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Part II

There was also a Lesser Imperial Crown, very similar in style and workmanship to the Great Imperial Crown, only smaller and entirely set with diamonds, made for Empress Maria Feodorovna, the consort of Paul I, that was used for the coronation of the Empress. At the coronation of Nicholas II in 1896, the smaller crown was worn by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, as was her right as a crowned Empress.

Lesser Imperial Crown

A second identical lesser Imperial Crown was made for the young Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to wear. Dowager Empresses outranked reigning Empress Consorts at the Russian Court.
In 1900, the workshop of Peter Carl Fabergé in St. Petersburg made a replica in miniature of the Imperial Regalia (the Great Imperial Crown, the Lesser Imperial Crown, the Imperial Orb and Sceptre) out of silver, gold, diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, the whole set on a marble pedestal. The work is now in the collection of the Hermitage Museum.

Following the tradition of the Byzantine Emperors, the Tsar of Russia placed the crown upon his own head. This left no doubt that, in the Russian system, the imperial power came directly from God. The prayer of the Metropolitan, similar to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople for the Byzantine Emperor, confirmed the imperial supremacy.

Emperor Paul of Russia wearing the Imperial Crown

A few days prior to the crowning service itself, the Emperor made a processional entry into Moscow, where coronations were always held (even when the capital was in St. Petersburg). Following this, the Imperial regalia were brought from the Kremlin armory into the Tsar’s Kremlin palace, where they would accompany the new emperor on his procession to the Dormition Cathedral on the morning of his coronation. This procession commenced at the Red Porch and ended at the church doors, where the presiding prelate and other bishops blessed the Tsar and his consort with holy water and offered them the Holy Cross to kiss.

After the Emperor entered the cathedral, he and his spouse venerated the icons there and took their places on two thrones set up in the center of the cathedral. After the sovereign had recited the Nicene Creed as his profession of faith, and after an invocation of the Holy Ghost and a litany, the emperor assumed the purple chlamys, and the crown was then presented to him. He took it and placed it on his head himself, while the Metropolitan recited:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Metropolitan would then make the following short address:
Most God-fearing, absolute, and mighty Lord, Tsar of all the Russias, this visible and tangible adornment of thy head is an eloquent symbol that thou, as the head of the whole Russian people, art invisibly crowned by the King of kings, Christ, with a most ample blessing, seeing that He bestows upon thee entire authority over His people.


Following this, the new Emperor crowned his consort, first briefly with his own crown (by touching it momentarily to her head before putting it back on his own), then with a smaller crown of her own. Further prayers and litanies were read, then the Emperor was anointed just prior to reception of Holy Communion during the Divine Liturgy. He was invited to enter the altar area through the Royal Doors (normally reserved solely to the clergy) and partake of Communion as a priest would. Further prayers and blessings concluded the service, which was followed by a special feast held in the Kremlin’s Palace of Facets.

Russia’s last coronation was in 1896, for Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. The last occasion on which the Great Imperial Crown was officially used was the State Opening of the Duma in 1906.

Emperor Nicholas II wearing the Imperial Crown

In 1913, Agathon Fabergé, son of Peter Carl Fabergé of the House of Fabergé, the crown jewellers, recommended that the Imperial regalia be re-catalogued and overhauled. The Emperor gave his approval and by July 1914, work on the Imperial orb and sceptre had been completed, and work was about to commence on the crowns. Rising tensions and the outbreak of the First World War put a stop to further work, and the regalia items were loaded into nine strong-boxes and sent from Saint Petersburg to Moscow for safekeeping. They were stored in the Kremlin Armoury. The crown remained there with the rest of the regalia during and after the February and October Revolutions in 1917.

In 1922, they were re-catalogued and transferred to the State Treasury. The crown and other pieces of jewellery and regalia were collected into the State Depository of Treasures, later the Diamond Fund, and discussions were carried out with French and British experts as to the possibility of selling off some of the crown jewels to raise foreign currency. The experts advised against selling such pieces as the crown, orb and sceptre, arguing that they were unlikely to attract their historic worth. Nevertheless, the crown jewels were exhibited in 1922 for two journalists of the New York Times, who later wrote:

‘Here’, says Begasheff [head of the jewellery commission], opening the box with hands that tremble ever so little despite his air of unconcern, ‘is the crown of the Emperor, 32,800 carats of diamonds.’
‘Is it heavy?’
‘No’, said one of the workmen, ‘5 pounds at most – try it,’ and placed it straight away on my head.