Imperial crown

For the model of automobile, see Imperial (automobile).

An Imperial Crown is a crown used for the coronation of emperors.


Crowns in Europe during the medieval period varied in design:

An open crown is one which consists basically of a golden circlet elaborately worked and decorated with precious stones or enamels. ... The medieval French crown was of this type. ... the closed crown, which had bands of metal crossing usually from one side to the other and from back to front so that they met in the middle, at the top of the head. ... These arches are in part utilitarian, since they serve to strengthen the crown,in part decorative, since they are normally made to serve as supports for a central cross or jewel, and in part traditional, since a contributing element to the evolution of many medieval crowns was the structure of the early Germanic helmet, which had metal bands crossing at the top of the head to protect the skull from injury.

A special case of a closed crown was that of the Holy Roman Empire. This was originally an open crown, made up of eight separate richly jewelled sections incorporating four magnificent enamelled plaques, but the Emperor Conrad II (1024–39) had added to it a kind of jewelled crest, running from front to back, to which he had thoughtfully attached his name, CHVONRADVS DEI GRATIA ROMANORV(M) IMPERATOR AVG(VSTVS). This jewelled crest was so closely associated with the notion of the imperial office that when the Hapsburgs made a new imperial crown in the 15th century in which they incorporated two large cusps resembling a mitre seen sideways, they provided it with a similar crest running from front to back and topped with a central jewel. ... Strictly speaking, therefore, the only type of crown whose characteristics can properly be regarded as imperial was one with a single crest running from front to back. In practice, in countries unfamiliar with closed crowns at all, any kind of closed crown was assumed to be imperial in character.

Philip Grierson[1]

During the medieval era the crowns worn by English kings had been described as both closed (or arched) and open designs. This was in contrast with kings of France who always wore an open crown. However, there is academic debate on how often closed crowns were used in England during this period, as the first unequivocal use of the closed crown was by Henry IV at his coronation on 13 October 1399.[2] However his effigy on his tomb in Westminster Abbey wears an open crown so the link in England between the style of the crown and its representation as that worn by a king and an emperor was not established.[2] The use of a closed crown may have been adopted by the English as a way of distinguishing the English crown from the French crown,[3] but it also had other meanings to some. For example, Henry V wore helmet-crown of the arched type at the Battle of Agincourt which the French knight St. Remy commented was "like the imperial crown".[4]

The association of the closed crown with imperial crowns was already established in Continental Europe the late 14th century for example the florins minted for Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor) sometimes show him with an closed crown (though on the commoner variety, the crown is open). A miniature picture in the Chronica Aulae Regiae written in the great abbey outside Prague depicts his mother Elizabeth a queen of Bohemian wearing an open crown, while his two wives, who had imperial titles, have closed ones.[5]

During the machinations that surrounded the introduction of the imperial crown under Henry VIII (see the section below Legal usage), the closed crown, became associated as a symbolic representation of the English Crown as an imperial crown,[6][lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] and has remained so until this day.[9]

Types of Imperial crowns

Roman Imperial Crowns

Byzantine Imperial Crowns

Imperial Crowns with Mitre

Emperor Maximilian I wearing a crown with mitre

Imperial Crowns with single arch and deployable mitre

Imperial Crowns with single arch and attached mitre

The Silk Imperial Crown of Russia was used as an official coronation gift of the Russian Empire for the coronation of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of the Romanov line. Nicholas II was the first and only monarch to be presented with such a monumental coronation gift. It was not intended as ceremonial regalia, but as private Imperial property - a memento to his coronation event.

Imperial Crowns with high arches

Prussian-German Imperial Crowns

Napoleonic Imperial Crowns

Imperial crowns based on the design of European royal crowns

Other Imperial Crowns without European origin or influence

Heraldic Imperial Crowns

A list of prominent examples of depictions of imperial crowns displayed atop heraldic achievements or as heraldic charge includes:

Main article: British Emperor

Because Pope Clement VII would not grant Henry VIII of England an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the English Parliament passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533) in which it was explicitly stated that

Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same.[10]

The next year the Act of Supremacy (1534) explicitly tied the headship of the church to the imperial crown:

The only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm.[11]

During the reign of Mary I the First Act of Supremacy was annulled, but during the reign of Elizabeth I the Second Act of Supremacy, with similar wording to the First Act, was passed in 1559. During the English Interregnum the laws were annulled, but the acts which caused the laws to be in abeyance were themselves, deemed to be null and void by the Parliaments of the English Restoration, so by act of Parliament The Crown of England and (later the British and UK crowns) are imperial crowns.

See also


  1. Henry changed his coinage and his Great Seal from depicting himself with an open crown to a closed one to depict the imperial nature of the English Crown.[7]
  2. Shortly before Henry VII of England started his breach with the Roman Catholic Church, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, as regent for his son Philip the Handsome, had the real d'or coin struck depicting an closed crown, which due to the close trading links between the Low Countries and England would have made the imagery familiar to English men involved in trade and this may have influenced Henry's choice of a difference style of crown.[8]


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