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Three Crowns (Swedish: Tre Kronor) is a national emblem of Sweden, present in the Coat of Arms of the of Sweden, and composed by three yellow or gilded coronets ordered two above and one below, placed on a blue background.
The emblem is often used as a symbol of official State authority by the Monarchy, the Riksdag, the Government of Sweden and by Swedish embassies around the world, but also appears in other less formal contexts, such as the Sweden men's national ice hockey team, who wear the symbol on their sweaters and hence are called "Three Crowns" (usually blue crowns on yellow shirt), and atop the Stockholm City Hall built 1911-1923. The Three Crowns are also used as the roundel on military aircraft of the Swedish Air Force and as a sign on Swedish military equipment in general, and also on the uniforms and vehicles of the Swedish Police Service.
Because of their common Scandinavian origin, the Three Crowns are also featured in the royal coat of arms of Denmark where they might be referred to as the "union mark".
The origin of the Three Crowns symbol has been much debated throughout history and various more or less well-founded theories have attempted to shed some light on the matter.
One of several, earlier, traditional explanations have suggested Albrekt of Mecklenburg (1338–1412), who ruled Sweden 1364-89, brought the symbol from Germany as a sign of his reign of Sweden, Finland and Mecklenburg. Apart from the fact that Finland was not regarded as a country in its own right at the time, this theory has, however, been refuted by later research, namely, the announcement in 1982 of the discovery of a frieze in Avignon in southern France, estimated to date back to 1336. The frieze was painted for an international congress led by the Pope and contains the symbols of all participant countries, including Sweden. This discovery suggests the symbol was introduced no later than by Albert's predecessor Magnus Eriksson (1316–77).
Use of the three crowns as a heraldic symbol of Sweden has been attested, in the Nordisk Familjebok, to the late 13th century, the three crowns first ringing the shield of Magnus Ladulås (1240-1290) and later appearing on the coins of Magnus Eriksson (1316-1374).
The first coat of arms of Sweden from the 13th century featured a golden lion on a background of wavy blue and white diagonal lines. It is still part of the present greater coat of arms of Sweden which is quartered between the lion coat of arms and the three crowns. As the lion and the crowns were occasionally re-interpreted as the coat of arms of the provinces of Götaland and Svealand respectively, the lion was earlier, erroneously, called the Göta lion.
Magnus used the symbols frequently, probably to mark his three kingdoms; Sweden, Norway and Scania. At the middle of the 14th century, neighbouring Denmark's severe financial problems caused most of the country to be pawned to German princes, primarily Gerhard III and John III. Since Denmark's king was forced in exile in 1332, the Danish Archbishop in Lund requested that Magnus become king of the Scanian provinces of Denmark. Magnus redeemed the pawn from John III and was sworn in as king of Scania the same year. Since he had also ambitions of redeeming the rest of Denmark, the crowns marked his dignity as king of three realms.
Although Denmark was reconsolidated under King Valdemar Atterdag in 1340 and regained its territory, and Norway left the union with Sweden in 1380, the following Swedish kings continued to use the union coat of arms with the three crowns. An alternative, less well-supported theory suggests that the three crowns are the three kingdoms in the traditional title of the Swedish king, king of Swedes, Goths and Wends. (the two last of which he held in competition with the Danish king). This explanation may represent a re-interpretation from this period.
When the Kalmar Union, the personal union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, was instituted by Queen Margrete I in 1397, the three crowns symbol reverted to its use as a symbol of the union of the three realms. Thus, her successor, Eric of Pomerania used a coat of arms quartered between the coats of arms of Denmark (three blue lions on a golden shield), Norway (a golden lion with an axe on a red shield) and Sweden (a golden lion on blue and white wavy stripes) plus the union mark with the three golden crowns on a blue shield, which is also the case for the following union Kings in the 15th century.
