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Today’s news has been quite troubling.  The republic rots from within as grifters and fraudsters the treasury secretary and attorney general ignore Congressional oversight and mere national laws and wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to protecting Dear Leader President Trump’s dirty secrets.  Meanwhile, in even more troubling news, the U.N. released a report projecting the imminent extinction of more than a million species of plants and animals due to human activities.  The decline of our republic makes me so furiously angry that I feel like my teeth will break, but that feeling is nothing compared to the bone deep sadness which I feel contemplating the extinction of so many living things for our frivolous and corrupt economic system.

There is no way I could write about either of these things without spending all day at it (and spending a lot of time screaming at the heavens).  Is this what life is going to be like from here on out? Increasingly emotionally devastating headlines as ever more corrupt figures vie for power and the web of life slowly dies? Almost certainly.

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Maha Vajiralongkorn

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One of the things which has surprised me most about this blog is how popular crowns are.  Currently Ferrebeekeeper’s most popular post (in terms of traffic) is about the crowns of ancient Egypt.  Because there are sooo many examples from practically every culture and timeframe, crowns are my go-to subject when I can’t think of anything to write about.  In addition to a dazzling rainbow of visual styles from all history, crowns showcase the strange vicissitudes of history.  Many crowns are steeped in stories of murder, cunning, and circumstances so peculiar they seem like something out of fiction (indeed it is the coronal outlier which sits harmlessly on a velvet pillow in a museum or cathedral for centuries).  Yet people’s interest in these jeweled hats supersedes the fascinating historical tales behind individual crowns . When I wanted to write about catfish mascots or mollusk mascots I had to search the edges of the internet, but went to write about “royal” mascots I was overwhelmed by material—dancing queens, comic kings, playing cards, whiskey brands, tattoos, and all sorts of royal iconography on every sort of consumer good.  Clearly even in our democracy, people are drawn to the symbolism and stagecraft of royalty.

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Now, obviously, I want people to click on my blog posts and then enjoy perusing them!  Yet I have always tried to be deliberately impertinent in how I write about crowns  because I find their innate meaning to be troubling and I find the objects themselves to be almost as silly as they are impressive.  Examples of crowns as high-status/royal items go back to the dawn of civilization, however the Greeks crafted an explanation of the meaning of crowns from within their religious/mythological symbology.   Allegedly the sparkling points of light are meant to indicate a corona—a halo of light which indicates divine favor or divinity itself (this same idea was appropriated by the Christian church as a visual shorthand for saints, apostles, and angels).

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So crowns (objects built by human hands) are meant to convey some sort of heavenly/supernatural status. It is indeed a telling combination: however it doesn’t reflect the divine right of kings but our species tendency to self-abasement in front of hierarchical authority.  Primatologists (or their subjects) would understand this intuitively: put a shiny thing on your head to appear taller and more dazzling.  This need for hierarchy allows us to organize and do amazing things, but it makes us susceptible to terrible leadership mistakes.  To quote Sir Terry Pratchett  “It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: “Kings. What a good idea.” Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.”

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I hoped that by writing about crowns I could deconstruct this concept a bit.  Crowns are always being usurped by con-men, stolen by knaves, walled up inside cathedral storerooms, or melted into ingots by misguided revolutionaries.  Although they are exceptional works of craft (and made of rare expensive materials), their history shows them to be anything but supernatural!  They don’t reflect on a king so much as on his subjects who are inclined to take him at his word when he puts on a ridiculous spiky golden hat and says he is better than everyone.

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I have been trying not to write about flags too much…ever since an impassioned plea for blogging feedback revealed surprising anti-flag sentiments among our general readership.  Yet, Brazil’s flag features outer space AND a golden rhombus.  How could I not write about such a thing?

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The basis of the modern Brazilian flag is the flag of the Brazilian empire.  That flag had all sorts of classical medieval trappings of empire: a laurel wreath, a world-girding cross, a green shield, and big fat green & gold crown, however the backdrop—a bright yellow rhombus on a Kelly green field–was meant to be seen from a distance, and so it had a robust minimalist appearance.

When the First Brazilian Republic supplanted the empire in 1889, the flag changed by getting rid of all the regal trappings and replacing them with vault of the heavens.  The particular stars represent the night sky over Rio De Janeiro on the night of November 15, 1889, when the First Brazilian Republic was born.  The motto “Ordem e Progresso” means “order and progress” (that’s exactly what I would have guessed…hey, do I secretly know Portuguese?).

