Coronation of Napoléon, by Jacques-Louis David. Currently displayed in the Musée du Louvre.
On this day, le 2 décembre 1804
, Napoléon I crowned himself Emperor of France at la cathédrale-Nôtre-Dame -de-Paris
. He used "the Crown of Charlemagne," which was, despite its name, a crown made for the occassion. The original crown of that name was destroyed during the French Revolution. The name "Crown of Charlemagne" allowed Napoléon to compare himself to the famed mediaeval monarch Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
The French Revolution of the 1790s had led to the destruction of most of the ancient French Crown Jewels along with the eventual abolition of the French monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. When Napoléon I declared himself French Emperor a decade later he decided to create new imperial regalia, the centrepiece of which was his Charlemagne crown.
In the coronation itself, which took place not in the traditional location of French royal coronations, the Cathedral in Reims, but at Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
, he actually used two crowns. Initially he placed a laurel crown of the Roman emperors on his own head. Afterward he briefly placed the imperial Charlemagne crown on his head, then touched it to the head of his empress, Josephine.
As was the norm with European crowns, Napoléon's crown is made up of eight half-arches which meet at a golden globe, on top of which is placed a crucifix. The crown itself is mock mediaeval in style, reliant totally on gold and metallic decoration and devoid of the major covering with diamonds and jewels fashionable in crowns made later in the 19th century.
La couronne de Charlemagne
The Crown of Napoléon was used until his second overthrow in 1815. King Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, was installed on the throne as King of France following Napoléon's overthrow. In contrast both to his brother and to Napoléon, the new king opted not to have a coronation. When his brother, Charles X became king in 1824 he reinstated the traditional monarchical coronation in Reims and was crowned using the remaining pre-revolutionary French royal crown, the Crown of Louis XV. No more French coronations, either imperial or royal, followed Charles X's overthrow in 1830.
When Napoléon III proclaimed himself French emperor in 1852 he opted neither to have a coronation nor to wear Napoléon I's crown. Nevertheless a crown was specially created for Empress Eugenie, the Crown of Empress Eugenie.
In 1885, to impede any further attempts at royal or imperial restorations, the French National Assembly opted to sell most of the French Crown Jewels. Only a handful of crowns were kept for historic reasons, and they had their precious jewels replaced in them by decorated glass. Napoléon I's crown was one of the few kept. It is now on display at la Louvre
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