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French_Coronation_Crown_of_Charlemagne

During the eighth century AD, as the Merovingian dynasty declined into a sad series of feuding puppet kings, the mayor of the palace became effective ruler of the Franks.  In 751 this arrangement was formalized by Pope Zachary who annointed Pepin the Short, formerly palace mayor (and puppetmaster of Childeric III ) as King of the Franks—the first of the Carolingians.  Pepin’s son Charles, known to posterity forevermore as Charlemagne, succeeded Pepin as king of the Franks in 768.  Charlemagne became King of the Lombards from 774 onwards (he conquered Lombardy as much to end his nephew’s pretensions to the throne as to rescue the papacy, but whatever), and as the first Holy Roman Emperor from 800 to his death.  Above is the crown of Charlemagne!  It was the coronation crown of French kings from its creation until 1775 when it was the coronation crown of Louis XVI.

Except…

That is clearly an engraving of the crown.  The real crown of Charlemagne is gone.  Like Louis XVI, it was destroyed during the French revolution.  Also, this was not the crown of Charlemagne per se.  Historians believe this crown was actually manufactured in the late ninth century as a crown for Charlemagne’s grandson Charles the Bald (who was believed to have had long beautiful hair in real life).  Additionally there is some question about whether this even was the real crown of Charles the Bald or whether it was switched with a similar crown made for a queen at the end of the 12th century.  One of the two of them was melted down in 1590 by the Catholic League during the Siege of Paris.   It is unclear if the crown destroyed in the French revolution was the 9th century original or the 12th century queen’s crown.

There is a lot of duplicity in history, particularly involving crowns, the ultimate status items which invest their wearer with supreme authority.  Based on this black-and white illustration, it is a bit hard to tell what the precious stones of the Crown of Charlemagne are, but at least it is possible to clearly see the distinctive fleurs de lis (although admittedly, these were only added in 1180…)

The Crown of Charlemagne, the coronation crown of French Kings for nearly a millenium (shown without cap)

The Crown of Charlemagne, the coronation crown of French Kings for nearly a millenium (shown without cap)

From the era of Frankish Kings until the French Revolution, the kings of France were crowned with the so-called Crown of Charlemagne, a circlet of four gold rectangles inset with jewels.  The crown was made for Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman Emperor who lived in the ninth century (who apparently needed an ornate head covering for some unknown reason).  Four large jeweled fleur-de-lis were added in the late twelfth century along with a connecting cap ornamented with gems.  A matching crown for the queen of France was melted down by the Catholic League in 1590 when Paris was besieged by the Protestant king Henry IV (before he was, you know, stabbed to death by a zealot when the royal carriage was stuck in traffic), yet the crown of Charlemagne survived France’s religious wars & was used in coronations up until 1775 when Louis XVI was crowned.  The crown vanished during the French revolution and has never been seen since.   A certain Corsican monarch crafted a replacement:  the second Crown of Charlemagne was completely different and will be the subject of a subsequent post.

The Crown of Charlemagne (In a detail from "The Mass of Saint Giles" painted in 1550

The Crown of Charlemagne (In a detail from “The Mass of Saint Giles” painted in 1550

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