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United Kingdom: Crowns on Flags

Last modified: 2006-03-18 by rob raeside
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Names used to describe British crowns

The names used to describe British Crowns can be arranged into four categories:
Actual Crowns.
Representations of Actual Crowns.
Symbolic Representations of Crowns.
Abstract Crown.

Actual Crowns.
1. St Edward's Crown. Used to crown the Monarch at the Coronation Service.
2. Imperial State Crown. The working crown. Worn by the Monarch after the Coronation Service and for the Opening of Parliament.
3. Scottish Crown. Part of the Scottish Regalia.
4. Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown. Crown made for Queen Victoria in 1870.
5. Crown of India. Worn by King George V at the Delhi Durbar in 1911.

Representations of Actual Crowns.
1. St Edward's. The usual representation of the crown since 1952. Some Victorian representations of crowns are also obviously St Edward's Crown.
2. Scottish. Used, since 1952, where the Scottish Crown is more appropriate than the English St Edward's Crown.
3. Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown. Used on crowned effigies of Victoria, on coins and medals, after her Silver Jubilee in 1887.

Symbolic Representations of Crowns.
1. Various Victorian Crowns which are not identifiable as St Edward's Crowns, described by King Edward VII as, "Foreign Continental Crowns" and "different deviations of the British Crown".
2. Tudor Crown. The standard pattern representational crown with raised arches, used between 1901 and 1952. Introduced by King Edward VII who described it as - "the Tudor, 'Henry VII' Crown, chosen and always used by Queen Victoria personally". This was, presumably, a reference to Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown, which in shape, is similar to the Tudor Crown.

Abstract Crown. The Imperial Crown. (Not the Imperial State Crown).
Correctly used, the term "Imperial" can be applied to any crown, actual or representational, between 1547 and 1952. In 1952 some terms, that had been in used in Proclamations of Accession since 1820, were changed. The first draft included,
"... the Imperial Crown of Great Britain Ireland and all other His late Majesty's Dominions is surely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary our only lawful and rightful Liege Lady Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, ...".
But in the final draft it had been changed to;
"... the Crown is surely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Queen of this Realm and of all other Her Realms and Territories and Head of the Commonwealth, ..."
Clearly some changes to the wording had to be made, but "Imperial Crown" could have been retained. On 9th February 1952, Sir Norman Brook, Secretary to the Cabinet, wrote, "I see now that it was unnecessary and perhaps mistaken to avoid references to 'Imperial Crown'."  "Imperial" was a reference to "sovereignty", not "empire", and was first used by King Henry VIII in an Act Forbidding Appeals to Rome; "... manifestly declare and express that this Realm of England is an empire and so hath been accepted in the world .." In his Commentaries, Blackstone wrote; "The meaning of the legislature when it uses the terms of Empire and Imperial and applies them to the Realm and Crown of England is only to assert that our King is equally Sovereign and independent within these his dominions as any Emperor is in his Empire; and owes no kind of subjection to any other potentate on earth."
David Prothero, 19 April 2005

State or Victorian Crown

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

See also:

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.

  • The state crown as made for Queen Victoria (c.1837). This is a square crown. The top is almost flat, with just a suspicion of a dip in the centre. This crown was phased out from 1880 onwards but continued on existing flags designs until about 1902, when an effort appears to have been made to replace it with ...
  • The imperial crown, often referred to as the Tudor crown has a rounded top. It was introduced by Edward VII in about 1902 and was in use until the accession of Elizabeth II in 1953 when it was replaced by St. Edwards crown. A Colonial Office Circular Dispatch from 14th June 1901 refers to "Drawings showing Imperial Cyphers as selected by His Majesty." and "H.M. desires that the Tudor crown may be substituted for any other pattern now in use, as new articles become necessary." Later that year a Circular Despatch of 16th November directed that, in accordance with instructions from the Admiralty, those flag badges based on the seal should not be changed until the seal had first been changed. Both Circulars in PRO Document CO 854/37.
  • St Edward's crown. This is similar to the first crown above, but with a much more pronounced dip in the centre of the top. It was introduced by Elizabeth II in 1953. See below for discussion on the reasons for the change in the crown.
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 Tudor 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

Replacement of the Tudor Crown.
At the beginning of each reign a new Royal Cypher is designed. The Tudor Crown was first used with the Royal Cypher of King Edward VII, and also became the standard pattern representational crown wherever a Royal Crown was required. The same Tudor Crown surmounted the Royal Cyphers of Kings George V, Edward VIII, and George VI, and there was no reason why it should not have been used in 1952. Indeed, some copies were made with EiiR surmounted by a Tudor Crown. However Sir George Bellew, Garter King of Arms, persuaded the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, and the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, that it would be more appropriate if the crown surmounting the Royal Cypher was a representation of the actual Crown of England, rather than a representation of a crown that did not actually exist. It was his intention that the St Edward's Crown should be used only with the Royal Cypher, and that all other representations of the crown should continue to be the Tudor Crown. However after the Report (HD 4946) of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals had been seen by the Queen, it was announced that : "The Queen wishes the St Edward's Crown to take the place of the Tudor Crown in all future designs embodying a representation of the crown".
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/27316, CAB 21/3726, PREM 11/39, MINT 25/3, WO 32/9028]
David Prothero, 19 April 2005

