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Faustin-Élie Soulouque

Faustin-Élie Soulouque

Faustin-Élie Soulouque was born as a slave in Haiti in 1782.  He fought as a private during the Haitian revolution and he so distinguished himself as a soldier that he was offered an officer’s commission in the army of the newly formed Republic of Haiti.  Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century he rose up through the ranks to ultimately become a general.  Then, in 1847, Faustin was democratically elected as President of Haïti—his biography is the heroic story of a man who was born as a slave who became the leader of a nation!

Emperor Faustin I

Emperor Faustin I

Unfortunately the rot soon started to set in. Backed by a highly loyal group of military apparatchiks, President Faustin soon began murdering his political enemies.  In 1849 he suspended the Republic and proclaimed himself Emperor Faustin I of Haiti.  His subsequent reign was marked by fanatical crackdowns against real or imaginary opponents within Haiti.  Faustin’s violence became so extreme that he was accused of ritual cannibalism and drinking the blood of his enemies (long before Idi Amin was accused of similar tactics in the twentieth century).   Additionally Emperor Faustin launched a disastrous series of invasions against Spanish-controlled Santo Domingo (which is today the Dominican Republic).  The Haitian army attacked in 1849, 1850, 1855 and 1856 but was soundly defeated each time. Faustin’s dream of a unified Hispaniola never came to fruition.

In order to centralize and legitimize his brutal reign, Faustin created many different orders of nobility to confer upon cronies.  In 1858,  this strategy backfired when General Fabre Geffrard, the “Duc de Tabara” launched a full scale rebellion which pushed Emperor Faustin I from power (President Gerard returned Haiti to democratic rule and proved to be a staunch ally to the anti-slavery United States Union during the American Civil War).  Emperor Faustin tried to seek shelter in his beloved France, but was laughed at and rebuffed.  He ended up living in exile in Jamaica (although he returned to Haiti to die).

The Crown of Faustin I

The Crown of Faustin I

All of this is backstory for this somewhat overbearing crown, “the crown of Faustin I” which was made for the vampire emperor’s coronation in 1849.  The crown was richly ornamented with diamonds, emeralds, and other jewels.  After Faustin’s fall, the crown eventually became a major exhibit in the Musée du Panthéon National Haitien, however even in a museum the crown could not escape the corruption endemic to Haiti.  It was recently discovered that many of the jewels were surreptitiously pilfered from the crown of Faustin at an unknown time.  The entire crown was then removed to an unknown location by unknown entities for safekeeping (which seems to mean that it was stolen entirely)—a fitting legacy for Haiti’s Cannibal Emperor.

The Great Crown of Victory

I think the crown of the king of Thailand is one of the most spectacular and noteworthy extant crowns.  It is known as the Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut or “great crown of victory” and it is only worn by the king when he ascends the throne.  Made for King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (aka Rama I) in 1782, the crown is a soaring multi-tiered conical structure reminiscent of a particularly ornate stupa. It was manufactured from 15 pounds of gold ornamented with red and green enamel. A subsequent king of Siam, Rama IV, had diamonds added to the crown including the Phra Maha Wichian Mani, a huge Indian diamond which was set at the apex. Perhaps the magnificence and unique appearance of the headdress are appropriate, since it belongs to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving head of state and one of the few contemporary monarchs to wield any real power over his nation.  Additionally, King Bhumibol is reckoned by Forbes to be the richest of the world’s current monarchs.  He ascended to the throne of Thailand in 1946 after his brother’s death by gunshot (although he did not assume the great crown of victory until 1950).  Tragically, Bhumibol was probably the last person to see his brother alive.  To quote Wikipedia, “During his long reign he has seen over 15 coups, 16 constitutions, and 27 changes of prime ministers.”

King Bhumibol Wearing the Great Crown of Victory on his Coronation Day

Aside from the great crown of victory, the Thai monarch has 27 other items of royal regalia including the the Sword of Victory, the Royal Staff, the Royal Fan (or Flywhisk), and the Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท).  These items are kept for the king (along with other royal items) at the Grand Palace in Bankok.  It may seem impressive that King Bhumibol, has more pieces of royal regalia at his palace than I have socks, but his flywhisk and slippers pale to insignificance beside his monstrous gold carriage, the 33 foot tall Phra Maha Phichai Ratcarot and his fleet of carved, gilded barges.

The King's Royal Carriage

and his royal barges....

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