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United Kingdom: Crowns on Flags

Last modified: 2004-12-18 by rob raeside
Keywords: united kingdom | crown | naval crown |
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State or Victorian Crown

[State crown] by Jarig Bakker, from the illustration of the Royal Mail pennant in Flags at Sea

See also:

Imperial or Tudor Crown

[Imperial or Tudor crown] by y T.F. Mills

St. Edward's Crown

[St Edward's crown] by T.F. Mills

See also:

There have been three basic 'crown shapes' on British flags, though there are variations within each basic shape.

Unfortunately, the Queen Victoria state crown was often drawn in a weak, ill-defined style and later illustrators, presumably imagining that it was a badly drawn St Edward's crown, redrew it accordingly.

David Prothero, 23 February 1999, 27, 30 September 2000

I am posting drawings of the imperial or Tudor crown (1902-1953) and the St Edward's crown (1953-present). As was noted above, the Victorian crowns were not very well regulated and there are numerous variations. But the imperial and St. Edward's crowns are very well regulated. There was a transition period of up to five years (1953-58) for the adoption of the St. Edward's crown in many institutions, and there were, of course, exceptions where it was never updated.

T.F. Mills, 24 February 1999

Contemporary documents in 1901 and for some time after that refer to the "Imperial Crown" mean the real "Imperial State Crown" and not the iconographic Tudor Crown. What we now call the Imperial Crown bears a very strong resemblance to the small diamond crown that Queen Victoria had made in 1870 (perhaps more so than the Tudor Crown) because she found the Imperial State Crown to be too heavy. Surely Edward VII was conscious of this when he standardised crown design in iconography? (Note that 1870 is before Victoria became Empress of India in 1876, so that imperial status seems to be irrelevant -- at least initially.) Another "British Crown of India" was made for the 1911 Delhi Durbar (because British crown jewels may not leave Britain). It looks a little like the 1901 "Imperial Crown" but less so than 1870 crown. Not that the 1870 crown was never used in iconography to represent "the Crown" in Victoria's time except as part of her portraits.

T.F. Mills, 9 September 2004

During Queen Victoria's reign we used a crown that had two arches, similar to the modern St. Edward's crown but with bulkier and less smoothly curved arches.

In 1901 Edward VII introduced a new crown, based on a Tudor design, and called the "Imperial Crown" because he was an Emperor. The name has no connection to the Imperial State Crown. Why he chose the Tudor design I don't know, but it has been suggested that he thought it looked more "imperial", but unless David can dig up something from the PRO I guess we will never know. This crown was used until 1952/3 when Elizabeth II came to the throne. She was the first British monarch since William IV not to be an Emperor/ess and she decided to change back to the more traditional crown design of Victoria and her Hanoverian predecessors. This design was roughly based on the St. Edward's crown used at the coronation and so was called the St. Edward's crown (it's not an accurate drawing of the physical crown, only a heraldic approximation).

Because the Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II both had similar style crowns and all Kings between them shared a different design the two designs are sometimes called the Queen's Crown and the King's Crown, but this is a misnomer. Charles will almost certainly retain the St. Edward's design.

Another area of confusion is the term "imperial" - the heralds (both College of Arms and Court of Lord Lyon) have taken up the habit of referring to any Royal crown as "imperial". So technically the St. Edward's crown is "imperial". This cause even more confusion in Scotland which has a third design of crown (the Scottish crown logically enough), which is also "imperial"! Which is why the Scottish Royal Arms used officially still have a Tudor style crown on them. (Actually this was a drawing done in George V's time and no-one noticed the problem in 1952). When I wanted a drawing of the Scottish Royal Arms as they should look like I had to do my own original drawing and present it to Lord Lyon. Incidentally the heralds still use the term "imperial" for the crown, they just mean the current crown.

So to summarize, "imperial" is a pointless term to describe British crowns (they are all "imperial"), so use Victorian, Tudor, St. Edward's or Scottish and we will know which design you mean. Similarly King's Crown and Queen's Crown are inaccurate descriptions and should be avoided (especially as real Queens' crowns, such as that for the Queen Mother tend to be more in the Tudor style!)

Graham Bartram, 9 September 2004

I have found two documents which shed some light on the origin and correct name of the 1901 heraldic crown.

Crowns were described as Imperial, both before and after 1901. In 1903 Edward VII granted the title "Royal" to the Canadian Mounted Rifles. The War Office were in some doubt as to how the badge should be described in the Army List and consulted Albert Woods, Garter King of Arms and Inspector of Regimental Colours. As a result the descriptions of the badges of the Royal Canadian Artillery, Royal Canadian Dragoons, and Royal Canadian Regiment were changed from " The Imperial Cypher VRI surmounted by the Imperial Crown ", to " The Royal Cypher ensigned by the Imperial Crown ".
[WO 32/4337]

The 1901 heraldic crown was the Tudor Henry VII crown, and even though instituted by King Edward VII, was actually the choice of Queen Victoria. The crown was only gradually introduced as existing items needed to be replaced.

