The Paper Crown
On Coronation Day, 6 May 2023 the Government of Canada unveiled a new "heraldic crown." It is more accurately defined as "a paper crown" as there is no intention to ever have the symbol made into a wearable object. This new crown is to replace the Royal Crown (St. Edward's Crown and Tudor Crown), which have historically been used in Canada on coats of arms, badges, cyphers, rank insignia etc. The short article below outlines why this development is problematic -- especially given the fact that King Charles III, as King of Canada, was forced to accept this design on formal advice from the Prime Minister of Canada. You can read more about the paper crown on the Canadian Heraldic Authority's website, here.
From 2007-11 the author was involved in a project in advance of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee which sought to have a unique Canadian crown designed, sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth II (of her own accord and not on formal advice from the Prime Minister), and then manufactured out of Canadian precious metals (platinum, gold and silver) and encrusted with Canadian and Commonwealth gems and semi-precious stones -- all to be donated and gifted to the Head of State on the 60th anniversary of Her accession to the Throne. The project progressed to the stage of having heraldic drawings completed and the process of having technical drawings of the physical structure for this new symbol were roughed out for jeweller to begin the work of making the object. After Canadian officials informally consulted Queen Elizabeth II, the project was abandoned.
It is telling that the paper crown adopted on Coronation Day 2023, was forced on King Charles III through formal advice from the Prime Minister, and not freely accepted without Prime Ministerial advice, as has been the tradition for other Royal symbols. Can you imagine the Prime Minister of the UK the Right Honourable Rishi Sunak ordering the King which Crown he should be represented by? The style of Crown that a King or Queen use to represent their reign is a symbol the Sovereign alone gets to choose -- until 2023, it was not a symbol chosen by a Head of Government in any Commonwealth Realm -- except when that Realm decides to become a Republic and replace the Royal Crown altogether.
As a student of the Canadian honours, symbols and the institution of the Crown (constitutional monarchy in Canada), my concern is that the Prime Minister decided what hat the King should wear and has tread into an area of the Royal Prerogative where a PM (red, blue, orange, green or polkadot rainbow) does not belong. Had King Charles personally requested or freely adopted this of his own accord (not on formal advice from the Prime Minister) then my concerns would be largely moot. Instead we see the Prime Minister, Governor General and Canadian Heraldic Authority intruding upon one of the few areas a constitutional monarch still had a direct role. That has now been eroded.
Tudor St. Edward's New crown
Crown Crown (the paper crown)
Canada's Paper Crown:
A faux Symbol of authority
A few hours after Charles III was crowned on 6 May, two bureaucrats in Ottawa unveiled the King’s new “Canadian crown,” along with coins and stamps that display the effigy of the King as Canada’s head of state.
What a contrast to February 1965, when the country adopted its national flag before thousands of Canadians on Parliament Hill, with much fanfare and thousands to help inaugurate the new symbol after years of debate. This Ottawa Coronation weekend sterile ceremony displayed all the enthusiasm and public engagement of a tax audit. Nevertheless, it was a historic moment and marks a concerning symbolic break, and a change to the Royal Prerogative by the Prime Minister. The Royal Prerogative touches upon every aspect of executive government in Canada; from the issuing of passports, and granting of honours to the selection and hiring of ministers and prime ministers. The selection of the style of Royal Crown was an aspect of the Royal Prerogative that the King was personally involved in –until now, as the Canadian government tendered formal advice, so the King had no choice but to accept that advice.
On September 27, Buckingham Palace announced the King’s had selected the Tudor Crown, in place of the St. Edward’s Crown the late Queen had used, to be used as the Royal Crown symbolizing his reign throughout the countries for which he serves as head of state (Scotland having its ancient crown), along with the King’s new monogram. As the ultimate object and symbol of the state, the Royal Crown is the visual representation of a monarch’s authority, a uniform aspect of every kingdom since the beginning of organized government. The visual artistic rendering of the crown as used on documents and insignia has varied slightly in detail and style over time, but the main elements have remained constant as a simplified representation of the actual physical crown used to crown the sovereign. Monarchs personally choose what style of crown will represent them and their reign, and such decisions are part of the Royal Prerogative. Despite this, prime minister Justin Trudeau determined that he should decide what crown the King of Canada should wear, and a new Canadian crown was designed by the Office of the Governor General, and forced on the King for approval on advice. In our system of Responsible Government, when a recommendation is tendered to the sovereign (or their representative) on advice, they are obliged to accept it –if they refuse such advice, the prime minister is obliged to resign. Canada is now the only country in the Commonwealth where the prime minister decides what symbol the King will be represented by.
