the return of the Honours, they were placed back inside Edinburgh Castle, where they stayed until the Scottish Parliament was dissolved in 1707, following the Act of Union, which officially merged England and Scotland.[12] They were then placed inside a large chest and their whereabouts forgotten for over a century. There were rumours that the jewels had been sent to England in secret, but the famous Scottish author, Walter Scot, still believed them to be in a chest in Edinburgh Castle. With this belief, he petitioned the Prince Regent, the future George IV, in 1818, to give permission for the chest to be opened. It was and the life of the jewels continued once more. They were put on public display on 26 May 1819 and have been ever since.[13]

The Burial of the Scottish Regalia, David Wilkie (1785–1841), The Fitzwilliam Museum via Art UK, under this Creative Commons Licence.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the crown was used to adorn Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as it lay at rest in Edinburgh, so in some respects, it has once again been brought to the world’s attention, albeit in sad circumstances. Without the bravery and cunning of the women who helped save the Honours all those centuries ago, that would not have been possible. Whilst I know monarchy isn’t for everyone, as witnessed in the struggles between the Royalists and Parliamentarians at that time, there is no denying that the people who saved the jewels at that time risked everything to save the Honours.


[1] Kinneff Old Church, https://www.kinneffoldchurch.co.uk/opening-of-the-great-chest/

[2] Ellen Castelow, ‘The “Honours” of Scotland’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Honours-of-Scotland/

[3] ‘The women who smuggled Crown Jewels from Dunnottar Castle’, The Scotsman, 25 May 2017, https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/women-who-smuggled-crown-jewels-dunnottar-castle-855361

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid; Kinneff Old Church, https://www.kinneffoldchurch.co.uk/opening-of-the-great-chest/

[10] ‘The women who smuggled Crown Jewels from Dunnottar Castle’, The Scotsman, 25 May 2017, https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/women-who-smuggled-crown-jewels-dunnottar-castle-855361

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid; Kinneff Old Church, https://www.kinneffoldchurch.co.uk/opening-of-the-great-chest/

[13] Ellen Castelow, ‘The “Honours” of Scotland’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Honours-of-Scotland/

Jane Lane: The Woman who Helped Charles II to Escape

The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.[1]

The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.

Plan showing the route Charles took on his escape from England following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, from Fea, Allan, The flight of the king : a full, true, and particular account of the miraculous escape of His Most Sacred Majesty King Charles II after the battle of Worcester, (1908), p. 2

This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle.[2] The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home.[3] This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.

Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance.[4] It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.[5]

Isaac Fuller, King Charles II and Jane Lane riding to Bristol (1660s), NPG 5251, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.[6]

In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father.[7] The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland.[8] Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy.[9] The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.[10]

The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.


[1] ‘Charles II’, https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii#:~:text=On%201%20January%201651%2C%20the,Worcester%20on%203%20September%201651.

[2] Beardsley, Martyn R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 55

[3] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid; Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[7] Ibid

[8] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[9] Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[10] Ibid

Pontefract Castle and John Morris: How an English Civil War Siege was Undone by Beds

Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire has been a place of power ever since he was originally built during the Norman Period. It became a place of royal power after it was brought into royal hands in the 12th century, after the power struggles during the reign of Henry I. For me, the castle means a lot as the place that Anthony Woodville, my favourite historical figure, his nephew, Richard Grey, and his friend, Thomas Vaughn, were executed in 1483. The years of the English Civil War in the 1640s continued this tumultuous history when it was besieged 3 times.[1] In fact, the consequences of the last siege in 1648, following the Parliamentarians gaining control of the castle ended in an interesting, even somewhat comical, way.

The Royalists were determined to again take possession of the castle. None was more enthusiastic than the Yorkshireman, Colonel John Morris. He was known for carrying on fighting at both the Battle of Nantwich and Middlewich, despite being on the losing side.[2] However, following the fall of Royal forces at Liverpool, he briefly switched sides. It is thought that this was because of a soldiers’ desire to win, rather than any heartfelt gesture. As Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (also a very distant ancestor of mine), noted on Morris’ decision to change sides, this didn’t help him with the Parliamentarians either, for they “left him out in their compounding of their new army”.[3] The lack of acceptance made him once again return to his Royalist roots and he found himself assisting in the third siege at Pontefract Castle.

Pontefract Castle during the Siege of 1645 in, “Supplement to the Sieges of Pontefract Castle, etc”, British Library

The original plan was to scale the walls using ladders, but the men Morris commanded had got a little too drunk beforehand and they ended up being disturbed by the guards but weren’t captured.[4] Following this attempt at entering the castle, there were orders to employ more men at garrison inside the castle. This meant more beds were needed for these extra men, so Morris and his men were able to successfully disguise themselves by carrying beds into the castle.[5] It’s almost beyond belief, but this strategy worked, and the Royalists were able to take charge of the castle. The Parliamentarians were placed in the dungeons and many of their names were carved into the walls.[6] In direct response, other Parliamentarians in the area were sent to ransack John Morris’ house in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They stole £1,000 (around £103,500 in today’s money) in goods, and £1,800 (just over £186,000 in today’s money) in cash.[7]

The Royalists held Pontefract for around 9 months in total, even well after the Parliamentarians had officially won the war. It wasn’t until the execution of Charles I in January 1649 at Whitehall in London, that the garrison finally realised that they would have to surrender. Even so, just as before, Morris wasn’t willing to give in without having his final say. He made demands that he said had to be met before he would allow the garrison to surrender. He specifically asked for an armed convoy home and for all the men to be exempt from prosecution or being sued for their parts on the Royalist side.[8] These terms proved too much, and it was finally agreed that only Morris and 5 others would be exempt, but this proved to be a trick so they would leave the castle.[9] One man was shot when they left and Morris escaped, but went on the run. He was found 10 days later and sent to York to be condemned to death as a traitor, but again he briefly escaped.[10] He was eventually executed on 23rd of August 1649.

Pontefract Castle as of 2016 (Author’s Own Image)

The Parliamentarians, especially Oliver Cromwell, never forgot how stupid they were made to look when John Morris and his men had taken over the castle at Pontefract. Cromwell saw it as such a troublesome place than instead of the customary slighting, where a castle was partially damaged, he ordered and paid the townspeople of Pontefract to destroy it.[11] To this day, the castle is a former shadow of itself. It’s very hard to imagine what the castle had once looked like prior to the destruction as there is so little left of it. Thankfully, there are some lovely images available to give a sense of what that might have been like. Whatever that may have been, you can’t help but commend John Morris for his tenacity and quick thinking when it came to infiltrating Pontefract Castle by using just beds.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Pontefract Castle, please do take a look at the following website: https://pontefractsandalcastles.org.uk/. It’s run by an amazing team of volunteers for both Pontefract and nearby Sandal Castle, both with wonderful Wars of the Roses connections. The team are lovely and the website is full of information on all aspects of history connected to both sites.


[1] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/

[2] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier: John Morris & The Siege of Pontefract Castle, 1648-9 (2014), http://www.chivalryandwar.co.uk/Resource/THE%20BRAVEST%20CAVALIER.pdf, p. 21

[3] Clarendon cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[4] Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx; Thomas Paulden cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[5] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[6] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 49.

[7] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 50.

[8] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[9] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[10] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/; Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx;

[11] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/