Cap of Maintenance

Cap of Maintenance. It is worn with the tail facing backwards and is depicted in heraldry with the tail facing to the sinister (viewer's right)
Position of Cap of Maintenance within a heraldic achievement, namely on top of the helm and below the crest. It thus takes the place of the torse. It is worn with the tail facing backwards. Garter stall plate of Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle(d.1542)
Shield, helm and crest of Edward, the Black Prince (d. 1376) from his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. Between the lion crest and the helm is a Cap of Maintenance, now almost entirely decayed

A cap of maintenance, known in heraldic language as a chapeau gules (French: "red hat"), is a ceremonial cap of crimson velvet lined with ermine,[1] which is worn or carried by certain persons as a sign of nobility or special honour. It is worn with the high part to the fore, the tapering tail behind. It may substitute for the torse in the heraldic achievement of a person of special honour granted the privilege by the monarch. It thus appears in such cases on top of the helm and below the crest. It does not, however, feature in the present royal arms of England, which show the royal crest upon the royal crown, itself upon the royal helmet.[2]


The origin of this symbol of dignity is obscure.

Royal insignia

According to the Oxford English Dictionary a Cap of Maintenance was granted by the Pope to both Kings Henry VII and to his son King Henry VIII as a mark of special privilege. A cap of maintenance is one of the insignia of the British sovereign, and is carried directly before the monarch at the State Opening of Parliament, nowadays by the Leader of the House of Lords. Kings of the United Kingdom wear a Cap of Maintenance during their journey to Westminster Abbey immediately prior to their coronation, as was the case most recently with King George VI. Queens regnant do not wear them on such occasions, but wear instead a diadem, as in the case of Queen Elizabeth II who wore the George IV State Diadem before her coronation.

Lining of peer's coronet

In more general terms, the velvet and ermine lining of a crown (or of the coronet of a peer) is itself sometimes called a 'cap of maintenance', and is technically a separate item from the crown itself. It may have had a purely practical origin being used to help a crown fit more firmly or to protect the head from bare metal on the crown.

Confusion with Muscovy Hat

A number of English cities and towns refer to the use of a 'Cap of Maintenance' as worn by a ceremonial officer, most usually a Sword Bearer. These are based most often on a design worn by the Swordbearer of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. However, this item is called by the City of London authorities a "Muscovy Hat" and is a historic reference to the mediaeval trade with the Baltic. The Muscovy Hat served as the crest of the City of London until replaced in the nineteenth century by the present crest of A dragon's wing charged with the Cross of St George.

The confusion as to nomenclature stems from references in early borough charters granting the right to the use of a ceremonial sword which often mentioned in addition the right to a Cap of Maintenance. However, this intended to mean that in civic processions a Cap of Maintenance should be carried along with the Sword (and Mace), signifying that the Mayor was the Sovereign's representative. The correct form of use can be seen at the State Opening of Parliament where it is carried alongside the Sword of State in front of the monarch. It would be quite improper for a commoner to actually wear it.


In many English towns where the privilege of a Sword was granted by the Crown (for example York, Bristol, Coventry, Lincoln, Newcastle upon Tyne, Norwich, Worcester, Hereford, Exeter and Hull[3]) the Swordbearer wears a variant of the City of London Muscovy Hat, although some wear other sorts of eccentric headgear which they mistakenly also call a "Cap of Maintenance".

City of York usage

Arms of the City of York, with quasi-Cap of Maintenance reversed from usual heraldic orientation

The City of York claims to possess an original medieval Cap of Maintenance, which is kept and displayed in the Mansion House; whatever its origin it is in fact a "Robin Hood" style of cap with ermine trimmings forming into a split peak at the back and was copied from an heraldic drawing and not from a genuine Cap of Maintenance. Caps of this style are still worn by the York Swordbearers. The City of York claims the grant of a Cap of Maintenance from the Yorkist King Richard III (1483-1485)[4] and incorporates this into its Coat of Arms as a quasi-crest but reverses it so that the tail or peak faces to dexter (viewer's left), thus further compounding the confusion.


  1.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Maintenance". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 442.
  2. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.2, Royal Arms
  3. Ceremonial Costume by Alan Mansfield.London: A & C Black, 1980.
  4. The Mansion House, York, website claims this as a grant from King Richard II in 1393—almost 90 years earlier than Richard III; see The Mansion House, York
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