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I write about crowns to highlight the multitudinous absurd stories of history. The bizarre tales of treachery and murder and greed through which these fancy hats change heads (and ultimately wind up melted down or gathering dust in museums) lay bare the machinations of power and reveal the intricate vicissitudes of fate which bind cultures and people together over the long centuries. I, uh, also write about crowns when it has been a long day at work, and I can’t think of anything to write about. Each one is like a little pre-made soap-opera tale from world history…or so it has been for many years. But I have been writing for a long time, and I am now getting down to some real scrub crowns, like today’s specimen: the Karađorđević crown, which was made for the coronation of King Peter of Serbia in 1904.

Serbia lies at the crossroads of the Eastern and Southern Europe (and of the Balkans, Central Europe, and Asia Minor). Many Serbian kingdom states and empires rose and fell. For centuries, Serbia was part of the Ottoman Empire. King Peter had been educated in Western Europe. He came to the throne as a liberal reformer who believed in a parliamentary monarchy. This combination of a ragged history and a humane king, meant that money was not lavished on the crown, which was made of bronze by a Parisian jeweler.

Karađorđević

The most remarkable aspects of the crown are the big melting two-headed eagles (white two-headed eagles have been the heraldic symbol of Serbia since the Byzantine dynasty) interspersed with aqua colored flowers (fleur-de-lis?).  Additionally, this is a crown with smaller crowns on it. Each of the two headed eagles is somehow wearing a single crown—which are jewel-like ornaments on the larger crown. All of this sounds like I am having a Biblical epiphany or a hallucinogenic stroke. Just look at the crown up there at the top.

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Sadly Serbia’s historical turmoil soon reasserted itself after the brief era of Peter. The First and Second World Wars occurred and Serbia wound up on the wrong side of the iron curtain. However, the Karađorđević crown somehow endured and today it is the only historical crown kept in the Serbian Republic (in a museum, gathering dust). It may not be as ancient or valuable as other crowns, but its cool appearance and heavy-metal eagles have ensured its continued low-grade success as an object of interest.

A Map of the Kingdom of Oudh

A Map of the Kingdom of Oudh

The region which was once Oudh is a fertile portion of Northern India located in the contemporary province of Uttar Pradesh. The name is an anglicisation of the name “Awadh” which in turn is derived from the older name “Ayodhya,” the quasi-mythical capital city of Lord Rama (eponymous hero of the Ramayana).   During the age of the Mughals, Awadh was an important province run by different Nawabs (governors) on behalf of the Mughal emperor. In the 18th century, the authority of the Mughals waned and the position of Nawab became a hereditary feudal one.  The Nawabs of Awadh were a Persian Shia Muslim dynasty from Nishapur and they were renowned for their wealth and culture, however their (real) power was short-lived. In the latter half of the 18th century, the East India Company manipulated Oudh into serving as a buffer state against the Mughals and a de-facto treasury for their projects and adventures in northern India.

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh (Robert Home, ca. 1819, oil on canvas)

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh (Robert Home, ca. 1819, oil on canvas)

In 1819 the East India Company granted the Nawabs of Oudh permission to rule as independent kings. Anyone interested in power should immediately be able to spot the problem with that sentence: real authority was in the hands of the East India Company. However the delighted new king had a royal crown created for himself (designed by a British artist, Robert Home who painted portraits in the various courts of India). Here then is the crown of Oudh. Although it was a real object made of actual gold and jewels (unlike say, the Dutch crown, made of foil and fish paste) the crown of Oudh was a British stage prop meant to further disconnect Oudh from the last of the Mughals. By 1856, these theatrical machinations became too much for the British, and they dispensed with the Nawabs in order to rule the region directly.  Yet the stagecraft of politics are a funny business—by annexing Oudh outright instead of running it through decadent puppet kings, the British precipitated the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (A.K.A. the First Indian War of Independence).

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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!

