A maiden's garland, also known as a virgin's crown, crants or crantsey, is a crown-shaped garland used as a funeral memento for, usually female, virgins. They are generally made of paper flowers, rosettes and ribbons fixed to a wooden frame. Many are also adorned with white paper gloves, and may be inscribed with verses of poetry and the name of the deceased. The garlands are carried before, or on, the coffin during the funeral procession and afterwards displayed in the church. W.R. Bullen, writing in The Tablet in 1926, reports that the "practice of carrying garlands at a maiden's funeral was common in England, Wales and Scotland before the Reformation and after it for two hundred years or more, but the custom has now almost entirely fallen into disuse." Shakespeare refers to the custom in his play Hamlet, when describing the burial of Ophelia:
her death was doubtful,
and, but that great command o'ersways the order,
she should in ground unsanctified have lodged
till the last trumpet; for charitable prayers,
shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her;
yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants,
her maiden strewments, and the bringing home of bell and burial.
The oldest surviving garland was made in 1680 and is displayed at St Mary's Church, Beverley, Yorkshire. The largest collection of garlands (43, ranging between 1740 and 1973) is held at the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Abbots Ann, Hampshire, and the most recent example was made in 1995 at Holy Trinity Church, Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire. Examples have also been found in France: Edward J.G. Forse, writing in 1938, observed: "The paper rosettes and wreaths at Abbots Ann I found paralleled in August 1919 at Montsoreau, near Saumur, and in July 1932 at La Malène on the river Tarn."
The name crants, used most commonly in Derbyshire and the north, is believed to be derived from late Old Norse krans (/krans/) or Old High German kranz (/kʁants/), both meaning "wreath". Samuel Johnson, in Notes to Shakespeare, Volume 3: The Tragedies (1765), wrote: "I have been informed by an anonymous correspondent, that crants is the German word for garlands, and I suppose it was retained by us from the Saxons. To carry garlands before the bier of a maiden, and to hang them over her grave, is still the practice in rural parishes."