A drawing of the new badge for guns was sealed on approval 14th March 1901. It was similar to the badge that had been stamped on guns during Queen Victoria's reign with an angular St Edward's crown, and only the royal cypher changed. A new drawing with a 1901 crown was sealed on approval 10th July 1901.

This is one of the letters in the document.

War Office, London SW. May 1901. 61002[over]7078.

I am directed by the Secretary of State for War to acquaint you that His Majesty the King has selected and approved the above Royal Cypher (see image) to be worn on badges, buttons and other devices throughout the Service, wherever the Royal Cypher is at present borne. The design has been made plain, without foliation, at His Majesty's express wish.
I am to state that no deviation from it whatever will be permitted, and no device or ornament will be placed above or upon it.
In connection therewith, His Majesty has brought to notice that on accoutrements, colours, buttons, etc., there are no less than six or seven totally different pattern Crowns. Some of them are Foreign Continental Crowns ; others are different deviations of the British Crown. His majesty now wishes one uniform Crown alone to become the sealed pattern for the Service, - the Tudor, "Henry VII" Crown, chosen and always used by Queen Victoria personally; all other patterns are to be abolished.
The correct design is shown above the Royal Cypher. It will be taken into wear when new accoutrements, etc., are required, and all Officers are instructed to obtain the correct pattern when renewing any article of uniform hereby affected. No Officer is to be encouraged or even allowed to carry out the changes indicated until the articles he now possesses are worn out.
The provision of correct patterns is now proceeding, and steps will be taken to insert them in Regimental boxes of badges as opportunity offers.

I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant, Evelyn Wood. A.G. [Adjutant General].
[National Archives (PRO) WO 32/9028]

David Prothero, 27 September 2004

Introduction of St. Edwards Crown

I have heard two competing explanations for the change in the crown: Joe McMillan, 28 September 2000

The first is just an urban legend. All British Kings and Queens are crowned with the St Edward's crown, and all wore the Imperial State crown to open parliament, so there is no King's Crown as opposed to Queen Regnant's crown. Of course there are a whole set of Queen Consorts' crowns. The Queen Mother still uses the Imperial Crown on her arms and flags.

I believe the second one is the true reason. When the Queen came to the throne it was felt appropriate to change the crown (so it changed in 1952/53 not 1947) to reflect the fact that she was not Empress of India, and that the British Empire was being dismantled.
Graham Bartram, 28 September 2000

The concept of King's and Queen's Crowns (KC, QC) is a misconception which is very prevalent among military badge collectors. Even the most authoritative books on badges make this mistake. It is just a coincidence that four male monarchs have been represented by the "KC" followed by a female with the "QC". Who actually wears what real crown is somewhat unrelated to the representation of the Crown as state symbol.

Prior to the accession of Edward VII (1902), the iconographic Crown was unregulated. Some people refer to the "Victorian Crown", which more closely resembled the Elizabethan St. Edward's Crown than the Tudor/Imperial Crown, but in actual fact Crowns in the Victorian era were very much at the mercy of artistic whim, and there was no standard. Edward VII, who invented state pomp and pageantry as we know it today (after 60 years of disinterest from Victoria), regulated the shape of the Crown. It is my (undocumented) theory that he preferred the domed shape to give it more dignity and majesty in reference to the other European imperial crowns. I believe it was originally called the Tudor crown because it was modelled on one worn by Henry VII, and it came to be called the Imperial Crown because its image was standardised throughout the Empire.

George VI relinquished the title "Emperor of India" in June 1948. Elizabeth II apparently followed through on this gesture by abolishing the Imperial Crown in iconography since it had become associated with an obsolete title. It should be noted that the sovereign was emperor/empress in India only, and that there never was a real "British Empire" -- only a haphazard system of nations. In changing the Crown, Elizabeth II did not presage the dissolution of the Empire. That, too, was a coincidence.
T.F. Mills, 29 September 2000

All Tudor regalia was destroyed after the English Civil War, but details of the crowns are known from seals, coins etc.. The 1901 heraldic crown is not like either of the crowns of Henry VII. A crown that appears to be a cross between these two was used on the 1870 flags of Newfoundland . The crown of Henry VIII is a little more like the 1901 heraldic crown.
David Prothero, 14 September 2004

The changed shape of crowns on flags after the accession of Edward VII in 1901 was the result of standardising the design. I imagine that the domed crown was chosen because it was the one the King preferred. There seems no reason for the change after 1952, except that it was the choice of the Queen. If the change was intended to have some symbolic significance, the meaning should have been obvious, or the significance of the new shape should have been promulgated. Shortly after I joined the Navy in 1952, badges were being changed for those having the new crown, but no explanation or reason for the change was announced. A new Royal Cypher is designed at the beginning of each new reign, and is approved by the sovereign before becoming official. Perhaps the appearance of the crown emblem that will be used during the reign is part of that process?
David Prothero, 30 September 2000

T.F. Mills wrote, "Why he [Edward VII] chose the Tudor design I don't know, but it has been suggested that he thought it looked more "imperial", but unless David can dig up something from the PRO I guess we will never know.

