1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Crown and Coronet

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CROWN and CORONET, an official or symbolical ornament worn on or round the head. The crown (Lat. corona) at first had no regal significance. It was a garland, or wreath, of leaves or flowers, conferred on the winners in the athletic games. Afterwards it was often made of gold, and among the Romans was bestowed as a recognition of honourable service performed or distinction won, and on occasion it took such a form as to correspond with, or indicate the character of, the service rendered. The corona obsidionalis was formed of grass and flowers plucked on the spot and given to the general who conquered a city. The corona civica, made of oak leaves with acorns, was bestowed on the soldier who in battle saved the life of a Roman citizen. The mural crown (corona muralis) was the decoration of the soldier who was the first to scale the walls of a besieged city, and was usually a circlet of gold adorned with a series of turrets. The naval crown (corona navalis), decorated in like manner with a series of miniature prows of ships, was the reward of him who gained a notable victory at sea. These latter crowns form charges in English heraldry (see Heraldry).

Many other forms of crown were used by the Romans, as the conqueror’s triumphal crown of laurel, the myrtle crown, and the convivial, bridal, funeral and other crowns. Some of the emperors wore crowns on occasion, as Caligula and Domitian, at the games, and stellate or spike crowns are depicted on the heads of several of the emperors on their coins, but no idea of imperial sovereignty was indicated thereby. The Roman people, who had accepted imperial rule as a fact, were very jealous of the employment of its emblem on the part of their rulers. That emblem was the diadem, and although the diadem and crown are frequently confused with each other they were quite distinct, and it is well to bear this in mind. The diadem, which was of eastern origin, was a fillet or band of linen or silk, richly embroidered, and was worn tied round the forehead. Selden (Titles of Honour, chap. viii. sect. 8) says that the diadem and crown “have been from ancient times confounded, yet the diadem strictly was a very different thing from what a crown now is or was, and it was no other then than only a fillet of silk, linen, or some such thing.” It is desirable to remember the distinction, for, although diadem and crown are now used as synonymous terms, the two were originally quite distinct. The confusion between them has, perhaps, come about from the fact that the modern crown seems to be rather an evolution from the diadem than the lineal descendant of the older crowns. The linen or silk diadem was eventually exchanged for a flexible band of gold, which was worn in its place round the forehead. The further development of the crown from this was readily effected by the addition of an upper row of ornament. Thus the medieval and modern crowns may be considered as radiated diadems, and so the diadem and crown have become, as it were, merged in one another.

Among the historical crowns of Europe, the Iron Crown of Lombardy, now preserved at Monza, claims notice. It is a band of iron, enclosed in a circlet formed of six plates of gold, hinged one to the other, and richly jewelled and enamelled. It is regarded with great reverence, owing to a legend that the inner band of iron has been hammered out of one of the nails of the true cross. The crown is so small, the diameter being only 6 in., and the circlet only 2½ in. in width, that doubts have been felt as to whether it was originally intended to be worn on the head or was merely meant to be a votive crown. The legend as to the iron being that of one of the nails of the cross is rejected by Muratori and others, and cannot be traced far back. How it arose or how any credence came to be reposed in the legend, it is difficult to surmise. Another historical crown is that of Charlemagne, preserved at Vienna. It is composed of a series of four larger and four smaller plaques of gold, rounded at the tops and set together alternately. The larger plaques are richly ornamented with emeralds and sapphires, and the smaller plaques have each an enamelled figure of Our Lord, David, Solomon, and Hezekiah respectively. A jewelled cross rises from the large front plaque, and an arch bearing the name of the emperor Conrad springs across from the back of this cross to the back of the crown.

At Madrid there is preserved the crown of Svintilla, king of the Visigoths, 621–631. It is a circlet of thick gold set with pearls, sapphires and other stones. It has been given as a votive offering at some period to a church, as was often the custom. Attached to its upper rim are the chains whereby to suspend it, and from the lower rim hang letters of red-coloured glass or paste which read +svintilanvs rex offeret. Two other Visigothic crowns are also preserved with it in the Armeria Real.

EB1911 Crown - Fig. 1.—The Papal Tiara.jpg
Fig. 1.—The Papal Tiara (without the infulae).

