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The Coronet of Margaret of York

The Coronet of Margaret of York

Two years ago, Ferrebeekeeper featured the crown of the renowned king Henry VIII of England. To my eyes it has been the prettiest crown so far featured here…but it’s fake, of course. All of the real historical medieval crowns from English history were melted down and sold in the aftermath of the English Civil War (which ended in 1651) when Oliver Cromwell and the protectorate took over the United Kingdom and ruled with a puritanical iron fist. Well, technically all of the actual medieval crowns from English history were destroyed…except for two. Above is the finer of the two, the coronet of Margaret of York, who, though never a queen, became duchess of Burgundy, one of the richest and most important ducal territories in all of Europe. This crown survived England’s tumultuous history by the simple expedient of not being in England (which sort of describes Margaret of York as well).

Anonymous portrait of Margaret of York, ca. 1468, Louvre

Anonymous portrait of Margaret of York, ca. 1468, Louvre

Margaret was born the daughter of England’s most powerful lord, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, who served as lord protector of England during the madness of Henry VI (the pious but weak king who briefly ruled both France and England). Two of Margaret’s brothers were kings of England– Edward IV and Richard III (famous forever as a Shakespeare villain, whose remains were rediscovered 3 years ago under a parking lot in England). Margaret’s personal history of conniving nobles, kings, wars, alliances, betrothals, marriages, murders, horsing accidents, scurrilous sexual rumors, and complex treaties would make George. R. R. Martin pull out his beard in frustration, although Wikipedia amazingly manages to summarize it all in approximately 3 incomprehensible pages. When Margaret was married to Charles the Bold (whose untimely death precipitated two centuries of major wars) she wore this coronet. Burgundy was known for its wealth and extravagance. During her wedding the city was decorated with ornamental pelicans which spewed wine on the crowds!

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Margaret’s coronet is tiny—a mere 12 centimeters (five inches) in diameter and height, but it is richly “ornamented with multi-coloured enamel, pearls, gems set in white roses, a diamond cross, the coats of arms of England and Burgundy, and letters forming the name: margarit(a) de (y)o(r)k. Margaret of York.” The reason the beautiful object has survived history in such good shape is that Margaret visited the Imperial city of Aachen in the summer of 1474 and donated her coronet to the statue of Mary in the great cathedral there. The little crown has remained in the cathedral’s treasury for the ensuing 541 years. It should be noted that the meticulous Germans have also kept the original leather case (which makes the crown more valuable for serious collectors?).

oak aging

The color burgundy is named after Burgundy, the famous red wine.  Burgundy, the famous red wine, is named after Burgundy a historical territory in eastern-central France.  Burgundy, the historical region of France, is named after the Burgundians, an ancient Norse people who allied with the Romans, back when the Roman Empire ruled Gaul.  The Burgundians, like the Goths, seem to have originated in Scandinavia in pre-history.  Whereas the Goths moved from Scandinavia to the Baltic island of Gottland (which means Goth Land), the original Burgundians apparently moved to the Baltic island of Bornholm (which means Burgundian Home).  From Bornholm, they become involved in the affairs of northern Europe first as raiders and mercenaries, then (as the Roman Empire blew apart) they became colonists and administrators. At least that is more-or-less what historians believe happened… During the Middle Ages Burgundians became divorced from their Scandinavian/Gothic roots and they have long been French (Burgundian nobles sometimes playing a big role in French history).

A burgundy gown in the style of late Medieval Burgundy... (from sevenstarwheel)

A burgundy gown in the style of late Medieval Burgundy… (from sevenstarwheel)

Irrespective of the origins of the name, the color burgundy is a gorgeous deep red hue entirely fitting for an ancient race of cutthroat warriors.  Burgundy is darker than cordovan and a truer red than oxblood or maroon.   It is the magnificent dark red of undiluted alizarin crimson.  Because it is such a vivid color, it tends to stand for sensuality, power, and violence.

Burgundy_Duet_Satin

Despite this wildness and darkness (or maybe because of it), burgundy is a very popular color in fashion and beauty.  It was particularly en vogue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it was my then-girlfriend’s favorite color for lipstick and clothes.  I distinctly remember seeing it everywhere back then.   Today, the radiant sun of fashion does not shine quite so directly on burgundy, but it is still a popular color in sports, automobiles, and homegoods.   According to the internet, burgundy remains a favorite color for lipstick in the Goth subculture (i.e. among teenagers and young adults who enjoy melodramatic and fetishistic costumes). So burgundy has made a full circle from the Goths of Roman times to the Goths of today.

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Cordovan Penny-loafers

Cordovan Penny-loafers

As is usual in New York’s wet cold winters, my favorite everyday shoes have disintegrated.  They were a pair of old fashioned cordovan penny-loafers and, as I discarded them, I wondered why the lovely maroon/burgundy color is called cordovan. It turns out that the simple question has a complicated answer which winds back to late antiquity when the city of Corduba was the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior (in fact the city was initially named Kartuba by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca).  When the Roman empire broke into pieces, Hispanica Ulterior was overrun by Vandals who were subsequently defeated and replaced by Visigoths (a sequence of internecine conquests and reconquests which lasted from the 5th through the 7th centuries).

Visigoth Brooches from Southwest Spain ca. 6th century AD (in the Walters Art Museum)

Visigoth Brooches from Southwest Spain ca. 6th century AD (in the Walters Art Museum)

The Visigoths were a branch of the Germanic tribe of Gothic people who converted to Arian Christianity (remember the heretic Arius from the story of St. Nikolaos—his theological survived in the Viisgoth kingdoms of Western Europe).  The Visigoths were evidently great leatherworkers/cobblers, and they reputedly created the original cordovan leather.  This did not initially refer to the color but was a special sort of extremely tough leather which was made from the flat muscle (“the shell”) of a horse’s rump. Cordovan leather was especially suited to boot toes, straps, and archery equipment—all of which had to be especially tough and thick.

Columns of the Great Mosque of Cordoba (now the Cathedral of Cordoba)

Columns of the Great Mosque of Cordoba (now the Cathedral of Cordoba)

Corduba was captured by new invaders in AD 711 and became part of the Umayyad Caliphate which was run from Dasmascus, however the region broke away and became an independent emirate in AD 766.  This state (named al-Andalus) subsequently grew into a powerful caliphate itself.  During the 10th century, Cordoba, then known as Qurṭubah, was one of the largest and most cultured cities on Earth.

The Flag of Córdoba

The Flag of Córdoba

In 1236, King Ferdinand III of Castile captured Qurtubah and renamed it Córdoba.  Although the city declined in the Renaissance era it evidently remained famous for its leatherworks.  The English first began to use the word “cordovan” to describe the oxblood color of cordovan-style leather goods in the 1920s.

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Anyway, so that’s the history behind the name of the color of the shoes I just threw away.  I guess they were named by Hamilcar Barca…

Hamilcar Crushing the Roman Navy and...wearing a Cordovan Color undertunic

Hamilcar Crushing the Roman Navy and…wearing a Cordovan Color undertunic

 

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