Oba Adémuwagun Adésida II ( photo taken in 1959)

Oba Adémuwagun Adésida II ( photo taken in 1959)

Hey! Have you in any way been affiliated with or interacted with the internet in the last two decades? If so, you have probably received a heartfelt plea for assistance from a deposed/dispossessed/dispirited Nigerian prince.  This famous email scam requested a small amount of money upfront in exchange for a big chunk of the royal treasury once the hapless royal heir ascended to his (grammatically shaky) throne.  Since Nigeria is a federated republic (and since this was, to reiterate, a scam), nobody ever received the royal payola.  However there is a kernel of historical truth within the confidence trick: Nigeria was once an assortment of kingdoms, emirates, and tribal lands which was annealed together by the British.  Each of these principalities (or state-like entities) had a ruler, and, although they were stripped of legal power during the colonial era, the various eclectic potentates have held onto ceremonial, spiritual, and cultural authority.

Yoruba Ade

Yoruba Ade

All of which is to say, there are no Nigerian princes, but there are prince-like beings, each of whom has a different set of royal regalia.   These “crown jewels” take the form of thrones, statues, “magical” items, and royal outfits…including sacred headdresses.  The Yoruba people (who constitute the majority of Nigeria’s ever-increasing population) vested particular authority in ceremonial “crowns” known as ades.  An ade is a conical beaded cap usually decorated with beads and faces.  The kings of the Yoruba people styled themselves as “obas” (an oba being a sort of combination of king, high priest, and chief).  The symbol of the oba’s authority was his ade—his crown (or for a high obas–the “adenla” which means “great crown”).

Beaded Crown "Ade" (ca. 20th Century; Glass beads, cloth, thread, and basketry)

Beaded Crown “Ade”
(ca. 20th Century; Glass beads, cloth, thread, and basketry)

Obas were the powerful rulers of the Yoruba and their ades were the ceremonial font of their authority.  This power was connected to the numinous world of spirits, gods, and orishas (which this blog has glanced upon in talking about voodoo—the syncretic new world religion based on Yoruba spiritual concepts). To quote the British Museum’s culturally suspect (but nicely written) website:

Beaded and veiled crowns…are traditionally worn by those kings who could trace their ancestry to Ododua, the mythic founder and first king of the Yoruba people. The crown is called an orisha, a deity, and is placed upon the king’s head by his female attendant. Powerful medicines are placed at the top of the crown to protect the king’s head and thus his future. The veil that covers the king’s face hides his individuality and increases attention on the crown itself, the real centre of power. The birds decorating the crown represent the royal bird, okin.

Originally ades had long beaded veils to conceal the faces of their wearers, but European ideas about royal headwear influenced the makers, and many more recent examples of the craft resemble European crowns.  The beautiful beadwork and impressive otherworldly artistry of ades has made them popular—so some of these examples may be constructed for the tourist trade.  Nevertheless, the Yoruba ade is a very impressive sort of crown.  Here is a little gallery of online images of ades.

Yoruba Ade Oba (by ÌMÒ DÁRA)

Yoruba Ade Oba (by ÌMÒ DÁRA)

Yoruba Beaded Ade (Oba's Crown) from Southwest Nigeria (Barakat Gallery)

Yoruba Beaded Ade (Oba’s Crown) from Southwest Nigeria (Barakat Gallery)

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Ade Olójúmérìndilógún, (with 16 faces) from Formação da Cultura Yoruba

Ade Olójúmérìndilógún, (with 16 faces) from Formação da Cultura Yoruba

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Chief's hat from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria (ca. 1940)

Chief’s hat from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria (ca. 1940)

 

King Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, oil on canvas)

King Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, oil on canvas)

In the Northern hemisphere today is the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. Here in Brooklyn, the Saturday closest to the solstice (which, this year, happens to also be the solstice) is the occasion of the Mermaid Parade, a great festival to Neptune, the Roman god of the ocean. Revelers gather in Coney Island which is a famous beach by the Atlantic Ocean. Artists, mummers, and lovers of the ocean dress as sea creatures, mermaids, and oceanic beings and parade down Surf Avenue before proceeding through Luna Park and to the beach. As a Brooklynite, I thought I should likewise celebrate Neptune and the glorious beginning of summer—which I am doing by showing one of my paintings. The title of this work is “King Cake” and everything you see is some sort of king. There is King Neptune, a king salmon, the king of herring, a king vulture, and a princely crown. The colorful torus-shaped cake is known as a king cake, which is eaten down south during carnival season. When the cake is consumed, the person who receives the piece with the baby baked inside is given a golden coin…or maybe sacrificed to the ancient gods (depending on one’s denomination and traditions). Carnival and Mardi Gras are not celebrated in Brooklyn: instead we have the mermaid parade on the summer solstice! Hail Poseidon! Hail summer!

