Jewel Journey – King Sancho IV’s Crown

Hofdame Note: Enjoy this companion piece to today’s Pocket Profile on Maria de Molina. Her husband, King Sancho IV, and his crown, are the stars of this post! Thanks again to our Baguette Iselen.

This simple-looking crown was made of gilded silver, sapphires and cameos somewhere between 1284 and 1295 for King Sancho IV. Juan Yáñez and Bartolomé Rinalt were the silversmiths working for the king in those years, so it’s assumed they were the artisans behind the piece.

The eight silver plates are decorated with castles. They have three towers which means they’re Gothic castles, and are hinged to each other. The small bolts are not welded, so they can be removed and the crown can be open easily.

Articulated crowns were very common in the Byzantine Empire, but this one seems to be inspired by the imperial crown of Queen Beatrice of Swabia, King Alfonso X’s mother and King Sancho’s grandmother. She brought her crown with her when she married, although it differered from King Sancho’s because it had eagles instead of castles.

King Sancho’s crown contained plates each embellished with a gem: four sapphires and four cameos, made of agate and ivory. Sapphires were highly prized in the Middle Ages and the size and colour of these are amazing. Two of them are raw gems but the others are cut in octagonal shapes.

Spanish kings were huge fans of cameos and carved stones, above all those coming from old Roman times. The Kings used to collect them and, when they managed to put together a collection of gems that looked coherent, they commissioned a special jewel. These were not crown jewels, every king had their crowns and regalia. They could sell them, give them to their daughters as a dowry or get buried with them. It appears that Sancho commmissioned this for his own personal collection.

There are different theories about the people represented on King Sancho’s cameos. One of them is Emperor Augustus, that’s clear, and another one a woman from his family judging by the hairdo, maybe his wife Livia or his sister Octavia. There’s one that could be Omphale, queen of Lidia, who married Heracles, or it could be Alexander the Great represented as Heracles. There are the coins of Alexander wearing the Nemean lion skin. The fourth one could be Augustus again or maybe Drusus.

King Sancho’s father, King Alfonso X, mentions three crowns with cameos in his last will and Sancho’s great-grandson, king Pedro I, mentions one in his will, so this is probably one of the “missing” crowns. It’s not the best one. Castile monarchs had crowns made of gold or silver, with wonderful gems and decorated with delicate filigree. This crown is cheap, the silver work is not very good in some areas, the back is not polished and the only good thing are the sapphires since cameos were fairly common in kings’ collections back then. But it’s the only one that survived from those times so it’s very important for us.

Some historians insist on the fact that this was the real coronation crown of Sancho IV and his wife buried him with the jewel to prevent the greedy lords and regents of the kingdom from putting their hands on it. I strongly believe they buried Sancho with the cheapest one they had, and their sons kept the good ones. It’s common sense. Some spurs were also found in his tomb and they’re cheap too, embellished with a castle and a fleur-de-lis that was actually his mother’s heraldic emblem, Queen Violant of Aragón. It means that they were made for Sancho when he was still a prince and not a king with his own coat of arms.

Sancho IV died in 1295 and was buried in Toledo cathedral in a very simple stone coffin. His wife María of Molina commissioned a very fancy tomb with a laying statue and the king was moved to this new coffin in 1308. In the 16th century, Cardenal Cisneros made some restoration works in the cathedral and moved some tombs to a corner behind the altar where they wouldn’t be a nuisance, thank God, because they were soon forgotten and no one robbed them during the wars and revolutions we suffered for centuries.

King Felipe Viewing the Crown at the Exhibition Opening in Toledo

Finally, the tombs were opened in 1948 and the crown was found. The king’s head was still resting on a silk pillow embellished with lions rampant.