In 1858 a most remarkable discovery was made near Toledo, of eight gold crowns of the 7th century, fashioned lavishly with barbaric splendour. They are now in the Cluny Museum at Paris, having been purchased for £4000, the intrinsic value of the gold, without reckoning that of the jewels and precious stones, being not less than £600. The largest and most magnificent is the crown of Reccesvinto, king of the Visigoths from 653 to 675. It is composed of a circlet of pure gold set with pearls and precious stones in great profusion, which gives it a most sumptuous appearance. It is 9 in. in diameter and more than ½ in. in thickness, the width of the circlet being 4 in. It has also been given as a votive offering to a church, and has the chains to hang it by attached to the upper rim, while from the lower rim depend pearls, sapphires and a series of richly jewelled letters 2 in. each in depth, which read +reccesvinthvs rex offeret. The second of these crowns in size is generally thought to be that of the queen of Reccesvinto. It has no legend, but merely a cross hanging from it. The six others are smaller, and are all most richly ornamented. They are believed to have been the crowns of Reccesvinto’s children. From one of them hangs a legend which relates that they were an offering to a church, which has been identified with much probability as that of Sorbas, a small town in the province of Almeria. It has been surmised that in the disturbances which soon afterwards followed they were buried out of sight for safety, where they were eventually discovered absolutely unharmed centuries afterwards. For a detailed description of these most remarkable crowns the reader must be referred to a paper by the late Mr Albert Way (Archaeological Journal, xvi. 253). Mr Way, in the article alluded to, says of the custom of offering crowns to churches that frequent notices of the usage may be found in the lives of the Roman pontiffs by Anastasius. “They are usually described as having been placed over the altar, and in many instances mention is made of jewelled crosses of gold appended within such crowns as an accessory ornament.... The crowns suspended in churches suggested doubtless the sumptuous pensile luminaries, frequently designated from a very early period as coronae, in which the form of the royal circlet was preserved in much larger proportions, as exemplified by the remarkable corona still to be seen suspended in the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle over the crypt in which the body of Charlemagne was deposited.”

EB1911 Crown - Fig. 2.—Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.jpg EB1911 Crown - Fig. 3.—Crown of the German Empire.jpgEB1911 Crown - Fig. 4.—Crown of the Austrian Empire.jpg
Figs. 2-4 from Meyer’s Konversations Lexikon.
Fig. 2.—Crown of the Holy Roman Empire. Fig. 3.—Crown of the German Empire.Fig. 4.—Crown of the Austrian Empire.

Of modern continental crowns the imperial crown of Austria (fig. 4) may be mentioned. It is composed of a circlet of gold, adorned with precious stones and pearls, heightened with fleurs-de-lys, and is raised above the circlet in the form of a cap which is opened in the middle, so that the lower part is crescent-shaped; across this opening from front to back rises an arched fillet, enriched with pearls and surmounted by an orb, on which is a cross of pearls.

The papal tiara (a Greek word, of Persian origin, for a form of ancient Persian popular head-dress, standing high erect, and worn encircled by a diadem by the kings), the triple crown worn by the popes, has taken various forms since the 9th century. It is important to remember that the tiaras in old Italian pictures are inventions of the artists and not copied from actual examples. In its present shape, dating substantially from the Renaissance, it is a peaked head-covering not unlike a closed mitre (q.v.), round which are placed one above the other three circlets or open crowns.[1] Two bands, or infulae, as they are called, hang from it as in the case of a mitre. The tiara is the crown of the pope as a temporal sovereign (see Tiara).

Pictorial representations in early manuscripts, and the rude effigies on their coins, are not very helpful in deciding as to the form of crown worn by the Anglo-Saxon and Danish kings of England before the Norman Conquest. In some cases it would appear as if the diadem studded with pearls had been worn, and in others something more of the character of a crown. We reach surer ground after the Conquest, for then the great seals, monumental effigies, and coins become more and more serviceable in determining the forms the crown took.

EB1911 Crown - Fig. 5, 6. & 7.jpg
Fig. 5. Fig. 6. Fig. 7.
EB1911 Crown - Fig. 8, 9. & 10 Royal Crowns.jpg
Fig. 8. Fig. 9. Fig. 10.
Royal Crowns. William I. to Henry IV.
EB1911 Crown - Figs. 11, 12. & 13.jpg
Fig. 11. Fig. 12. Fig. 13.
EB1911 Crown - Figs. 14 & 15.jpg
Fig. 14. Fig. 15.
Royal Crowns. Henry V. to Charles I.