What will the world do without him?

What will the world do without him?

The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, has officially announced his intention to abdicate his throne and crown so that his son, the Crown Prince Felipe can take over. Juan Carlos assumed the throne on November 22, 1975, two days after the death of life dictator Franco. Spain has been a constitutional monarchy ever since with the king commanding largely ceremonial powers (with real power held by elected officials). The Spanish monarchy however has deep roots which reach back to the Visigothic kingdoms of the 5th century which fought the Reconquista to regain the Iberian Peninsula from the Umayyad Caliphate (those Goths end up everywhere).

Crown of of Alfonso of Spain

Crown of of Alfonso of Spain

Despite the King’s popularity, many people argue about the relevance of monarchy to modern Spain (an argument which took on new relevance after the King’s unpopular decision to murder an elephant as part of a canned hunt during the height of the Great Recession). Whether decrepit and largely superfluous monarchs should be allowed to leach off of the public coffers is, however, not the concern of this blog. Instead we concentrate on the actual crown of Spain, known as the crown of Alfonso of Spain. This is less simple than it sounds since the crown of Alfonso does not actually exist as such, but is instead a heraldic conceit. It appears above and is a magnificent confabulation of rubies, emeralds, and pearls surmounted by a blue orb with a cross. The jpeg above is as real as the crown gets—it is purely notional.

Spain's “Corona Tumular” (originally the funeral crown of Elisabeth Farnese, Queen consort of Philip V)

Spain’s “Corona Tumular” (originally the funeral crown of Elisabeth Farnese, Queen consort of Philip V)

After the conquest of the new world, Spain was, for a time, the richest kingdom in Europe, and the Spanish crown jewels were very fancy indeed, but these lavish treasures vanished during the time of Napoleon when the Iberian peninsula was plunged into war and chaos. The Spanish monarchy, likewise, declined in importance and majesty since those days. The crown used at official royal proclamations (seen above) is a funeral crown from the 18th century (and is essentially what was found left over in the Spanish monarchy’s attic, after the Napoleonic wars). It was made of silver with gold plating for the funeral of Elisabeth Farnese, Queen consort of Philip V.  Yet even this not-very-good crown has not been seen in public since 1981 (so Spanish prop-makers might be busy in coming months).

Coronation Portrait of Ludwig II (Ferdinand von Piloty, 1865, oil on canvas)

Coronation Portrait of Ludwig II (Ferdinand von Piloty, 1865, oil on canvas)

King Ludwig II of Bavaria reigned from 1864 to 1886—a period which saw the kingdom of Bavaria integrated into Bismarck’s unified Germany.  Ludwig ascended the throne at the age of 18 after his father Maximilian II died unexpectedly of an illness.  He was a strange figure as a king.   Although introverted and shy he was also an extravagant aesthete with little taste for governing (although he enjoyed touring the countryside and conversing with everyday Bavarian farmers and workers).  At first he was admired for being a romantic and tragic young figure, but ominous rumors piled up around the reluctant king and fate had dark plans for him.

Ludwig’s uncle was Wilhelm I of Prussia—destined to become the Kaiser of the German Empire.  At first Ludwig tried to pull away from Prussian integration by siding with Austria, but he was easily outmaneuvered during the Seven Weeks War of 1866 and ended up allied with (and subordinate to) Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War.  Ludwig II was initially helped out in his kingship by his grandfather Ludwig I (an infamously bad poet who had abdicated the kingship amidst a spectacular scandal concerning the Irish dancer/courtesan Lola Montez) but the former king died in 1868, leaving Ludwig II to capitulate to Prussian Imperial hegemony. As Ludwig II grew disinterested in affairs of state, he began to follow an increasingly inward and eccentric path.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof Palace

The personal diaries and letters of Ludwig II reveal that he struggled to restrain his romantic feelings for other men and behave in accordance with the strict Catholic faith of Bavaria.  He was engaged to a famous & beautiful duchess but he repeatedly postponed the engagement and finally called the wedding off altogether (apparently to spare his fiancée from a loveless marriage).   The king was an ardent patron of Richard Wagner and he spent huge amounts of personal time with the spendthrift composer.

