A Few Remarks on Crowns

The leaf-crown, a plain hoop with leaf-shaped ornaments, was originally and until the 13th century the sign of the King. At the same time there appeared an image of this crown in the royal seal as a helmet-crest, represented with three leaves placed in fromt visibly (Figure 1).

In the course of the 14th century there broke forth a development that has not been entirely explained, which raised the value of this royal helmet decoration, in that the leaf-crown appeared sporadically in seals of the nobility as a connecting link between helmet and crest, that is, as a "helmet crown". Later the leaf-crown was more richly pictured, with a broader, jewel-set forehead band, and was augmented with several prongs of pearls set between the leaves (Figure 2). It then became known as a "nobility crown" and in the time of the letter-nobility (titles granted by letter) was frequently granted as helmet-crown. There arose the peculiar conception of the "crowned helmet" as it never existed in reality.

The leaf-crowns came to know an essentially different application in the 15th century, in that they began to appear-- at first only in royal seals-- at the time helmets were being abandoned as the exclusive decoration of shields. Through this arose the use if a simplified representation, similar to the coat of arms. This use continued in the royal seals until the end of the 16th century. It was taken up by dukes and counts in the 17th century, and in the 18th century by the remaining nobility. For the sovereign dukes bore their own crowns and ermine-edged hats, and certain members of the count class bore leaf-crowns which by this time showed five forward-facing visible leaves. These marks of distinction showed a higher rank of nobility than the old leaf-crowns represented with only three leaves.

An additional symbol that helped differentiate the grades of nobility followed the end of the 17th century, with the introduction of the well-known "rank-crowns" with their 9, 7, and 5 pearl-set prongs for the counts, the free-lords, and the untitled nobility (Figures 3, 4, and 5). Crowns of this kind with numbered pearl-prongs are no heraldic idea and cannot be worn in the arms proper, but are exclusively to be used for the outside decoration of the shield beside the historically valuble arms decorations such as helmets with covers and crests. (We can only mention inpassing the fashion of showing the title of nobility by leaf-crowns or the newer rank-crowns in connection with monograms.)

On the foregoing we may perhaps take the following position:

  1. Event though the crowns in themselves were and are the symbols of ducal sovereignity, leadership downwards from the crowns of these high-ducal nobility should not arbitrarily be allowed. If nevertheless the precedence of the crowns be allowed as by a free-will naturalization, it must still not be forgotten that the value of the historical part of our arms (helmet and crest) is greater than the image of a leaf-crown which our ancestors did not wear, and much greater indeed than the picture of a prong-crown that has never been granted.

  2. If we desire, however, following a current fashion, amid all this abandonment of our historically valuable arms decorations, to make use of a simplified representation similar to proper coats of arms, showing the shield decorated exclusively with a crown, Then there comes in to question for our younger members only the red-bordered shield which has been our arms since the 16th century. The use of a crown having been decided, the one in Figure 1 can be used, the earlier royal helmet-crest having been piously omitted. Next, corresponding to this crown, came the heraldic leaf-crown shown in Figure 2 in to the first line of consideration, and last the non-heraldic prong crown shown in Figure 5, and respectively for the Prussian counts the prong-crown shown in Figure 3. The prong-crown showing seven pearls as in Figure 4 stands only for a few since-deceased family members, to whom once the title of free-lord was granted.

  3. Since the shield and crown must belong to the same historical period, our basic family arms cannot be brought into relationship with any of the crowns. This classically simple coat of arms of our family, with its plain silver-and-black parted shield stems out of the 14th century, while the arbitrary custom of showiing crowns alone over escutcheons dates only from the 17th century.

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