Since the three crowns had been used in Sweden between the unions, both King Karl Knutsson Bonde who periodically drew Sweden out of the Kalmar Union, and King Gustav Vasa who terminated it in 1521, used the crowns - quartered with the lion - as a symbol of Sweden, and this has been the case to the present day. Since the 15th century the crowns have been regarded as the "main" arms of Sweden and thus can be used independently as the lesser coat of arms of the country.
In the 1550s, King Gustav Vasa of Sweden found that the Danish King Christian III had added the three crowns to his own coat of arms. Because the three crowns had been a Swedish symbol since the 14th century and were used by Danish monarchs only during the Kalmar Union, Gustav interpreted Christian III's use of the symbol as a sign of intent to conquer Sweden and resurrect the union. Christian countered that since the monarchs of the union had used the three crowns, the symbol now belonged to both kingdoms and thus he had as much a right as the Swedish king to use it.
In Sweden, on the other hand, the Three Crowns were regarded as an exclusively Swedish symbol; this led to a long-lasting diplomatic conflict between the two countries, the so-called Three Crowns Conflict with Sweden accusing Denmark of imperialism by using a Swedish symbol, and Denmark accusing Sweden of monopolizing the use of a Scandinavian union symbol.
This conflict played a role at the outbreak of the Northern Seven Years' War in 1563. At the beginning of the 17th century the conflict was settled with both countries being allowed to use the Three Crowns in their coats of arms, although in Denmark it has a less prominent place in the shield.
The notion of "Tre Kroner", Three Crowns, is well known in Denmark since, in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when naval vessels were often named after heraldic devices, the navy usually had a ship of this name. From here it passed to the naval fort of Trekroner guarding the harbour of Copenhagen. It was also a common name for farms, causing a new city quarter in Roskilde to have taken over the name "Trekroner" from one such.
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Some heraldic displays outside of Sweden also incorporate triple crown designs. Some of the notable of these uses are discussed below.
The historical region of Galicia, now divided between Poland and Ukraine, had under Austro-Hungarian rule as its coat-of-arms a blue shield with three gold crowns as part of the design. The crowns are said to represent Lodomeria, a historical province that was united with Galicia, while Galicia itself was represented by the black crow.
Practically identical to the three crowns of Sweden, is that of the flag and arms of the Province of Munster, a region in the south west of Ireland. Like the Swedish model, it comprises two crowns above and one below. These represent the three great duchies of the province, Desmond, Ormond and Thomond. The design was used as the flag of the Lordship of Ireland between 1171-1541 following the Norman invasion of Ireland until being replaced by the flag of the Kingdom of Ireland.
A similar three crowns design is the coat of arms of the city of Kingston upon Hull, a large port in Yorkshire, England. This design sees the three crowns stacked vertically and relates back to the Royal charter of 1299. The emblem is used by the city council and the city's two rugby league teams.
In the literature, the coat of arms of the legendary King Arthur is also often given as azure with three crowns or. Indeed, Britain included three realms, Logres (England), Cambria (Wales) and Alba (Scotland).
The University of Oxford uses as its emblem the three gold crowns on blue accompanied by an open book. The origin of the three crowns is not exactly known but may refer to the arms of Thomas Cranley, Warden of New College between 1389 and 1396.
The flag of St. Edmund consists of three gold crowns on a field of blue (Azure, three crowns Or), and features as the three crowns of East Anglia, on the baptismal font (c.1400) in Saxmundham's parish church in Suffolk, UK.
The first corporate coat of arms was granted in 1439 to the Drapers' Company in London with three triple crowns. Three crowns also form the logo of Coutts & Co, the London based private bankers, but in this case the design comprises one crown at the top, with two below.
The three gold crowns on blue design appears on the coat of arms of the Spanish city of Burriana in the Valencian Community, but, like Coutts & Co, is arranged one over two instead of two over one. The crowns here refer to the fact that in 1901, the Queen Regent of Spain, Maria Christina of Austria, gave the town the title of city, and was crowned three times.