The history of this " innocent and touching" custom is uncertain. Many 19th century historians and antiquarians have documented the ritual, and many have spent much time locating its origins. Its earliest roots lie in the ancient customs of Egypt, Etruria and Rome. Maybe the Romans brought the custom to England, then, with the establishment of Christianity its symbolism was assimilated into that of Mary, the 'Virgin Unspotted'. During the Reformation many of the early 'Christian' (i.e. Catholic) traditions had to go 'underground' in order to survive, and it is possible that this was such a tradition. Most crowns that survive today are of the 18th century, though there are tantalising references to the practice between the Reformation and 1700. It was possibly a tradition important and significant enough to revive fairly quickly after that, unlike the customs of well-dressing and maypoles which were not revived until the nineteenth century.
Another possibility lies in connections with Europe. Wool trade merchants used trading routes with Catholic Europe and may well have brought the custom to England.' Furthermore, Maidens' Garlands are also known as Virgins' Crowns or, in Derbyshire, Crants (derived from the German 'kranz' which means wreath, garland or chaplet, or 'krone' meaning crown) are a funerary memento awarded as a testimony for "triumphant victory over the lusts of the flesh" (Steele 1747).
At the funeral procession, they were either carried before the coffin or placed upon it. In some parts of the country the crown was placed in the grave; and in other parts it was hung in a prominent position inside the church. It is unclear whether or not the person for whom it was made had to be female or betrothed; but it would appear that they marked the tragic death of a young person. (The crown found at St Calixtus, Astley Abbotts, Nr Bridgnorth, Shropshire, England was made for Hannah Phillips who died on the eve of her wedding day, May 10th 1707).
In most parts of England the crowns have been made specifically for women, but at St Mary the Virgin, Abbotts Ann, Hampshire, England they were also made for men.
The earliest extant example of 1680 is found at St Mary's, Beverley, Yorkshire, The most recent was made in 1995, and can be found at Holy Trinity Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire.
Early illustrations can be found in the form of woodcuts that were used to portray poems and folk-songs for broadsheets. Below is the woodcut that is attached to the 'Maid's Tragedy' c.1620 (British Library). The crown is clearly visible on the top of the coffin.