The brightness of medieval knightly outfits and the splendor of jewelry today can only be envied. Frame from the film "Secrets of the Burgundy Court" (1961)
My throne is a saddle, my glory is on the field,
My crown is a helmet, the whole world is my power.
"Shahname". Ferdowsi Hakim Abulkasim
My crown is a helmet, the whole world is my power.
"Shahname". Ferdowsi Hakim Abulkasim
History Middle Ages. It is always nice when you are asked questions that you are interested in answering. So recently at VO I was asked a question about heraldic helmets and crowns crowning them. Because, yes, indeed, in the Middle Ages, among noble people, there was a custom to amuse their arrogance with a precious crown on their helmets. So that not only by a horse blanket, a surcoat, a shield and all kinds of emblems, but also by a crown, as if from a photograph in a passport, he could be easily identified on the battlefield. And the thing is that already in the XIII century, the warrior's helmet became a kind of basis for heraldic coloring and heraldic figures with which it was decorated.
The landing of the army of Harald Hardrad and the defeat of the army of Northumberland. Miniature from the Life of St. Edward the Confessor" by Matthew of Paris. circa 1250 Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. One crown is visible on the topfhelm helmet, the other is worn directly on the mail hood
Already the warriors on the “Bayeux tapestry” painted their helmets in different colors. There are also many miniatures from manuscripts of different centuries showing warriors in painted helmets. Until the middle of the XNUMXth century, when the “big helmet” (topfhelm) became the main helmet of the equestrian knight, and later it also continued to be painted, but since coats of arms also appeared by the same time, coat of arms colors were often chosen for this purpose.
"Romance of Alexander", 1338-1344 England, Bodleian Library. On the head of the rider on the right is a late type of topfhelm helmet with a pointed crown, on which his crown is put on!
But only colors, without figures, it was somehow “not interesting”. And the so-called Kleinods, or helmet decorations, made of lightweight materials, begin to be attached to helmets. The coat of arms had a violent fantasy, so it is not surprising that the whole peasant inventory, parts of armor, and various weapon, and all living creatures, even naked female figures - and they hit the knights on the head!
Coats of arms, helmets and helmet decorations of the 1899th century. "Heraldic Atlas" by Hugo Gerhard Strel. Stuttgart, XNUMX
However, a lot of time passed before the helmet itself became a heraldic accessory. In any case, until the end of the XNUMXth century, it was included in the coat of arms only as a “platform” for the Kleinod. The helmets that we see in early heraldic manuscripts, and which are depicted on the monuments, follow any style that became fashionable at one time or another.
Evolution of the Grand Slam 1331-1370 Royal Arsenal, Leeds
And helmets at that time were practically not used to indicate the rank of the owner, and armorials clearly prove this fact, because then everyone, from a knight to a monk, used the same image of a helmet.
Ulrich von Liechtenstein (c. 1200 - c. 1275). The helmet is decorated with the figure of the goddess Venus. "Manes Code". Heidelberg University Library
Only from 1500 did the presence of a crown or diadem on helmets begin to designate those knights who belonged to the royal family. And by the same time, the appearance on the helmets of the “lattice” at the visor, or “open helmet”, with a certain number of vertical plates decorating it on the front can be attributed. This was the first attempt, characteristic of the Renaissance, to introduce an additional identification system into heraldic use. Moreover, on the helmet, both the metal itself from which it was made, and the number of “lattice” plates now corresponded to the rank of the coat of arms owner and his position in society.
Various schematic views of helmets used in heraldry
As always, everything simple and logical was soon supplemented by tinsel and superfluous. Helmets began to be decorated with various patterns, gold and silver edging, and, of course, a strictly fixed number of "latches" that accurately indicated the rank of their wearer. The coats of arms of nobles of a lower rank had either a fully closed helmet, with a closed visor that completely hid the face, or a helmet that received the playful but very accurate name “frog face”, since it looked like a popular tournament helmet - “toad head”.
A fleur-de-lis crown on a bascinet helmet. The Mirror of History (Volume 1), 1370-1380 National Library of France, Paris
As in most cases in the field of heraldry, France excelled here. Moreover, the French heralds came up with not only various forms of helmets, ranging from the monarch (whose helmet had to be entirely gold, with an open visor) and to the newly minted aristocrats (a simple steel helmet with three bars), but also determined the position in which was a helmet on the coat of arms.
And here, too, the king fights in the “crowned helmet”. "Great Chronicles of France", 1390-1405. National Library of France, Paris
Most of the helmets were turned with the front part to the right, that is, in the direction of "dexter". A helmet turned backwards, or "sinister", indicated the illegitimacy of its owner. Spain and Portugal followed the example of France, so that the same system was established in their heraldry.
And here the king is watching the bombardment of the city. "Flowers of the Chronicle", 1384-1400 Paris, France. Municipal Library of Besançon
But in the Holy Roman Empire, a simplified system for using a helmet in the coat of arms was developed. The German titled nobility inserted helmets with bars into their coats of arms, but without any certain number of plates in them, but it was understood that the aristocracy (up to the third generation) should use a closed helmet. However, at the end of the XNUMXth century, German and Scandinavian families with ancient bloodlines made an attempt to establish their heraldic superiority over the new aristocracy through the use of family coats of arms, made in the manner of the XNUMXth-XNUMXth centuries, with a large helmet, characteristic of those times. Well, I want at least some people to be higher than others!