I have heard two competing explanations for the change in the crown:

  • Kings use Tudor, reigning Queens use St. Edward's.
  • Tudor was introduced because its shape looked more "imperial," i.e., like other European imperial crowns, and therefore better conveyed the concept of "Emperor of India." It was dropped because in 1947 the title of Emperor of India had become obsolete.
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

I do not think that there is any specific requirement to change the crown on a flag. Flags designed since 1953 have a St Edward's crown (unless they are Scottish); flags designed before 1953 continued with the existing Tudor crown until they needed replacing. The design of crown then used on the replacement flag is a matter of choice. There is nothing to say that the replacement of a 'pre-1953 flag' must have a St Edward's crown. It can be made to the original pattern with a Tudor crown, or have a St Edward's crown.
David Prothero, 1 March 2005

There may be regulations that deal with the change of crown not just on flags but on items related to government in general (and that therefore we may be searching the wrong documents). I note, for instance, that British stamps changed their official watermarks from the Tudor Crown to the St Edward's Crown in about 1955.
James Dignan, 1 March 2005

James is almost certainly right in his conjecture, in so far as the change in Crowns was very probably the result of an Order in Council and to get a copy from the Privy Council Office will require a date (and hopefully a title) since records of that vintage are kept in paper form which will require a physical search. If nothing else, the wording would be useful.
Christopher Southworth, 1 March 2005

The instruction that changed the design of representations of the British Crown in 1952 was HD 4947, the 667th Report of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals.

"The Queen has seen HD 4946 [previous report of the committee] on the subject of the Royal Cypher and the designs of the representation of the crown. Her Majesty's wishes with regard to the design of representations of the crown where used with the Royal Cypher or otherwise, are as follows.

  1. The Queen wishes the St Edward's Crown to take the place of the Tudor Crown in all future designs embodying a representation of the crown.
  2. Existing designs should not be changed unless or until it is necessary to do so. (Wherever, however, a design embodying the crown has for any reason to be changed, the St Edward's should be substituted for the Tudor Crown.)
  3. No unnecessary expense should be incurred in making the change and where alterations in existing designs would involve such expense it should be deferred.
  4. Her Majesty has no objection to two different designs of the crown (i.e. the existing design and the new design) being in use concurrently during the transitional period."
This, with some minor variations, was issued by the War Office on 27th October 1952 as 54/GEN A/444(Ord.17), and by the Admiralty on 20th February 1953, as Admiralty Fleet Order 522/53, reference NL/NS 9601/52. No doubt other government offices issued similar notices. [National Archives (PRO) ADM 201/104]

Two examples of flags that were not altered. The King's Colour of HMS Victory, the R.N. Barracks Portsmouth was renamed the Queen's Colour, but continued in use with a Tudor crown and the cypher GviR until 1962. The Ministry of Transport Blue Ensign which was first used in 1951 was never changed and still had a Tudor crown when departments were reorganised in the 1960s.
David Prothero, 11 March 2005

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

Colours on Crowns

The colours of the hollow base area below the crown is not firmly set.

I went and looked at the crowns on all 22 British type flags we have with the St. Edwards crown.
16 have white bottoms, 6 of which are former government property.
2 have light blue bottoms, 1 which is former government property.
2 have cross hatched bottoms, 1 which is former government property.
1 has a black bottom.
1 doesn't show the inside bottom as it rests on top of a disk.

The one Tudor crowned ensign we have has a light blue bottomed crown.

Clay Moss, 6 February 2006

It is interesting that the color red is used to illustrate the "cloth" parts of the St. Edwards crown on flags when the actual color is plum or perhaps purple. Can anyone explain why this has historically happened?
Clay Moss, 7 February 2006

We actually use a range of reds for the cap. Most flags use Union Red, but some use Dark Red, as can be seen in the Army Non-ceremonial Flag, where the darker red shows up better against the red background, giving a richer appearance. The caps also have pink highlights to emphasise the contours. The real caps are purple velvet but I'm not sure why we have always tended to show them in red. Maybe it was just a practical thing of not bothering to make purple fabric when we use so much red anyway. If anyone know the real reason I would love to know,
Graham Bartram, 7 February 2006

It seems to be an heraldic convention:
"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"
From 667th Report of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals, 21 August 1952.
An almost identical sentence appears on page 359 of Fox-Davies' 'Complete Guide to Heraldry', Thomas Nelson reprint 1954, with "purple", "heraldic" and "always" emphasised.
David Prothero, 8 February 2006