Activist countries

The UK may still be in mourning, but these countries want their jewelery back – now

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has prompted Britain’s former colonies to demand the royal family return some of the world’s most famous jewels.

As the British Empire expanded and acquired colonies, gems (among other priceless possessions) were brought back to Britain and displayed as souvenirs or spoils of war.

Now, when the Queen was seen as one of the last links to Britain’s imperial past, these countries want their jewels back.

To complicate matters, these stones are actually encrusted in the Crown Jewels and have been on display many times during this time of national mourning.

Here’s what you need to know.

South Africa

There are fresh calls for the UK to return the largest known white cut diamond in the world, the Great Star of Africa also known as Cullinan I, now the centerpiece of the Queen’s scepter.

This stone was actually just part of the much larger Cullinan Diamond, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905 when the British ruled the country. It was the largest uncut diamond ever discovered at 3,106 carats, weighing just over a pound.

It was then cut into nine main stones and 96 smaller ones, including the 500-carat Great Star of Africa.

Another stone from the large diamond is also part of the Crown Jewels – the Cullinan II or Second Star of Africa is found on the front band of the Imperial State Crown.

But it is the great star of Africa that has attracted the most attention.

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown and carrying the Orb and Scepter at her coronation in 1953

Hulton Archive via Getty Images

More than 6,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Great Star of Africa to be returned to its supposed place of origin and placed in a South African museum.

Many have also suggested that the country’s leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, should have asked for the stone’s return, rather than offering his condolences for the Queen’s death.

South African media also debated the ownership of the gem and demanded reparation payments.

Activist Thanduxolo Sabelo told local media: “The Cullinan Diamond must be returned to South Africa with immediate effect. Minerals from our country and other countries continue to benefit Britain at the expense of our people.

A Member of South African Parliament Vuyolwethu Zungula also called on his government to “demand reparations” and demanded the “return of all gold and diamonds stolen by Britain” on Twitter.

He pushed for South Africa to also leave the Commonwealth and draft a new constitution based on the “will of the South African people”.

South Africa officially became part of the British Empire in the early 19th century and did not become independent until 1931.

'The head of the scepter with the cross', 1953
‘The head of the scepter with the cross’, 1953

Print Collector via Getty Images


India – ironically once called the ‘crown jewel of the British Empire’ – has now begun to claim its own jewel, in one of Britain’s crowns, in return.

The Koh-i-noor weighs approximately 105.6 carats and is believed to have been discovered in southern India in the 1300s.

But, he currently sits atop the Queen Mother’s Crown, which was first created in 1937 for her coronation as Queen Consort of King George VI.

Queen Elizabeth (left) wearing the crown with the Koh-i-noor in 1937 at her husband's coronation
Queen Elizabeth (left) wearing the crown with the Koh-i-noor in 1937 at her husband’s coronation

Fox Photos via Getty Images

The UK got the Koh-i-noor when the East India Company took the jewel from deposed 10-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849 as part of the Treaty of Lahore.

But, due to the stone’s elaborate history, people around the world have tried to claim it as their own – it passed through Mughal emperors, Iran, Afghanistan and Sikh maharajas over the years. .

According to ABC News, the jewel was “cursed for men”, and was therefore first worn as a brooch by Queen Victoria, before being placed in separate crowns for Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary.

It is currently on display in the Queen Mother’s Crown in the Jewel House in the Tower of London. Some reports suggest it will be worn by Queen Consort Camilla when King Charles is crowned.

India was officially brought under the rule of the British Crown in the 19th century, and it only became independent in 1947 – a moment now widely seen as the beginning of the end for the entire British Empire.

Crown of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)
Crown of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)

Universal History Archive via Getty Images

So, will the stones be returned?

The Palace has not openly acknowledged these calls for the return of the jewels.

But the Queen’s move to her successor, King Charles III, has sparked a wide range of questions about the royal family’s legacy.

So acknowledging the origins of some of the royal jewels could potentially be addressed in the future – especially as more and more Commonwealth countries consider removing the monarch from their head of state.

The exact value of these stones is also unclear, although their history means they are worth a fortune.