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Young King Otto (1832, Joseph Stieler) oil on canvas

In the 1820s, Greece fought a desperate war for independence from the Ottoman Empire.  Russia, France, and the United Kingdom helped the fledgling nation prevail against the Sultan, and in 1830 the great powers helped Greece map its new borders. Unfortunately though, there are always growing pains, and in 1831, Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of state, was assassinated, hurling the peninsula into chaos.  Russia, France, and the United Kingdom reconvened in teh London Conference of 1832 and together they chose a new king, Otto I for the “free” people of Greece. Otto was the second son of Ludwig I of Bavaria (and the uncle of Ludwig II, the fairy tale prince, whose doom-laden, swan-heavy exploits have been described on Ferrebeekeeper before).

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In 1832 Otto ordered a crown from Fossin et Fils Goldsmiths in Paris to mark his coronation.  The gilded silver crown arrived in 1835, but it was used for a coronation, since Otto was never crowned.  Also, there were no precious stones to mount on the new crown so paste placeholders were used.  Speaking of paste placeholders, Otto was overthrown in a coup in 1862 and returned to Bavaria, taking the crown with him.  Some things just don’t work out very well.  But, stupidly, the crown just set around in Bavaria, until 1959 when it was “returned” to Paul I of Greece.  I guess it is still the crown of Greece, even though it looks like they got it out of bubble gum machine in a pizza parlour.  History has a lot of cul de sacs.

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A photo of Otto, in exile in Bavaria in 1865

This is the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.  The story of the crown’s creation has been lost in myth but it was most likely constructed by a jewelsmith somewhere in Western Germany during the late 10th century (probably during the reign of Otto I).   The Imperial Crown, was kept in Nuremberg from 1424–1796.  In 1796, Napoleon was marching on Nuremberg.  The crown was moved first to Regensberg before Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, had the crown “temporarily” removed to Vienna.  After Napoleon’s crushing victory at the battle of Austerlitz, Franz dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (but held onto the crown, which became a historical relic).  The crown was returned to Nuremberg by Nazis after the Anschluss of 1938.  When American forces took Nuremberg, the U.S. graciously returned the crown to Austria (although it would probably look very nice in the Smithsonian).   At present the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire is with the Austrian Crown Jewels which are kept under guard at the Hofburg in Vienna, “until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation”.

The crown is constructed from eight plates of 22 carat gold (which is why the metal never tarnishes and glisters with an otherwordly buttery glow).  It is ornamented with 144 precious stones—sapphires, emeralds, and amethysts en cabochon (faceting was unknown in the tenth century) as well as more than one hundred pearls.  The twelve largest gemstones on the front represent the twelve apostles. There are four cloisonné enamel pictures executed in the Byzantine style which show scenes from the bible (three plates portray Old Testament kings and the fourth pictures Jesus with two angels).  To quote a Czech website, the crown is indeed “a unique artistic masterpiece of the Romanesque era.”

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