A crown is a traditional symbolic form of head adornment worn by a monarch or by a deity (as distinct from a hat), for whom the crown traditionally represents power, legitimacy, victory, triumph, honor, and glory, as well as immortality, righteousness, and resurrection. In art, the crown may be shown being offered to those on Earth by angels. Crowns may also be in the form of a wreath of flowers, oak leaves, or thorns. In religious art, a crown of stars is used similarly to a halo. Crowns worn by rulers often contain jewels.
Crown as an Emblem
A crown is often an emblem of the monarchy, a monarch’s government, or items endorsed by it. The word itself is used, particularly in Commonwealth countries, as an abstract name for the monarchy itself, as distinct from the individual who inhabits it. A specific type of crown (or coronet for lower ranks of peerage) is employed in heraldry under strict rules. Indeed, some monarchies never had a physical crown, just a heraldic representation, as in the constitutional kingdom of Belgium, where no coronation ever took place; the royal installation is done by a solemn oath in parliament, wearing a military uniform: the King is not acknowledged as by divine right, but assumes the only hereditary public office in the service of the law; so he in turn will swear in all members of “his” federal government.
- Costume headgear imitating a monarch’s crown is also called a crown. Such costume crowns may be worn by actors portraying a monarch, people at costume parties, or ritual “monarchs” such as the king of a Carnival krewe, or the person who found the trinket in a king cake.
- The nuptial crown, sometimes called a coronal, worn by a bride, and sometimes the bridegroom, at her wedding is found in many European cultures since ancient times. In the present day, it is most common in Eastern Orthodox cultures. The Eastern Orthodox marriage service has a section called the crowning, wherein the bride and groom are crowned as “king” and “queen” of their future household. In Greek weddings, the crowns are diadems usually made of white flowers, synthetic or real, often adorned with silver or mother of pearl. They are placed on the heads of the newlyweds and are held together by a ribbon of white silk. They are then kept by the couple as a reminder of their special day. In Slavic weddings, the crowns are usually made of ornate metal, designed to resemble an imperial crown, and are held above the newlyweds’ heads by their best men. A parish usually owns one set to use for all the couples that are married there since these are much more expensive than Greek-style crowns. This was common in Catholic countries in the past.
- Crowns are also often used as symbols of religious status or veneration, by divinities (or their representation such as a statue) or by their representatives, e.g. the Black Crown of the Karmapa Lama, sometimes used a model for wider use by devotees.
- A Crown of thorns according to the New Testament, was placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion and has become a common symbol of martyrdom.
- According to Roman Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was crowned as Queen of Heaven after her assumption into heaven. She is often depicted wearing a crown, and statues of her in churches and shrines are ceremonially crowned during May.
- The Crown of Immortality is also common in historical symbolism.
- The heraldic symbol of Three Crowns, referring to the three evangelical Magi (wise men), traditionally called kings, is believed thus to have become the symbol of the Swedish kingdom, but it also fits the historical (personal, dynastic) Kalmar Union (1397-1520) between the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
- Dancers of certain traditional Thai dances often wear crowns (mongkut) on their head. These are inspired in the crowns worn by deities and by kings.
- In India, crowns are known as mukuta (Sanskrit for “crest”), and have been used in India since ancient times and are described adorning Hindu gods or kings.
In pre-Hispanic Philippines, a crown-like diadems or Putong is wore by elite individuals and also deities, include array of golden ornaments.
Three distinct categories of crowns exist in those monarchies that use crowns or state regalia.
- Coronation: worn by monarchs when being crowned.
- State: worn by monarchs on other state occasions.
- Consort crowns: worn by a consort, signifying rank granted as a constitutional courtesy protocol.
Crowns or similar headgear, as worn by nobility and other high-ranking people below the ruler, is in English often called a coronet; However, in many languages, this distinction is not made and the same word is used for both types of headgear (e.g., French couronne, German Krone, Dutch kroon). In some of these languages the term “rank crown” (rangkroon, etc.) refers to the way these crowns may be ranked according to hierarchical status.
In Classical antiquity, the crown (corona) that was sometimes awarded to people other than rulers, such as triumphal military generals or athletes, was actually a wreath or chaplet, or ribbon-like diadem.
The precursor to the crown was the browband called the diadem, which had been worn by the Achaemenid Persian emperors. It was adopted by Constantine I and was worn by all subsequent rulers of the later Roman Empire.
Numerous crowns of various forms were used in antiquity, such as the Hedjet, Deshret, Pschent (double crown) and Khepresh of Pharaonic Egypt. The Pharaohs of Egypt also wore the diadem, which was associated with solar cults, an association which was not completely lost, as it was later revived under the Roman Emperor Augustus. By the time of the Pharaoh Amenophis III (r.1390-1352c) wearing a diadem clearly became a symbol of royalty.
The corona radiata, the “radiant crown” known best on the Statue of Liberty, and perhaps worn by the Helios that was the Colossus of Rhodes, was worn by Roman emperors as part of the cult of Sol Invictus prior to the Roman Empire’s conversion to Christianity. It was referred to as “the chaplet studded with sunbeams” by Lucian, about 180 AD.
Perhaps the oldest extant Christian crown in Europe is the Iron Crown of Lombardy, of Roman and Longobard antiquity, later again used to crown modern Kings of Napoleonic and Austrian Italy, and to represent united Italy after 1860.
In the Christian tradition of European cultures, where ecclesiastical sanction authenticates monarchic power, when a new monarch ascends the throne, the crown is placed on the new monarch’s head by a religious official in a coronation ceremony. Some, though not all, early Holy Roman Emperors travelled to Rome at some point in their careers to be crowned by the pope. Napoleon, according to legend, surprised Pius VII when he reached out and crowned himself, although in reality this order of ceremony had been pre-arranged (see coronation).
Today, only the British Monarchy and Tongan Monarchy, with their anointed and crowned monarchs, continue this tradition, although many monarchies retain a crown as a national symbol. The French Crown Jewels were sold in 1885 on the orders of the Third French Republic, with only a token number, their precious stones replaced by glass, retained for historic reasons and displayed in the Louvre. The Spanish Crown Jewels were destroyed in a major fire in the 18th century while the so-called “Irish Crown Jewels” (actually merely the British Sovereign’s insignia of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick) were stolen from Dublin Castle in 1907, just before the investiture of Bernard Edward Barnaby FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown.
Special headgear to designate rulers dates back to pre-history, and is found in many separate civilizations around the globe. Commonly, rare and precious materials are incorporated into the crown, but that is only essential for the notion of crown jewels. Gold and precious jewels are common in western and oriental crowns. In the Native American civilizations of the Pre-Columbian New World, rare feathers, such as that of the quetzal, often decorated crowns; so too in Polynesia (e.g. Hawaii).
Coronation ceremonies are often combined with other rituals, such as enthronement (the throne is as much a symbol of monarchy as the crown) and anointing (again, a religious sanction, the only defining act in the Biblical tradition of Israel).
In other cultures, no crown is used in the equivalent of coronation, but the head may still be otherwise symbolically adorned; for example, with a royal tikka in the Hindu tradition of India.