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Isabel II was queen regnant of Spain from 1833 until 1868, when she was forced out by a somewhat muddled coalition of Spanish liberals and republicans.   Her reactionary reign was a long series of palace intrigues, military conspiracies, and church meddling.

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During the 19th century, there was a fashion for European sovereigns to commission small easily wearable coronet-style crowns (a fashion which was greatly promoted by Queen Victoria, the foremost monarch of the day).  Queen Isabel commissioned this beautiful little yellow crown of diamonds, gold, and topazes.  When she was forced out by the “Glorious” (but ineffective) revolution she took the crown into exile with her in Paris, however she willed it to the Atocha Chapel. If my sources are to be believed (and they are internet sources…so maybe they shouldn’t be) the little coronet is still used to adorn the church’s votive statue on high feast days.

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?).

The silver-gilt coronet of the 14th Earl of Kintore (you could have bought it at Christie's for less than a used Trans Am)

The silver-gilt coronet of the 14th Earl of Kintore (you could have bought it at Christie’s for less than a used Trans Am)

A coronet is a small crown which is worn by a nobleman or noblewoman.  In the European tradition coronets differ from kingly crowns in that they lack arches—they are instead simple rings with ornaments attached.  Different ranks of nobility wear different coronets.  For example, in England the various ranks are denoted as follows:

Prince/Princess: The Coronet of a Child of the Sovereign (decorated with crosses and fleurs de lis)

Prince/Princess: The Coronet of a Child of the Sovereign (decorated with crosses and fleurs de lis)

Duke: has eight strawberry leaves of which five are seen in two-dimensional representations

Duke: has eight strawberry leaves of which five are seen in two-dimensional representations

Marquess: that of a marquess has four strawberry leaves and four silver balls (known as "pearls", but not actually pearls)

Marquess: that of a marquess has four strawberry leaves and four silver balls (known as “pearls”, but not actually pearls)

Earl/Countess: eight strawberry leaves and eight "pearls" raised on stalks

Earl/Countess: eight strawberry leaves and eight “pearls” raised on stalks

Viscount: sixteen "pearls" touching one another

Viscount: sixteen “pearls” touching one another

Baron: six "pearls"

Baron: six “pearls”

If you bothered counting the “pearls” and strawberry leaves on the above illustrations, you will recognize that certain adornments have been left out (which is to simplify the heraldic representation of coronets).  I wish I knew what the strawberry leaves represent!  If I was a sinister & bloodthirsty nobleman, that is not the sort of decoration I would choose for my fancy fancy hat, but maybe I am not thinking like a peer. Other western European nations have differently shaped coronets with different ornaments, but the same sort of rank-by-decoration pertains.

Coronets are largely symbolic—many nobles do not even have them made.  By tradition they are worn only at the coronation of a monarch.  Coronets are important however in heraldry, and the peerage rank of a noble house can easily be determined by looking at the little crown drawn on their shield.

The Coat of Arms of Baron Audley (featuring a mean swan and a coronet)

The Coat of Arms of Baron Audley (featuring a swan and a pearl coronet)

 

 

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