Ludwig II and Wagner

Ludwig II and Wagner

Ludwig II is most famous as an eccentric and maniacal builder. Calling on the Teutonic fantasies of Wagner and the absolutist opulence of Louis XIV, Ludwig commissioned multiple palace/castles.  The greatest and strangest of his projects was Schloss Neuschwanstein, or “New Swan on the Rock castle”, a dramatic Gothic fortress with soaring fairytale towers, however he also commissioned Herrenchiemsee, a smaller scale replica of Versaille, and Linderhof Palace a chateau in neo-French Rococo style.  Linderhof Palace was the only one of Ludwig’s palaces completed in his lifetime.  It had novelty gardens of unrivaled opulence where Ludwig enjoyed being rowed around the fancifully lit grottoes of his water garden in a golden swan-boat.  Lost in extravagant fantasies of being a swan knight, Ludwig became more a recluse and indulged in ever more solipsistic behavior.

Schloss Neuschwanstein o

Schloss Neuschwanstein o

All of this building cost phenomenal amounts of money and Ludwig’s indulgence in personal fantasies left him little time to deal with his ministers and courtiers.  Despite the indignation of Ludwig’s court, his buildings were constructed with funds from the King’s purse rather than from the kingdom’s coffers (an important distinction).  Strangely, the buildings served the traditional purpose of follies in Ireland and England and many peasants, builders, and artisans were employed in the construction projects.

Great Hall of Herrenchiemsee

Great Hall of Herrenchiemsee

Ludwig’s brother and heir Otto was ostentatiously and deeply insane.  Bavaria’s courtiers and aristocrats began to wonder if it would not be best to have both brothers declared mad and locked away while a capable regent took over the important minutiae of integration and industrialization (and colonial empire—which Germany was beginning to dabble in).  In the finest tradition of Gothic story-telling, the plotters turned to alienists, the psychiatric professionals of the day.  By accumulating sordid (possibly fictional) tales, personal letters, and servants’ testimony, the aristocrats built up a case against Ludwig II as a dangerous madman.  The ever-pragmatic Bismarck regarded the affair as a transparent frame-up, but neither he nor the Bavarian Diet nor the German Parliament acted to save Ludwig II from conspirators who proclaimed him insane and unfit to rule.

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On the 12th of June 1886, Ludwig was detained (after an unsuccessful attempt at fleeing).  He was placed in confinement at Berg Castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg, under thee care of the mental doctor Doctor Bernhard von Gudden.  The next day, the two men embarked on a walk together through the Schloß Berg parkland beside the lake (both the king and the alienist declined attendants).  Neither man returned alive. What transpired will never be known, but that evening a powerful storm swept the area. Desperate parties went out to search the lake and the surrounding forests for the two missing men.  Just prior to midnight the searchers found the bodies of the doctor and Ludwig II floating in the lake.  The king’s death was immediately ruled to be a suicide by drowning although the autopsy revealed no water in his lungs. Unreliable eyewitnesses (i.e. skulking royalists involved in various dodgy plots) reported that shots were fired however there is considerable disagreement about whether there were bullet wounds to the king’s corpse (which would indeed be suspicious).  Gudden was beaten and strangled—presumably by the (mad?) king.

These things happen...

These things happen…

The whole affair was entirely mysterious and grim, but with the king gone, the people who had deposed him were free to carry out their agenda (within a larger context of German nationhood, of course).  Work stopped on Ludwig’s castles.  His mad brother Otto became king–but their uncle Luitpold held the true kingly authority (such as it was).

