Cap of Maintenance

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A Cap of Maintenance shown in the heraldic achievement of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset(d.1444), KG, a member of the royal family of Plantagenet. It is positioned on top of the helm and mantling and under the crest. Garter plate, St George's Chapel, Windsor

A Cap of Maintenance is a ceremonial cap of crimson velvet lined with ermine, which is worn or carried by certain persons as a sign of nobility or special honour. It is worn with the high part to the fore, the tapering tail behind. It is often depicted in British heraldry, when it sits atop the usual helm and is blazoned A chapeau gules turned up ermine, and frequently has the family's usual crest on top of it.

A Cap of Maintenance is one of the insignia of the British sovereign, and is carried directly before the monarch at the State Opening of Parliament (usually, in recent times, by the Leader of the House of Lords). For their coronation, Kings (including, most recently, George VI) wear the Cap of Maintenance for the journey to Westminster Abbey immediately prior to the service. Queens regnant, on the other hand, have tended to wear an alternative (Elizabeth II wore the George IV State Diadem.)

In more general terms, the velvet and ermine lining of a crown (or of the coronet of a peer) is itself sometimes called a 'cap of maintenance', and is technically a separate item to the crown itself. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a Cap of Maintenance was granted by the Pope to both Henry VII and Henry VIII as a mark of special privilege.

The origin of this symbol of dignity is obscure. It may have had a purely practical origin being used to help a crown fit more firmly or to protect the head from bare metal on the crown. It is probably connected with the cap of estate or dignity, sometimes also styled Cap of Maintenance, similar in appearance to the above but with two peaks or horns behind, which is borne as a heraldic charge by certain families. (This seems originally to have been a privilege of dukes. Where it is used the crest is placed upon it, instead of on the usual wreath.)

Misuse of the term and confusion as to use[edit]

A number of cities and towns refer to the use of a 'Cap of Maintenance' as worn by a ceremonial officer, most usually a Sword Bearer. These are based most often on a design that is worn by the Swordbearer of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. However, this is called by the City ' a Muscovy Hat' and is a reference to the mediaeval trade with the Baltic; this appeared as the Crest of the City until into the nineteenth century when replaced by a 'Dragon's Wing Charged with the Cross of St George'.

The confusion as to title stems from references in early borough charters granting the right to use of a ceremonial sword which often mentioned the right to a Cap of Maintenance in addition. However, this meant that the Cap of the royal style should also be carried along with the Sword in civic processions meaning that these symbols, along with a Mace, indicated that the Sovereign's representative was the Mayor. The correct form of use can be seen at the State Opening of Parliament where it is carried alongside the Sword of State in front of the monarch. It would be quite improper for a commoner to actually wear it. In many other towns where the privilege of a Sword was granted by the Crown notably those of York, Bristol, Coventry, Lincoln, Newcastle upon Tyne, Norwich, Worcester, Hereford, Exeter and Hull[1]) the Swordbearer wears a variant copy of the London 'Muscovy Hat', although some wear other sorts of eccentric headgear which they mistakenly also style 'Cap of Maintenance'. In the City of York, a claim that the original medieval Cap of Maintenance is that kept and displayed in the Mansion House; whatever its origin it is in fact a 'Robin Hood' style of cap with ermine trimmings becoming a split peak at the front and was copied from an heraldic drawing and not from a genuine 'Cap of Maintenance. Caps of this style are still worn by the York Swordbearers. The city claims the privilege from King Richard III, (N.B. The Mansion House, York, website claims this from Richard II in 1393 - almost 90 years earlier than Richard III who was of the Yorkist dynasty. York incorporates this into its Coat of Arms as a Crest but reverses it so that the tail is the peak facing left, thus further compounding the confusion.


  1. ^ Ceremonial Costume by Alan Mansfield.London: A & C Black, 1980.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Category:Caps of maintenance.