What’s a birthday party or a dress-up game without a crown?  The most essential part of any king/queen/prince/princess costume is the headgear.  It’s amazing how much a fancy hat can mean: for a monarch, the wearing of a crown represents dignity, honor, victory, immortality – and more.

Crowns come in all shapes and styles: some are more like caps, some are like helmets, others look more like a tiara (also known as a diadem, for those who read the last Harry Potter book) or wreath. It all depends on where it comes from.

Royalty (and nobility) have been wearing crowns since ancient times.  Egyptian pharaohs weren’t allowed to let commoners see their hair, so they wore a variety of elaborate ceremonial headgear, depending on what they were doing: you’d probably recognize the red-and-white pschent, or the blue and gold striped headcloth known as the nemes, worn with a cobra headband in front.  Romans gave crowns to those who earned military honors: later emperors adopted a diadem style originally worn by Persian kings.

One of the oldest European crowns is the Iron Crown of Lombardy, which is approximately 1300 years old; no one is sure exactly when it was made, or by whom.  But it was used to crown kings of Italy for hundreds of years, since at least the time of Charlemagne; Napoleon used it a good thousand years after it was made!  It’s actually mostly gold, but gets its name from a band of iron on the inside said to come from a nail used on the true cross.   Holy Roman Emperors from the 10th century until the late 18th were crowned with a “hoop crown” (named for the arch that goes over the top), decorated with small painted icon and encrusted with jewels.

The British Crown Jewels includes a lot of pieces, like rings, swords, orbs, and more.  But the core of the British collection is the headgear on display in the Tower of London.  They’re especially special because the French crown jewels were sold by the 3rd Republic in 1885, and the Spanish ones were destroyed in a fire in the 18th century.  The most famous of these famous pieces are the Imperial State crown and the St. Edward’s Crown, which are used during coronation ceremonies.  You may be surprised to find out that some of these pieces have been redesigned, adjusted, or added to over time; some kings and queens liked to personalize, or to add special jewels that came into their possession.  Queen Victoria even made a whole new one for her coronation because she thought the St. Edward’s crown was too heavy and uncomfortable.

 

Who wants to go watch the last scene from The Princess Diaries II now?  Or the royal wedding?  Come on.  You wish your headgear was studded with priceless gems and trimmed with ermine fur, I know you do.

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