Crown of Napoleon

The Crown of Napoleon created in the 19th century, called "Crown of Charlemagne".

The Crown of Napoleon was a coronation crown manufactured for Emperor Napoleon I of the French and used in his coronation on December 2, 1804. Napoleon called his new crown the Crown of Charlemagne, the name of the ancient royal coronation crown of France that had been destroyed in the French Revolution, a name which allowed him to compare himself to the famed mediaeval monarch Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.


Coronation of Napoleon, memorialised by Jacques-Louis David.

The French Revolution of the 1790s had led to the destruction of most of the ancient French Crown Jewels along with the eventual abolition of the French monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

When Napoleon I declared himself French Emperor a decade later he decided to create new Imperial regalia, the centrepiece of which was his Charlemagne crown.


Napoleon on his Imperial throne (wearing his laurel leaf crown).
painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1806.

In the coronation itself, which took place not in the traditional location of French royal coronations, the Cathedral in Reims, but in Notre Dame in Paris, he actually used two crowns. Initially he placed a laurel crown of the Roman emperors on his own head. Afterward he briefly placed the imperial Charlemagne crown on his head, then touched it to the head of his empress, Josephine.


As was the norm with European crowns, Napoleon's crown is made up of eight half-arches set with shell cameos and carved carnelians which meet at a golden globe, on top of which is placed a cross. The crown itself is mock mediaeval in style, reliant totally on gold and metallic decoration and devoid of the major covering with diamonds and jewels fashionable in crowns made later in the 19th century.

After the Empire

The Crown of Napoleon was used until his second overthrow in 1815. King Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, was installed on the throne as King of France following Napoleon's overthrow. In contrast both to his brother and to Napoleon, the new king opted not to have a coronation. When his brother, Charles X became king in 1824, he reinstated the traditional monarchical coronation in Reims and was crowned using the remaining pre-revolutionary French royal crown, the Crown of Louis XV. No more French coronations, either imperial or royal, followed Charles X's overthrow in 1830.

When Napoleon III proclaimed himself French emperor in 1852 he opted to neither have a coronation nor wear Napoleon I's crown. Nevertheless, a crown was created for Empress Eugénie, the Crown of Empress Eugénie.

Sale of the French Crown Jewels

In 1885, to impede any further attempts at royal or imperial restorations, the French National Assembly opted to sell most of the French Crown Jewels. Only a handful of crowns were kept for historic reasons, and they had their precious jewels replaced in them by decorated glass. Napoleon I's crown was one of the few kept. It is now on display in the Louvre museum in Paris.

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