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The world is different than it seems to be.  Aristocrats and ministers of Ludwig’s time viewed him as a miserable failure as a king (if not an outright lunatic).  Yet somehow he has emerged from the ruins of the German Empire with a higher reputation than the gifted statesmen who were his contemporaries. The castles which Ludwig created, which were seen as ruinous follies, have proven to be spectacularly lucrative as tourist destinations.  His patronage of the arts has left a cultural stamp on Bavaria which is widely believed to have contributed to that state’s wealth (it is today the most prosperous German state).   Bavarians speak of him fondly even today.  Perhaps a bizarre closeted life of secretly dressing as a swan and a terrible violent end in a German lake were the inevitable fate of someone who, from the beginning decided to live in a world of dreams.

 

Viggo Mortensen in "Return of the King" 2003

Viggo Mortensen in “Return of the King” 2003

The 85th Annual Academy Award Show just happened this past Sunday.  While memories of Hollywood magic are fresh in everyone’s mind, this is an ideal time to present a list of fantasy crowns from various movies and TV shows.  I borrowed the concept (and a couple of crowns) from this online gallery, however I certainly found crowns everywhere on the silver screen & the small screen.  Something about the theatric pomp of royalty makes royal headdresses a favorite part of costume & fantasy dramas.

Rachel Weisz in "The Fountain" 2006

Rachel Weisz in “The Fountain” 2006

As is often the case with movies, some of these crowns look far better than actual crowns (which tend to be bizarre medieval or colonial relics).  It is funny to think that rhinestones, paste, foil, and gold paint sparkle more brightly than actual gold and gems (in fact, there is probably a broad moral somewhere in that fact).   Of course that is in only relevant the cases where there is even a physical actor—there were so many cartoon princesses and kings that I only included a smattering here.

Vincent Price in "Tower of London" 1939

Vincent Price in “Tower of London” 1939

Charlize Theron in "Snow White and the Huntsman" 2012

Charlize Theron in “Snow White and the Huntsman” 2012

King Neptune from "Sponge Bob" (TV & 2004 movie)

King Neptune from “Sponge Bob” (TV & 2004 feature movie)

Kenneth Branagh as "Henry V" 1989

Kenneth Branagh as “Henry V” 1989

 

Sean Connery in "The Man Who Would Be King" 1975

Sean Connery in “The Man Who Would Be King” 1975

 

Billie Burke in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)

Billie Burke in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

King Candy from "Wreck-It Ralph"

King Candy from “Wreck-It Ralph”

Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Conan the Barbarian" 1982

Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Barbarian” 1982

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Bhutan

Bhutan

Until recently Bhutan was an anomaly among world nations.  The tiny landlocked monarchy at the eastern end of the Himalayas was famous for being untouched by time.  Under the absolute authority of the king, the Bhutanese pursued a medieval agrarian lifestyle with few trappings of the modernized world.  However in 2006 the king, Jigme Singye, used his absolute authority to proclaim that the kingdom was transitioning to a constitutional monarchy and would hold elections.  He then abdicated in favor of his Western-educated son Jigme Khesar Namgyel, who was crowned on November 6, 2008, and is now the figurehead ruler of the world’s youngest democracy.  The young king is the fifth monarch of the Wangchuck dynasty which consolidated control of Bhutan’s warring fiefdoms in 1907.

Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan from 1907 to 1926

Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan from 1907 to 1926, wearing the Raven Crown

The crown of Bhutan is known as the raven crown.  It is based on the battle helmet worn by Jigme Namgyel (1825–81), aka “the black regent” who was the father of the first king (and whose warlike life consolidated central authority over feuding nobles and kept Bhutan independent of Great Britain).  The raven is the national bird of Bhutan and represents Mahākāla, a protective deity/ dharmapāla particularly esteemed in the Buddhism of Tibet & Bhutan.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the current King of Bhutan, wearing the Raven Crown

Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the current King of Bhutan, wearing the Raven Crown

The raven crown is a warrior’s hat surmounted by a raven and embroidered with the skulls, which are emblematic of Mahākāla.  The aesthetic effect is striking, but–to anyone unfamiliar with the Buddhism of the Eastern Himalayas—the skulls and ravens make it look like the young king is a dark wizard or a death knight.  Fortunately, judging by the esteem in which he is held, this seems to be far from the case!

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