Monday, June 04, 2012


Deeply associated with divinity and righteousness, power and authority, the head-dress known as the Crown retains potent symbolism.

St. Edward's Crown (above) contains much of the crown made in 1661 for the coronation of King Charles II. Only a minority of British monarchs have actually been crowned with St. Edward's Crown. These were Charles II in 1661, James II in 1685, William III in 1689, George V in 1911, George VI in 1937 and the present monarch Elizabeth II in 1953.

In modern times many nations have replaced their crowned ruler for a Republic. This occurred relatively early in England's history, following the execution of King Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of a Commonwealth from 1649 until 1660. However, with the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and the ineffective rule of his son Richard, England opted for the less frequently trod path historically of Restoration with the coronation of King Charles II occurring in 1661. From the Restoration of Monarchy to the present day those resident in the United Kingdom are not defined as citizens possessing  a charter of Rights, but as subjects of the current crowned monarch.

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols notes - Three factors supply the bases of the crown's symbolism. Being set on the crown of the head gives it an overriding significance. It not only shares the qualities of the head -the summit of the body - but also the qualities of whatsoever surmounts the head itself, a gift coming from on high. It sets the seal of transcendence upon the character of any accomplishment. Its circular shape is indicative of perfection and of its sharing in the heavenly nature of which the circle is a symbol. It marries, in the person crowned, what is above and what is below. As a reward of virtue, crowns are promises of eternal life on the pattern of that of the gods. Finally, the very material, be it vegetable or mineral, from which the crown is made defines by the fact that it is dedicated to this or that god or goddess, the nature of the heroic deed accomplished and that of the prize awarded by assimilation with Mars, Apollo or Dionysus. At the same time it reveals the supraterrestial powers entrapped and used to achieve the deed rewarded.

The physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne's baroque and phantasmagorical discourse The Garden of Cyrus may be viewed as the Crown and obverse of the literary coin forged by the adherent of Vulcan's Art. It's purple prose apotheosis includes the reassurance that-

All things began in order, so shall they end, and so shall they begin again; according to the ordainer of order and mystical Mathematicks of the City of Heaven.

a statement which has been interpreted as a prophecy of the return of monarchy to England. And in fact within months of the first publication of The Garden of Cyrus (both diptych discourses are prefaced with a dedicatory epistle dated May 1st 1658) the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell died (September 3rd 1658). The stage was set for the exiled King Charles to return to England in 1660. Eleven years, the Stuart Restoration monarch when visiting Norwich in 1671, duly knighted his loyal and learned subject.

Far too subtle a thinker to embroil himself in political dispute, yet at a time when England had no crowned Head of State, the staunch Royalist Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus discreetly draws his reader's attention to various types of Crown as worn by Augustus, Ptolomy, Alexander and Aaron. Crucially, each of these historical rulers, along with the titular King Cyrus are cited by Browne in his sketching of the Platonic types or eternal patterns in nature, in this case human nature, as being essentially a 'prototype' or archetype - that of the 'wise ruler' no less; and in fact the discourse includes one of the earliest usages in English literature of the very word 'archetype'. Elsewhere, the Biblical figure of Solomon along with the Greek god Jupiter and the Egyptian Pharaoh are cited as examples of  the archetype of the wise ruler. The Norwich physician and Ur-psychologist tentatively sketches another equally important archetype in Cyrus - his allusion to Juno, Venus, Cleopatra, Helen, Diana and Isis may be interpreted as an anticipation of the anima figure of the 'Eternal Female' or 'Great Mother' in Jungian psychology. Touching upon various kinds of Crown Thomas Browne observes-

The Triumphal Oval, and Civical Crowns of Laurel, Oake, and Myrtle, when fully made, were pleated after this order. And to omit the crossed Crowns of Christian Princes; what figure that was which Anastatius described upon the head of Leo the third; or who first brought in the Arched Crown; That of Charles the great, (which seems the first remarkably closed Crown,) was framed after this manner; with an intersection in the middle from the main crossing barres, and the interspaces, unto the frontal circle, continued by handsome network-plates, much after this order. Whereon we shall not insist, because from greater Antiquity, and practice of consecration, we meet with the radiated, and starry Crown, upon the head of Augustus, and many succeeding Emperors. Since the Armenians and Parthians had a peculiar royal Cap; and the Grecians from Alexander another kind of diadem. And even Diadems themselves were but fasciations, and handsome ligatures, about the heads of Princes; nor wholly omitted in the mitral Crown, which common picture seems to set too upright and forward upon the head of Aaron: Worn sometimes singly, or doubly by Princes, according to their Kingdomes; and no more to be expected from two Crowns at once, upon the head of Ptlomy. 

Royal coat-of-arms with 9 Lions and 4 Crowns

                        Roman silver disc of  Sol Invinctus circa 250 CE

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