The Power of Tradition-the Original Use of Coronets-the Coronet as the Distinctive Badge of Rank-the Coronets Worn by Members of Each Grade of the Peerage
Notwithstanding De Foe's assertion that "titles are shadows, crowns but empty things," and the much more familiar Tennysonian aphorism that "true hearts are more than coronets," there is, and in all human probability always will be, a certain charm and fascination as well as dignity attached to a coronet.
It is not merely an ensign of rank, though this in itself would suffice to account for much of its undoubted attractiveness. Associated with it, as a rule, are an ancient and lofty lineage, an historic name distinguished in the Senate or " tented field," broad acres, vast wealth, a princely mansion, and many social privileges and advantages which, in this very matter-of-fact world, are likely to outweigh all the sage utterances of poets, cynics, and philosophers.
But a coronet is, of course, primarily and essentially a distinguishing badge of rank, worn only on great State occasions, as, for example, the coronation of a sovereign. In its inception, however, it was merely a personal ornament which played a useful part by confining the hair at the brows at a period when it was the fashion for men of noble birth or great wealth to wear long, curling locks falling over the shoulders. This custom prevailed till the middle of the fourteenth century; and at festivals or on occa-s ion s of special cere-
Fig. I. The coronet of the Prince of
Wales, which differs from the Royal crown only by the absence of one of the arches mony or rejoicing, these fillets, or plain broad bands of gold, were usually adorned with leaves and berries, thus suggesting the subsequent or-namenta-tion of the coronet with which we are now so familiar.
Fig. 2. Coronet of a prince or princess of the Blood Royal, without arches. Sons and daughters of the Sovereign retain the fleur' de-lis, but in the case of their children strawberry leaves are substituted
The great nobles of those days, of course, wore these adornments, though not as a distin-guis hing mark of their exalted rank; and numerous examples of ladies wearing coronets of various descriptions are to be met with in the richly illuminated books of the fourteenth and fiteenth centuries.
Previous to the reign of Edward IV. the form of the coronets worn by the nobility appears to have been designed according to the taste and fancy of the wearers, and not prescribed by authority. It was not until a considerably later period that the style of the various coronets was definitely fixed, and their use rigidly restricted to the members of the peerage.
As now worn, the coronet of each rank is of a distinctive character or design, and in every case the coronet of a peeress is similar to that of her noble husband, the only difference being in the size.
Next in importance to the Crown of England is the coronet of the Prince of Wales, which r e -sembles it c 1 o s e 1 y (Fig. 1.Indeed, it differs from the Royal crown only by the ab-sence of one of the arches. Springing from the the Sovereign, in which strawberry leaves
Fig. 3. Coronet worn by grandchildren of take the place of fleurs-de-lis
Fig. 4. A ducal coronet, with its eight golden strawberry leaves. The coronets of peers and peeresses are alike in every respect except size. No coronets of peers, except those belonging to the Royal Family, may be adorned with jewels golden circlet are four crosses pattee, and four fleurs-de-lis, the latter, of course, being emblematic of the now long-abandoned claim of the Kings of England to the throne of France, an absurd pretension which was not dropped officially until the coronation of George IV.
The coronets of princes and princesses of the Blood Royal are without arches; the sons and daughters of the Sovereign retain the fleurs-de-lis (Fig. 2), but in the case of their children "strawberry leaves," of which more anon, are substituted for the French emblem (Fig. 3).
The ducal coronet has undergone several modific a-tio ns in form since it was first i n t r oduced in 1337. when Prince Edward of Woodstock, better known as the Black Prince, was created Duke of Cornwall by his father, Edward III. As now worn, it has eight golden leaves of a conventional type-the "strawberry leaves," so called - set erect upon a circlet of gold, and having their stalks so connected as to form a wreath. Of late years this coronet has enclosed a cap of rich crimson velvet, surmounted by a golden tassel, and lined and "guarded" with ermine (Fig. 4).
The first noble to bear the title of Marquis in England was Robert de Vere, ninth Earl of Oxford, who, in 1383, was created Marquis of Dublin by Richard II.; John de Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, who was created Marquis of Dorset in 1397, being the second. Here, again, several changes have taken place in the form of the coronet, but the prescribed design is now four leaves and as many large pearls-a semi-heraldic designation for silver balls (Fig. 5).
The next grade in the British peerage is that of an earl, which, however, was the highest title and rank of English nobles until the Black Prince was created Duke of Cornwall. The earl of England was identical with the leaves and four pearls - a semi-heraldic
Fig. 5. The coronet of a marquis bears four term for silver balls eight 'rays of gold, on each of which is a
Fig. 6. An earl's coronet is distinguished by pearl. Between each pair of rays is a strawberry leaf
Comte or Compte of France; and so long as Norman-french continued to be spoken in this country, the English "earls" were styled counts and their ladies countesses.
The coronet, which is one of the most striking, has, rising from a golden circlet, eight lofty rays of gold, each of which upon its point supports a small pearl, while between each pair of rays is a conventional leaf, the stalks of these leaves being connected with the rays and with each other so as to form a continuous wreath (Fig. 6).
The title of Viscount was created in 1440 by Henry VI., John, Baron Beaumont, being the first to enjoy the new honour. It was not until the reign of James I., however, that a special coronet was assigned to this order of nobility, and the design then chosen was that of sixteen small pearls-or silver balls, set in contact on the edge of the circlet (Fig. 7).
The title of Baron is one of the oldest in the kingdom, but in the Middle Ages it was used indiscriminately, even by those who had no right or claim to rank as peers. The coronet is more modern. Charles II. granted it, and it has six large pearls set at equal distances on the chaplet (Fig. 8).
With regard to the "strawberry leaves" which adorn the coronet of a duke, marquis, and earl, there has long raged a controversial storm in a tea-cup. The College of Heralds is unable to throw any light on the subject. But a writer in the " Encyclopaedia Londinensis" offers the following curious solution:
"The decoration by the strawberry leaves is very ancient, and we do not doubt but the honour of adorning the brows of majesty was reserved to this humble plant in order to remind sovereigns that though elevated to so high a station in society they ought never to forget that they are but men, and but a single leaf in the great scale of Nature and in the dispensation of Divine Providence."
Fig. 7. A viscount's coronet is adorned with a row of sixteen small pearls, or silver balls, set in close connection to form a circlet. This coronet dates only from the reign of James I. pearls set at equal distances round the
Fig. 8. A baron's coronet bears six large chaplet