The crown of William the Conqueror and his immediate successors seems to have been a plain circlet with four uprights, which terminated in trefoils (fig. 5), but Henry I. enriched the circlet with pearls or gems (fig. 6), and on his great seal the trefoils have something of the character of fleurs-de-lys. The effigy of Richard I. at Fontevrault shows a development of the crown; the trefoil heads are expanded, and are chased and jewelled. The crown of John is shown on his effigy at Worcester, though unfortunately it is rather badly mutilated. It shows, however, that the upper ornament was of fleurons set with jewels. Fig. 7 shows generally this development of the crown in a restored form. The crown on the effigy of Henry III. at Westminster had a beaded row below the circlet, which is narrow and plain, and from it rises a series of plain trefoils with slightly raised points between them. The tomb was opened in 1774, and on the king’s head was found an imitation crown of tin or latten gilt, with trefoils rising from its upper edge. This, although only made of base metal for the king’s burial, may nevertheless be taken as exhibiting the form of the royal crown at the time, and it may be usefully compared with that on the effigy of the king, which was made in Edward I.’s reign (fig. 8). Edward I. used a crown of very similar design. In the crown of Edward II. we have perhaps the most graceful and elegant of all the forms which the English medieval crown assumed (fig. 9), and it seems to have continued without any marked alteration during the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. The crown on the head of the effigy of Henry IV. at Canterbury evidently represents one of great magnificence, both of design and ornament. What is perhaps lost of the grace of form of the crown of Edward II. is made up for by a profusion of adornment and ornamentation unsurpassed at any later period (fig. 10). The circlet is much wider and is richly chased and jewelled, and from it rise eight large leaves, the intervening spaces being filled with fleurs-de-lys of definite outline. It will be noted that this crown is, like its predecessors, what is known as an open crown, without any arches rising from the circlet, but in the accounts of the coronation of Henry IV. by Froissart and Waurin it is distinctly stated that the crown was arched in the form of a cross. This is the earliest mention of an arched crown, which is not represented on the great seal till that of Edward IV. in 1461. The crown, as shown on Henry IV.’s effigy, very probably represents the celebrated “Harry crown” which was afterwards broken up and employed as surety for the loan required by Henry V. when he was about to embark on his expedition to France. Fig. 11 shows the crown of Henry V. The crown of Henry VI. seems to have had three arches, and there is the same number shown on the crown of Henry VII., which ensigns the hawthorn bush badge of that king. The crown of Edward IV. (fig. 12) shows two arches, and a crown similarly arched appears on the great seal of Richard III. Crowns, both open and arched, are represented in sculpture and paintings until the end of the reign of Edward IV., and the royal arms are occasionally ensigned by an open crown as late as the reign of Henry VIII. The crown of Henry VII. on his effigy in Westminster Abbey shows a circlet surmounted by four crosses and four fleurs-de-lys alternately, and has two arches rising from it. A similar crown appears on the great seal of Henry VIII. The crown of Henry VII. (fig. 13), which ensigns the royal arms above the south door of King’s College chapel, Cambridge, has the motto of the order of the Garter round the circlet. Fig. 14 shows the form of crown used by Edward VI., but a tendency (not shown in the illustration) began of flattening the arches of the crown, and on some of the coins of Elizabeth the arches are not merely flattened, but are depressed in the centre, much after the character of the arches of the crown on many of the silver coins of the 19th century prior to 1887. The crowns of James I. and Charles I. had four arches, springing from the alternate crosses and fleurs-de-lys of the circlet (fig. 15). The crown which strangely enough surmounts the shield with the arms of the Commonwealth on the coins of Oliver Cromwell (as distinguished from those of the Commonwealth itself, which have no crown) is a royal crown with alternate crosses and fleurs-de-lys round the circlet, and is surmounted by three arches, which, though somewhat flattened, are not bent. On them rests the orb and cross. The crown used by Charles II. (fig. 16) shows the arches depressed in the centre, a feature of the royal crown which seems to have been continued henceforward till 1887, when the pointed form of the arches was resumed, in consonance with an idea that such a form indicated an imperial rather than a regal crown, Queen Victoria having been proclaimed empress of India in 1877. In the foregoing account the changes of the form of the crowns of the kings have been briefly noticed. Those crowns were the personal crowns, worn by the different kings on various state occasions, but they were all crowned before the Commonwealth with the ancient crown of St Edward, and the queens consort with that of Queen Edith. There were, in fact, two sets of regalia, the one used for the coronations and kept at Westminster, and the other that used on other occasions by the kings and kept in the Tower. The crowns of this latter set were the personal crowns made to fit the different wearers, and are those which have been briefly described. The crown of St Edward, with which the sovereigns were crowned, had a narrow circlet from which rose alternately four crosses and four fleurs-de-lys, and from the crosses sprang two arches, which at their crossing supported an orb and cross. These arches must have been a later addition, and possibly were first added for the coronation of Henry IV. (vide supra). Queen Edith’s crown had a plain circlet with, so far as can be determined, four crosses of pearls or gems on it, and a large cross patée rising from it in front, and arches of jewels or pearls terminating in a large pearl at the top. A valuation of these ancient crowns was made at the time of the Commonwealth prior to their destruction. From this valuation we learn that St Edward’s crown was of gold filigree or “wirework” as it is called, and was set with stones, and was valued at £248. Queen Edith’s crown was found to be only of silver-gilt, with counterfeit pearls, sapphires and other stones, and was only valued at £16. At the Restoration an endeavour was made to reproduce as well as possible the old crowns and regalia according to their ancient form, and a new crown of St Edward was made on the lines of the old one for the coronation of Charles II. The framework of this crown, bereft of its jewels, is in the possession of Lady Amherst of Hackney. The crowns of James II., William III. and Anne generally resembled it in form (fig. 16). The later crowns of the Georges and William IV. are represented in general form in fig. 17. Although the marginal note in the coronation order of Queen Victoria indicates “K. Edward’s crown” as that with which the late queen was to be crowned, it was actually the state or imperial crown worn by the sovereign when leaving the church after the ceremony that was used. It had been altered for the coronation, and the arches were formed of oak leaves (fig. 18). Fig. 19 shows Queen Victoria’s crown with raised arches and without the inner cap of estate, which since the reign of Henry VII. has been degraded into forming a lining to the crowns of the sovereigns and the coronets of the peers. Fig. 20 shows the coronation crown of King Edward VII. The crown of Scotland, preserved with the Scottish regalia at Edinburgh, is believed to be composed of the original circlet worn by King Robert the Bruce. James V. made additions to it in 1535, and in general characteristics it much resembles an English crown of that date.