The new Canadian crown is shorn of all its ancient and religious symbols, notably crosses and the fleur-de-lys. While the new crown has the vague shape of a Tudor Crown, its flat appearance, sparsely filled arches, coupled with the fact it is just a drawing (there is no intention to have the actual royal hat made), leaves us with a symbol of authority void of history, authority or presence; a source of ridicule and derision. The paper crown further distances Canada from the King and constitutional monarchy as an institution. It is, after all, quite easy to erase a paper crown. For a symbol, such as a crown to have authority, it needs to be a 3-dimensional physical object. The King cannot wear a paper crown anymore than tourists flock to visit the Tower of London to see colour drawings of crowns – they go to see actual objects that are worn by the head of state and which are displayed in state ceremony. The necessity for a symbol of authority to be rooted in an actual object is best demonstrated by the mace wielding Sergeants-at-Arms in each of Canada’s fourteen legislatures. Each carry a gold-coloured crowned mace, symbolizing the authority of their legislature to sit freely, and as a tool to maintain order. So important is the physical object of the mace topped with its crown, that our legislatures cannot meet without the presence of the actual object.
The symbol of the crown is not just something displayed on your passport or citizenship certificate. It is the outward symbol of authority of the state; Cabinet, Parliamentarians, the Courts, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Coast Guard, RCMP, CBSA and municipal police, appearing atop documents and on hundreds of badges used throughout Canada. It says to the viewer, this is real, this has the authority of the state backing it up, this organization or person is acting on behalf of your government. The crown is worn in one form or another by more than 200,000 Canadians daily, and it appears behind judges making weighty decisions and on the prime minister’s own letterhead, as a symbol of legitimacy, authority and authenticity. So potent a symbol of authority, we even had several Acts of Parliament which restrict the use of the Crown as a symbol.
Symbols matter, however, beyond any attachment to the Tudor Crown or commentary on the design of the new crown, that Canada’s paper crown was forced on Charles III through formal advice from the prime minister recklessly drags the symbol of the crown as an object, the institution of constitutional monarchy, and the person of the head of state, into the political realm. This trifecta assault upon the Royal Prerogative is unprecedented in Canadian history. Forcing this matter on advice makes the decision to override the King’s personal decision to adopt the Tudor Crown, a political decision. No controversy would have ensued had the prime minister respected the King’s choice made last September.
Previously, when it came to symbolic matters, be it coats of arms, coins, stamps, and medals, such developments would be brought to the monarch for informal views and then refined, changed as necessary, or entirely abandoned. George VI refused to accept initial designs for the Canadian Forces’ Decoration in 1949, while Elizabeth II required that changes be made to the designs of several medals, coins and stamps bearing her image or name, before they were formally adopted. The late Queen also quietly halted an attempt to have a physical Canadian crown made in advance of her Diamond Jubilee. Never has the heavy hand of formal ministerial advice been used to force the monarch to take a decision on the symbols that represent them or carry their image – least of all the crown that symbolizes their role as sovereign.
This change drags the symbol of the crown into the political realm, and politicizes not only the object of the Crown, but the entire institution of Canada’s constitutional monarchy, the Office of the Governor General, and the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Constitutional theory holds that the prime minister/government of the day should never drag the Crown or sovereign into controversy, yet it seems that convention does not apply to the present government.
Forced on the King of Canada as one of the first major decision of the reign unfortunately means that it was not a Canadian crown that was unveiled on coronation day, but rather the prime minister’s crown.
Christopher McCreery, MVO, PhD, FRHistS, FRHSC
2007-11 Crown Designs
Below are the main designs done for a Canadian style crown between 2007-11 by the renowned heraldic artist Gordon Macpherson, CM, FRHSC. Queen Elizabeth II declined to have the project progress beyond the concept stage. As of 6 May 2023, Canada has a paper crown forced on King Charles III through formal advice from the Prime Minister.