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The crown of the King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Prince of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North

The crown of the King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Prince of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North

This awful-looking thing appears to be a bad prop left over from the Lord of the Rings movies, but it turns out to be the “actual” crown of the Kingdom of Finland. Further research revealed that it isn’t even as real as a movie prop and it has a horrible history to boot.

At some point Imperial Russia swallowed Finland—a fate which often happens to neighbors of that aggressive nation. The Finns chafed under the incompetent rule of the Tsars (also common) and when the Bolshevik revolution came in 1918, Finland quickly proclaimed independence. Suddenly though there was a problem: the Finnish parliament could not determine whether the new state should be a republic or a monarchy. These choices were politically tied to the ongoing First World War and the Russian Revolution. The conflict for the future of the Finnish state devolved into a short but entirely vicious civil war between “Reds” (Russian-backed social democrats, largely based in Finland’s southern cities) and “Whites” aristocrats and farmers based in the North who favored monarchy and Germany. The civil war lasted from January to May of 1918. Both sides relied heavily on terror acts and death squads. Defeated enemies who were not killed were held in deadly prison camps. One percent of the population perished in the war (including an oversize chunk of the 14 to 25 year-old men). In May of 1918, the white faction decisively won and Finland entered the German Empire’s sphere of power. Enthusiastic monarchists designed a bold crown for the new Finnish king. In October of 1918 they picked out a German prince Frederick Charles Louis Constantine of Hesse for the job. Finland had essentially been annexed by Germany.

Tampere's in ruins after the Finnish civil war.

Tampere’s in ruins after the Finnish civil war.

In November of 1918, Germany lost the First World War and the German Empire was dissolved. Finland had been destroyed from within by civil war and poor choices. The king of Finland renounced his throne without ever arriving in Finland, much less assuming the throne or taking the crown (which was never even made). It was a complete and utter disaster. In the resulting power vacuum, both Germany and Russia were too busy with their own problems to pursue their proxy conflict in Finland (which sort of by default and weariness became a stable moderate democracy).

So what is that monstrosity up at the top? How do we have a photo of a crown that was never made for a king who never ruled? Apparently in the 1990s a Finnish goldsmith Teuvo Ypyä crafted the crown as a novelty item based on the original drawings from 1918. The crown is made out of silver gilt and enamel (i.e. tinfoil and spray paint) and is kept in a museum in Kepi, where you can visit it to this day. What a proud and heroic historical object!

Swan of Tuonela (Gabriel de Jongh)

It will probably not surprise you to know that much of the mythology of Finland and Lapland is concerned with impossible quests which ineluctably lead to destruction. Louhi was queen of the bleak realm of Pohjola as well as being a sorceress, a shapeshifter, and possibly a demigoddess.  She possessed several daughters of ineffable loveliness. In order to win the hand of one of these beauties, a hero had to pass a test stipulated by Louhi.  These tasks were always impossible or very nearly so. Additionally if a hero somehow seemed to be on the brink of accomplishing his quest, Louhi would use her sorcery to ensure that he failed.

My favorite of these myths concerns the hero Lemminkäinen, a warrior and shaman who fell in love with one of Louhi’s daughters. Louhi promised the maiden’s hand to Lemminkäinen only if the hero could bring back the lifeless body of the swan of Tuonela.  Tuonela was the Finnish underworld, a magic haunted island ruled over by the dark god Tuoni.  Getting there was no easy task and returning was much harder (several other stories about suitors seeking the daughters of Louhi involve Tuonela and its dreadful snares).  The swan was a transcendent being which swam around the island of the dead singing.

The Swan of Tuonela (Ben Garrison, 2011)

After great travails Lemminkäinen made it to the underworld and he found the magic swan, but as he drew his arms to kill the bird, Louhi’s cruel guile became apparent.  The swan began to sing a haunting song of divine beauty. The golden notes described life’s splendor and its heartache—the wordless music summarizing everything that people long for and care about in their journey from the cradle to the grave. The impossible sadness and magnificence of the song moved Lemminkäinen’s heart and he realized he could not kill the great bird. As Lemminkäinen faltered, he was spotted by the gods of the underworld.  Infuriated that anyone should threaten the great swan, Tuoni’s blind son sent a poisonous watersnake to bite the suitor.  Lemminkäinen tried to sing away the venom with a shaman spell but he knew no words of magic against watersnakes.  The whirlpool of the river of death caught him and his body was ripped into pieces which sank among the underwater boulders.

