Royal Crowns of Europe, 1, Lombardy

I have decided to do a series of articles on the Royal Crowns of Europe. Not the person but the Crown itself. I will begin with Lombardy.

Iron Crown of Lombardy

The Iron Crown of Lombardy (Corona Ferrea) is both a reliquary and one of the most ancient royal insignia of Europe. It is kept in the Cathedral of Monza near Milan, the capital of modern Lombardy.


Iron Crown of Lombardy, kept in the Cathedral of Monza.The Iron Crown is so called from a narrow band of iron about one centimeter (three-eighths of an inch) within it, said to be beaten out of one of the nails used at the crucifixion. According to tradition, the nail was first given to Emperor Constantine I by his mother Helena, who discovered the cross.

How it fell into the hands of the Lombard kings, Germanic conquerors of northern Italy, is not well explained. Theodolina, the queen of Lombards, in many legends is said to have been involved in its discovery.

Some scholars posit that there were, in fact, many nails being circulated at the time. Almost thirty European countries lay claim to a holy nail. Constantinople seems to have made liberal use of them: "Empress Helena, who seems to have spent much of her reign locating holy relics, once cast a nail from the Holy Cross into the sea to calm a storm. Another was fitted to the head of a statue of the Emperor Constantine, while a third was incorporated into his helmet ." A fourth nail was melted down and molded into a bit for his horse.

In how the nail in the Iron Crown in particular reached the Lombards: "Constantine also understood the value of these objects in diplomacy." Several were sent off to various dignitaries, one of whom was Princess Theodolina. "She used her nail as part of her crown, the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy." She later donated the crown to the Italian church at Monza in 628, where it is preserved as a holy relic. It was later used in Charlemagne's coronation. The crown became one of the symbols of the Kingdom of Lombards and later of the medieval Kingdom of Italy.

The outer circlet of the crown is of six gold and enamel segments of beaten gold, joined together by hinges and set with precious stones that stand out in relief, in the form of crosses and flowers. Its small size and hinged construction have suggested to some that it was originally a large armlet or perhaps a votive crown. Probably the little size of the crown was caused by a readjustment after the loss of two segments, as proven in historical documents.

Medieval era

From the 9th to the 19th century, the Kings of Italy were also the Holy Roman Emperors, so many of them received the Iron Crown of Lombardy at Pavia, the formal capital of the Kingdom. Famous emperors such as Charlemagne, Otto I, Henry IV, and Frederick I Barbarossa were crowned with it.

On March 1, 1026, Heribert, the archbishop of Milan, was crowned Emperor Conrad II at Milan instead of Pavia.

Modern era

On May 26, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned King of Italy at Milan, with suitable splendor and magnificence. Seated upon a superb throne, he was invested with the usual insignia of royalty by the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, and ascending the altar, he took the iron crown, and placing it on his head, exclaimed, being part of the ceremony used at the enthronement of the Lombard kings, "Dieu me la donne, gare à qui la touche." – "God gives it to me, beware those who touch it". (hurumph)

For the occasion, Napoleon founded the Order of the Iron Crown, on June 15, 1805. After Napoleon's fall and the annexation of Lombardy to Austria, the order was re-instituted by the Austrian Emperor Francis I, on January 1, 1816.

Emperor Ferdinand I was crowned King of Lombardy and Venetia in Milan on September 6, 1838, using the Iron Crown.

After the war between Austria and Italy, when the Austrians had to withdraw from Lombardy in 1859, the Iron Crown was moved to Vienna, where it remained until 1866 when it was given back to Italy after the Third Italian War of Independence.

It is now in the Cathedral in Monza.

de Brantigny


MDA said...

Excellent piece. I look forward to the rest of the series.

de Brantigny said...

I have taken some time off for Easter, so it may be some time. It remindes us of what we lost.