Every kingdom has its crown, but not many can claim to have origins dating to biblical times. According to legend, the Iron Crown of Lombardy was forged with a nail from the True Cross. The legend says St. Helena, mother of Constantine, had it created and considering studies show the crown was constructed from two in the 4th century, it’s not completely implausible (though I would take the nail bit with a grain of salt, it’s much harder to prove, and the inner ring is forged of silver instead of iron). The truth is we have no idea where it originated, only that it ends up in the possession of the Lombards and is subsequently found to be being placed on the head of Charlemagne’s coronation as King of the Lombards.
It is believed to have started being used to crown Kings of Italy in the 11th century and by the 14th it was common practice (definitively with Henry VII); 34 coronations took place with this crown from the 9th to 17th century. They received it separately from their coronations as Holy Roman Emperor until Charles V rolled onto the scene and combined the ceremonies in 1530, he was the last Emperor to be crowned by the Pope but not the last to use the Iron Crown. Towards the end of its life it graced the heads of Napoleon Bonaparte and finally Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria in 1838 before being retired. It exchanged locations during the Italian Wars of Independence, but its final resting spot is the Cathedral of Monza in northern Milan.
The crown was most likely originally a votive crown (hung above the recipient instead of being placed on their head) and it was formed of two rings. The inner ring is the part believed to have been forged with the crucifixion nail, but testing has shown the crown does not actually contain any iron, but it does date back to at least 800 AD. The outer ring is made of gold and partly enameled while donning 22 precious stones designed in the shape of flowers and crosses.
- “Iron Crown of Lombardy.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., http://www.britannica.com/topic/Iron-Crown-of-Lombardy.
- Iron Crown of Lombardy, http://www.holyromanempireassociation.com/iron-crown-of-lombardy.html.
- Harvey, Ian. “The Iron Crown of Lombardy- One of the Oldest Royal Insignias of Christendom.” The Vintage News, 18 Dec. 2016, http://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/12/18/the-iron-crown-of-lombardy-one-of-the-oldest-royal-insignias-of-christendom/.