EB1911 Crown - Figs. 16, 17. & 19 English Crowns.jpg
Fig. 16. Fig. 17. Fig. 19.
Recent Forms of the English Crown.
EB1911 Crown - Figs. 18 & 20 - Coronation Crowns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.jpg
Fig. 18. Fig. 20.
Coronation Crowns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

The kings of arms in England, Scotland and Ireland wear crowns, the ornamentation of which round the upper rim of the circlet is composed of a row of acanthus or oak leaves. Round the circlet is the singularly inappropriate text from Psalm li., “Miserere mei Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.” The form of these crowns seems to have been settled in the reign of Charles II. Before that period they varied at different times, according to representations given of them in grants of arms, &c.

This brings us to the crowns of lesser dignity, known for that reason as coronets, and worn by the five orders of peers.

The use of crowns by dukes originated in 1362, when Edward III. created his sons Lionel and John dukes of Clarence and Lancaster respectively. This was done by investing them with a sword, a cap of maintenance or estate, and with a circlet of gold set with precious stones, which was imposed on the head. Previous to this dukes had been invested at their creation by the girding on of a sword only. In 1387 Richard II. created Richard de Vere marquess of Dublin, and invested him by girding on a sword, and by placing a golden circlet on his head. The golden circlet was confined to dukes and marquesses till 1444, when Henry VI. created Henry Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, premier earl, and the letters patent effecting this concede that the earl and his heirs shall wear a golden circlet on the head on feast days, even in the royal presence. As to the form of these circlets we have no clear knowledge. The dignity of a viscount was first created by Henry VI. in 1439, but nothing is said of any insignia pertaining to that dignity.

EB1911 Crown - Figs. 21 & 22.jpg
Fig. 21. Fig. 22.
EB1911 Crown - Fig. 23.jpg
Fig. 23.
Coronets of Dukes, Marquesses and Earls.

It is believed that a circlet of gold with an upper rim of pearls was first conferred on a viscount by James I., who conceded it to Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne. However, in 1625–1626 it is definitely recorded that the viscounts carried their coronets in their hands in the coronation procession from Westminster Hall to the Abbey church. The use of a coronet by the barons dates from the coronation of Charles II., and by letters patent of the 7th of August 1661 their coronet is described as a circle of gold with six pearls on it.

EB1911 Crown - Figs. 24 & 25 Coronets of Viscounts and Barons.jpg
Fig. 24. Fig. 25.
Coronets of Viscounts and Barons.

At the present day the coronet of a duke (fig. 21) is formed of a circlet of gold, from which rise eight strawberry leaves. The coronet of a marquess (fig. 22) differs from that of a duke in having only four strawberry leaves, the intervening spaces being occupied by four low points which are surmounted by pearls. The coronet of an earl (fig. 23) differs again by having eight tall rays on each of which is set a pearl, the intervening spaces being occupied by strawberry leaves one-fourth of the height of the rays. The coronet of a viscount (fig. 24) has sixteen small pearls fixed to the golden circlet, and the coronet of a baron (fig. 25) has six large pearls similarly arranged.

Authorities.—L. G. Wickham Legg, English Coronation Records (London, 1901); The Ancestor, Nos. i. and ii. (London, 1902); Stothard, The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain (London, 1817). (T. M. F.) 

  1. A coloured drawing, done in the first half of the 18th century, of the magnificent tiara made by the celebrated goldsmith, Caradosso, for Julius II., is in the Print-Room, British Museum. It was re-fashioned by Pius VI., but went with other treasure as part of the indemnity to Napoleon. The splendid emerald at the summit, which was engraved with the arms of Gregory XIII., was restored by Napoleon and now adorns another papal tiara at Rome. In this drawing the three crowns (a feature introduced at the beginning of the 14th century) are represented by three bands of X-shaped ornament in enamelled gold.