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There were however other options on the table and some of them are pretty fascinating.  Look at the weird dark mirror of the American flag which was proposed…or that strange black and white monstrosity which looks like it was printed at Kinkos to be handed out by street people.

On the whole though, the Brazilian flag is quite splendid!  Its bold color scheme stands out among all of the hundreds of flags of the world and perfectly represents the glowing dynamism of the Amazon and of the young nation!  Hooray for Brazil!

Brazil-People

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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.

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).

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 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.

Cronus

In Greek myth the Titan Cronus, was ruler the heavens and king of the gods prior to the ascent of Zeus. Cronus ruled over the golden age of humankind when suffering was unknown and death was but a gentle dream.  Yet there was a darkness behind the reign of Cronus, a terrible stain upon the sickle which was his emblem.  Even while Cronus ruled heaven, he knew that he would end as a maimed wretch cast down into the underworld. A dread augury had revealed that he would fall at the hands of a son more powerful than he–and his personal history convinced him the prophecy was sooth.

Cronus was the most powerful son of Uranus, the original god of the primordial heavens. At the beginning of all things Uranus ruled as king of the gods and the firmament–but Uranus was displeased by the Hekatonkheires, hundred handed monsters born to him by his spouse Gaia. Despite Gaia’s pleas, Uranus imprisoned these monstrous sons in the dark prison of Tartaros.  Incensed by the haughtiness of her spouse, Gaia crafted a great flint sickle from her own bones.  Only Cronus had sufficient ambition, nerve, and cruelty to wield the sickle.  He ambushed Uranus and cut him into bloody pieces.  Gods and monsters were born of the hewn apart body of Uranus.  Unfortunately for Gaia’s plans,  Cronus saw no reason to free the Hekatonkheires, the Cyclops (one eyed monsters), or the other “undesirables” Uranus had already locked away and thus he, in turn, incurred the wrath of Gaia.

Cronus devours one of his offspring (Peter Paul Rubens, 1636, oil on canvas)

Having committed such an act, Cronus could not rest easy with his own children.  Whenever his wife, the Titaness Rhea, bore a son or daughter he snatched the baby away and swallowed it whole.  The mighty immortal Olympians, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon all started their lives as prisoners in their father’s gullet. Just before Zeus was born, Gaia whispered a plan to Rhea.  Rhea dressed a stone in swaddling clothes and gave it to her husband in place of their newborn child.  Cronus gulped down the rock and was none the wiser.  The baby grew to adulthood tended by Nymphs and fed by the divine goat Amalthea. When Zeus had grown powerful he made allies with Gaia and he took a first wife, Mètis, the goddess of wisdom, deep thought, and cunning.  Mètis gave Cronus a purgative of wine and mustard which caused the Titan to hurl up the five fully grown siblings of Zeus.  Together the Olympians, in alliance with the various sorts of imprisoned monsters, made war on the Titans (except for Prometheus, who could see the future and joined Zeus).  This epic battle, the Titanomachy, reshaped the landscape of the world (particularly that of Thessaly), but when it was over, the Olympians were victorious.  Cronus was cast down and Zeus locked him in Tartarus along with the other Titans except for Prometheus (and strong Atlas—who suffered his own punishment).  Zeus incurred the wrath of Gaia for imprisoning the Titans, who were also her children, and she began plotting against him and bearing further monsters to end his reign.

The Battle Between the Gods and the Titans (Joachim Wtewael, 1600)

Thus Zeus became king of the gods, but prophecy whispered that he would one day be supplanted by a stronger son….

What about Cronus? In classical myth, gods are immortal. The maimed Cronus could not die.  In some traditions he was imprisoned for a time in Tartaros with his siblings.  Mystery cults asserted that he recovered some of his regal glory: the Greek dithyrambic poet  Pindar wrote of how Cronus was elevated to be ruler of Elysium, that portion of the underworld reserved for heroes. According to the Orphic poems, Cronus is imprisoned for eternity in the cave of Nyx.  In the abject darkness, drunk on soporific honey, he cries out sometimes–for he is troubled by dreams of horrors yet to come.

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