The English aristocracy knew only two images of the heraldic helmet. The first is a silver helmet with golden slats, which was given only to representatives of the highest aristocracy (peers, etc.). And the “second-class nobility”: knights, baronets and “gentry” - in the coat of arms had a steel-colored closed helmet, with an open visor for the first two categories and completely closed for the “gentry”.
"Edward the Black Prince receives possession of Aquitaine from his father, King Edward III." Initial "E" (initial) on a page of an illustrated manuscript from 1390. British Library, London. British Library Online Gallery
Documents of the XIV century. indicate that at that time most rulers used coats of arms that had helmets with kleinods without any special royal distinction. Crowns and diadems, common in heraldry, were either placed above the shield or helmet, or used as a special figure on the shield itself. Early heraldic diadems were simplified versions of the crowns of kings and princes. From the jeweled crown came a whole range of ornamental leaf-like decorations, which in the following centuries took shape in lily flowers, strawberry leaves and other patterns familiar to heraldry, characteristic of the design of helmet mantlings. Ranking styles of tiaras for aristocrats were established in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, although the European aristocracy even before that, judging by the miniatures, wore and used their own, differing tiaras for centuries.
What did the helmet crowns look like? Here we are lucky! The effect of Edward the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral, in Kent, has come down to us, on the helmet of which the helmeted crown is clearly visible. And this is exactly the bascinet crown. Because Edward's topfhelm lies under his head. Photograph by Julian P. Gaffogg
Effigia of Edward the Black Prince. Photo: RDIMAGES/EPICS/GETTY IMAGES
"Helmet of the Black Prince". This is what it would look like if you could get it. Made from several large plates riveted together, the helmet completely covers the wearer's head. Visibility is provided by a horizontal viewing slit with a short bar between the eyes for better protection. A cross-shaped hole near the bottom edge allowed the helmet to be attached to the wearer's belt or armor with a metal chain. Numerous artistic depictions of great helmets show that they were often worn over a close-fitting unvisored bascinet to provide an extra layer of protection. Royal Arsenal, Leeds
The Renaissance introduced a whole system of diadems and crowns into heraldry. It was established how many leaf-shaped points and pearls should be placed on the hoop, depending on the rank of the wearer. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that in most cases this is nothing more than a heraldic convention, and such “models” of crowns have never really been worn. The states of Southern Europe took French heraldry as a basis in this regard, while Northern Europe was equal to the Holy Roman Empire.
It should be noted that the spread of helmet crowns was associated not only with the need to identify senior commanders on the battlefield, but also with the very shape of the bascinet helmet, on which such crowns held very well. Here in front of us, for example, is a 1:6 scale figurine of a French knight of the Hundred Years War from Quomodels in a bascinet helmet with a visor. Photo: https://gsoldiers.ru
And this is a helmet from one of the figures and a crown to it. Made, as you can see, it is very realistic. Photo: https://gsoldiers.ru
The only aristocracy (as opposed to the royal nobility) who actually wore and continues to wear tiaras and crowns is the noble elite of Britain, where such jewelry is worn on special occasions - for example, on the day of the coronation of the monarch. At the moment of placing the crown on his head, the peers also put on their diadems. In the modern world, tiaras are sometimes drawn in the coats of arms of some municipalities, not only in Europe, but also in Gabon (West Africa), so far from the Old World.
Today we have at our disposal the crown of St. Wenceslas - as it is officially called, which is made of gold weighing from 21 to 22 carats (from 88 to 92%) and decorated with 91 precious stones and 20 pearls. It contains a total of 19 sapphires, 44 spinels, 30 emeralds and 1 red elbaite (a type of rubellite), which is often mistaken for a ruby. The crown has two hoops and a vertical cross at the point of their intersection. Weight two and a half kilograms. The sapphire cross has an inset cameo in which the scene of the Crucifixion is carved. This crown was clearly not intended to be worn on a helmet, but such crowns could well resemble it. After all, it was made in 1346, in the heyday of, so to speak, the “crown fashion”. Photo by K. Patsevsky
A special system of "professional" crowns has been introduced in modern Russian non-noble heraldry in order to distinguish the old noble coats of arms from the newly created ones.
And this is a crown from the famous “Srodsky treasure”, dating from the middle of the XIV century and discovered during excavations in the city of Strode in Silesia, in southwestern Poland in 1985. Currently, scientists have concluded that this treasure, including the crown, most likely belonged to Emperor Charles IV of the House of Luxembourg. Around 1348, needing funds to support his claim to the imperial title, Charles pawned various items to the Jewish banker Musho (Mojžeš, Mojše) in Sroda. Shortly thereafter, the plague visited Sroda, and no one heard anything more about Moyzhesh. It is believed that he either fled the city, or died of the plague, or became a victim of the townspeople distraught with horror, since the Jews were then blamed for the spread of the plague. What is certain is that no one ever returned this treasure, which after that had lain in the ground for hundreds of years. This crown, however, is not male, but female ... Photo from the RMF FM website
And now a number of conclusions, which in themselves are very interesting. Yes, there were helmets in the coats of arms, but at first only as a pedestal for the Kleinods. Then they tried to use them to rank the owners of the coat of arms, and such ranking, for example, spread in France in the XNUMXth century and even persists as a tradition to this day. But ... in all countries, helmets, and then the crowns on them, had a different look and different symbols. Therefore, what, say, was said about something in Germany, could be completely wrong for England or for Russia! So you can navigate by heraldic helmets and crowns, but ... it's better not to do this!