Lemminkäinen did not return home and his aged mother began to worry about him.  She went through the world seeking him in the dark forests of the south and in the lichen-shrouded wastes of the north.  She spoke to bird and bear and deer and fish looking for her son. She questioned the yellow moon and the silver stars but they were indifferent.  Finally she prostrated herself before the red sun as it set in the west and the sun god gave her the terrible answer that Lemminkäinen was lifeless, cut to bits in the black river of Tuonela. Broken with grief she went to the smith god Ilmarinen and begged him to make a huge dragging rake for her with a copper handle and steel tines. Then she went to the river and laboriously found the many waterlogged fragments of Lemminkäinen’s corpse.   She pieced the shattered bones and torn sinews together and sang the most powerful songs of healing magic to reassemble the body, but still her son remained lifeless.  All of her prayers and supplications and lamentations went unheeded by all gods and creatures save for one.  A little bee landed in front of her and promised to help.

Lemminkäinen’s Mother (Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1897, tempera on canvas)

Furiously buzzing her wings, the tiny insect flew away up into the sky and then farther up to the vault of heaven.  She crossed Orion’s shoulder and flew across the great bear’s tail.  Finally she reached the heavenly abode of of Jumala, the Creator God, where he had crafted the universe.  The bee flew through the immense palace until she found a golden vessel filled with healing honey.  Then the little bee took a drop of the honey and flew down through the stars back to Lemminkäinen’s mother.  Together they placed the honey on his tongue and color came back to his lifeless form.  He struggled and shuddered and then gasped for air, waking from the world of death with its whirlpools and dark waters. But the swan’s haunting song was with him all of his days as was knowledge of what waits in the death’s dream isle at the end of the world.

And that’s how Lemminkäinen learned that Louhi’s daughter was an unsuitable bride.

The Crown of Eric XIV (before a twentieth century refurbishment)

The crown of the King of Sweden was manufactured in Stockholm in 1561 by a Flemish goldsmith named Cornelius ver Welden for the Swedish King Eric XIV.  Despite its antiquity, Eric XIV’s crown was not used for many years.  Swedish monarchs from three successive families, the House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, the House of Hesse, and the House of Holstein-Gottorp (which successively controlled the Swedish throne between 1654 and 1818) preferred to be crowned with the crown of Queen Christina. However the House of Bernadotte, which has ruled Sweden since 1818, used the crown of Eric XIV for coronations…at least until 1907 which was the last time anyone wore any of the Swedish crown jewels at all.  The crown (along with Queen Christina’s crown and the other royal regalia) is now permanently on display in the vaults of the Royal Treasury, underneath the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Extensive changes were made to the crown of Eric XIV during the nineteenth century. These involved larger sparkly gems and the addition of a blue orb however the changes were undone when the crown was restored in the early twentieth century.

The Crown of Eric XIV today

The additions of the nineteenth century and their later removal may be of interest to jewelers, however the earliest changes made to the crown of Eric XIV are much more dramatic and merit explanation.  Originally the crown of the King of Sweden bore four pairs of the letter ‘E’ and ‘R’ in green enamel which were initials for “Ericus Rex.” These letters were all covered with cartouches set with pearl (which give the crown an ungainly look) after Eric XIV was deposed by John III.

Eric XIV lost the throne to John III (who was his brother) for good reasons.  Eric was an intelligent, handsome, and well-liked prince.  He romantically pursued Princess Elizabeth Tudor of England (later Queen Elizabeth I) for many years until his father’s death caused him to return from England and assume the throne of Sweden. He vigorously prosecuted the Livonian War by conquering Estonia and repelling Danish invasions.  But his reign fell under the dark shadow of mental illness–for the young king is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia.  He began to treat the Swedish nobility with increasing paranoia and highhandedness and he persecuted his brother John (who was the ruler of Finland and married to a powerful Polish princess). The king ultimately had his brother John incarcerated and removed nobles from his privy council. In 1567 he arrested five noblemen from the powerful Sture family.

Eric XIV of Sweden (Steven Van der Meulen ca. 1543-1561)

All of this seems familiar enough for kings, but Eric’s subsequent behavior leapt into the realm of madness.  Unable to convince the riksdag (a sort of noble parliament) of the Stures’ guilt for any crime, the king broke down completely before the assembled members.  The king then visited the Stures in prison and informed them of his intent to pardon them. Then, deciding that they could never forgive him, Eric flew into a frenzy, drew his dagger and stabbed Nils Sture.  Together with his guards he murdered the remaining Stures.  Then in extreme agitation, the king fled the castle.  His aging tutor found him and tried to soothe him, but the king commanded his tutor’s death (an order which the guards carried out) and then fled madly into the forest.  For days he could not be found and only eventually was he discovered in a nearby village dressed as a peasant. The king remained insane for half a year, but upon his recovery he resumed his duties.  When Eric began to exhibit traces of his malady again in 1568 (stabbing his secretary to death with a household object), his brother and the nobles joined together to overthrow him.  He spent the rest of his life imprisoned going in and out of insane fits.  In 1577, he died from arsenic which was probably concealed in his pea porridge by order of his brother John III.

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