In response: All that I dug up was in an extract from 'The English Regalia' by Cyril Davenport, which is reproduced in A.C. Fox-Davies' 'A Complete Guide to Heraldry':
"St Edward's crown is the crown supposed to be heraldically represented when for State or official purposes the crown is represented over the Royal Arms or other insignia. In this the fleurs-de-lis upon the rim are only half fleurs-de-lis. This detail is scrupulously adhered to, but during the reign of Queen Victoria many of the other details were very much 'at the mercy' of the artist. Soon after the accession of King Edward VII the matter was brought under consideration, and the opportunity afforded by the issue of a War Office Sealed Pattern of the Royal Crown and Cypher for use in the army was taken advantage of to notify his Majesty's pleasure, that for official purposes the Royal Crown should be as shown in this image, which is a reproduction of the War Office Sealed Pattern already mentioned. It should be noted that whilst the cap of the real crown is of purple velvet, the cap of the heraldic crown is always represented as of crimson"

There are no PRO document titles that appear to be relevant, though the title is not always a good guide to all the contents of a document. Here is the Kew National Archives search facility. If anyone wants to browse and finds an interesting document name, I will investigate.
David Prothero, 14 September 2004

Other crowns used on flags

Scottish Crown

[Scottish crown] by Clay Moss

The Scottish Crown looks like an imperial crown, but there are no pearls on the arches, instead there are two curlicues on each arms. In addition there is a pearl on a gold mounting on the velvet cap in each quarter (so you can see two of them). This is the official state crown for Scotland and would replace the St Edward's crown on any peculiarly Scottish flag, or flag created under the authority of the Scottish Executive, such as the Scottish Fisheries, or a Scottish constabulary.

The official Scottish Office emblem uses a Scottish crown (neither imperial nor St. Edwards), as do Scottish police forces/services, the Royal Mail, etc. Nowadays all royal crowns on Scottish organizations should be the Scottish crown. There have been times in the past when the English versions were used but that changed some thirty years ago at least.
Graham Bartram, 28 February 1999, 28 September 2000

You can make that forty years ago (at least). In 1960 when the Ministry of Transport, who were still using the Imperial (Tudor) Crown on all their flags, made enquiries at the Scottish Office they were told that the Scottish Crown should be used (where appropriate) on any flags flown from establishments in Scotland or ships registered at a Scottish port.
Public Record Office MT 45/580.
David Prothero, 12 August 2000

See the actual one from the royal web site.
Santiago Dotor, 28 September 2000

According to a Scottish Office letter written in 1960, "the Scottish Crown should replace St Edward's crown on flags flown at any establishment in Scotland or by any ships registered in a Scottish port." MT 45/580.

It didn't specifically say, "any flag", but the Ministry of Transport took it to mean that if they had had a ship registered in a Scottish port, the wheel and anchor should have been surmounted by a Scottish Crown.
David Prothero, 30 September 2000

Prince of Wales' coronet

This looks like an imperial crown, but has only one arch, shown going from left to right, so there is no "central" arch. It appears on two of Prince Charles' standards (England and Wales). His actual coronet is a very modern design - quite striking, but the version used on flags is a more traditional heraldic design.
Graham Bartram, 28 September 2000

The actual coronet for the Honours of the Principality of Wales can be seen on the royal web site. The heraldic version is much more similar to the one made for Prince Edward (later Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor) in 1911 (again from the royal web site).
Santiago Dotor, 28 September 2000

Naval Crown

[Naval crown] by David Prothero

The naval crown (made up of alternate sterns and topsails) can be traced back to the Romans when a crown ornamented with a design of the 'rostra' or beak heads was awarded for bravery and was known as the 'Rostral Crown'. It can be seen on certain British Naval medals at the end of the sixteenth century. One of the earliest examples of the Naval crown in, practically its present form, is that which appears above the Arms of Greenwich Hospital dating from about 1700. The decoration, however, is wholly of square sails without the interspersed sterns. [National Maritime Museum web-site]

The British standard pattern was designed by Everard Green, Rouge Dragon, and approved 27 July 1903. Design was revised in 1922, approved by Naval Law Department NL 7350/22, and issued as Admiralty Fleet Order 3228/22.
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/11609]

Some of the current flags which include a naval crown:

David Prothero, 10 May 2004 Mostbet