To celebrate the release of our second Self Made Hero book of M. R. James adaptations – Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol 2 – we’re going to be counting down to Christmas in true Jamesian style, with a new haunting image and nugget of info every day.
THIS FRIDAY (8th December) Ghouls’ Night Out Presents: Ghost Stories for Christmas is an M. R. James themed evening taking place in London, and featuring Leah. Do not miss it!
On top of that, we’ll be giving away a copy of the book via Twitter every Sunday in the lead up to Christmas. Check the #MRJ2GIVEAWAY hashtag for details of how to take part.
Image by Alisdair Wood
‘And do you know, sir, what’s the meanin’ of that coat of arms there?’
It was the one with the three crowns, and though. I’m not much of a herald, I was able to say yes, I thought it was the old arms of the kingdom of East Anglia.
‘ ’That’s right, sir,’ he said, ‘and do you know the meanin’ of them three crowns that’s on it?’
‘I said I’d no doubt it was known, but I couldn’t recollect to have heard it myself.
‘There has always been a belief in these parts in the three holy crowns. The old people say they were buried in different places near the coast to keep off the Danes or the French or the Germans. And they say that one of the three was dug up a long time ago, and another has disappeared by the encroaching of the sea, and one’s still left doing its work, keeping off invaders. Well, now, if you have read the ordinary guides and histories of this county, you will remember perhaps that in 1687 a crown, which was said to be the crown of Redwald, King of the East Angles, was dug up at Rendlesham, and alas! alas! melted down before it was even properly described or drawn. Well, Rendlesham isn’t on the coast, but it isn’t so very far inland, and it’s on a very important line of access. And I believe that is the crown which the people mean when they say that one has been dug up. Then on the south you don’t want me to tell you where there was a Saxon royal palace which is now under the sea, eh? Well, there was the second crown, I take it. And up beyond these two, they say, lies the third.’
‘ ‘Do they say where it is?’ of course I asked.
‘He said, ‘Yes, indeed, they do, but they don’t tell,’ and his manner did not encourage me to put the obvious question.
The above is an abridged extract from M. R. James’ “A Warning to the Curious” in which the writer created his own little piece of Anglian folklore. Although the idea of the three crowns buried to ward of invasion was a pure invention of James’, it has since become an accepted and believed part of the local lore.
A shield of three golden crowns, placed two above one, on a blue background has been used as a symbol of East Anglia for centuries. The coat of arms was ascribed by medieval heralds to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia and the Wuffingas dynasty which ruled it. The arms are effectively identical to the coat of arms of Sweden.
The three crowns appear, carved in stone, on the baptismal font (c.1400) in the parish church of Saxmundham, and on the 15th century porch of Woolpit church, both in Suffolk. They also appear in local heraldry and form part of the arms of the diocese of Ely and the arms of the borough of Bury St Edmunds, where the crowns are shown pierced with arrows to represent the martyrdom of Edmund the Martyr, the last king of East Anglia. Other users of the arms include the former Isle of Ely County Council, the Borough of Colchester and the University of East Anglia.
The East Anglian flag as it is known today was proposed by George Henry Langham and adopted in 1902 by the London Society of East Anglians (established in 1896). It superimposes the three crowns in a blue shield on a St George’s cross.
So, what is the true meaning of the three crowns? In a blog post on “Warning“, back in 2012, Howling Frog Books proposed the following:
A more convincing history for the three crowns insignia is given in saints’ legends. St. Edmund was King of the Angles in the 10th century and was tormented and killed by Viking invaders. Eventually he became the patron saint of East Anglia. His symbol is three crowns, for his kingship, his martyrdom and his virginity.
Nevertheless, James’ invented legend of the three buried crowns continues to be published as a matter of fact (or genuine folklore, at least) in print and online to this day.