Anna Keay: Crown Jewels not just objects of beauty
Charles I was executed in 1649 after being convicted of treason, triggering the start of England’s decade of republicanism.The monarch is remembered for his lavish reputation and extravagant lifestyle but after his death, when Oliver Cromwell took over as the Lord Protector, some of the most symbolic pieces from his reign were thought to have been destroyed and lost forever. That was, until a metal detectorist, Kevin Duckett, discovered the gold figure of a king in a Northamptonshire field.
It comes after Netflix has just released a widely popular film called ‘The Dig’, which retells the story of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
The figure, discovered by Mr Duckett, is standing on an antelope, and his features are thought to represent Henry VI, the reigning monarch in 1422.
It is believed to have once been part of Charles I’s state crown, which Parliament valued at £1,100 in 1649 — the gold was melted for coins and the jewels sold on.
However, Mr Duckett went to Hampton Court earlier this year and was stunned to see a replica of his own gold king featuring in the displays about Charles I’s crown.
The replicated crown was based on a portrait of Charles from 1631.
Specialist historian, Leanda de Lisle, exclusively told Express.co.uk that this artefact has an extensive royal history and is rich in symbolism.
Henry VI, believed to be the figure found in Northamptonshire, is remembered for triggering the civil war later dubbed the Wars of the Roses.
Lost piece of King Charles I’s crown found 400 years after Cromwell melted it down
Daniel Myten’s painting of Charles I with the crown in 1631
He was murdered after 50 years on the throne by his Yorkist opponent King Edward IV, but was later considered a saint in popular culture.
As Ms de Lisle explained: “First, people decided that while had been a bad king, he had been a good man, and declared him a saint.
“The base of the gold figure is marked SH — Saint Henry.
“Prayers to the king led to miracles and images of him appeared in churches and prayer books.”
Henry’s successor Edward attempted to suppress the cult that was emerging, worrying that it undermined his own reign,
However, the movement was later utilised by Henry VII.
To legitimise his claim to the throne, he declared that his holy uncle, Henry VI, had “prophesied his rule as divinely ordained”, according to Ms de Lisle.
Leanda de Lisle’s book cover on King Charles I, and the replica of the crown
Pilgrimages to visit his “holy uncle’s” tomb in Windsor then grew in number.
However, the crown with the figure in question was not included in any texts until the next generation took to the throne.
The crown was first described during Henry VIII’s reign, initially featuring three figures of Christ, one of St George and another of the Virgin Mary and her child.
Later accounts from Henry VIII’s death reveal that the three Christs were replaced with three monarchs.
Ms de Lisle said the crown was worn by Henry VII “for processions on the feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the Magi — the three kings — visiting the Christ child”.
The three saint kings of England may have been St Edmund, Edward the Confessor and Henry VI.
The famous monarch also wore the crown during his 1509 coronation and his wedding to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.
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Oliver Cromwell melted the crown into gold for coins
The figure recently found depicted Henry VI
It was later used for the coronation of his three children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as their successors, James I and Charles I.
However, Ms de Lisle noted that by the time Charles ascended the throne in 1625, the Reformation had ended the cult of saints.
She explained: “Henry VI’s tomb and relics had vanished and his name was no longer associated with piety but with failed rule and civil war.
“Still, the Tudor crown survived.”
Charles I allegedly even doffed it to his MPs during his first parliament before tensions over his reign eroded their relationship completely.
Charles was also painted with the crown by Van Dyck in 1639 when battling a Scottish rebellion after his religious reforms were declared “Popish”.
While it is not clear how the gold king ended up in a field in Northamptonshire, Ms de Lisle claimed that the area may have been part of Charles’ escape route after losing to Cromwell’s cavalry in the Battle of Naseby in 1645.
Ms de Lisle noted that while it was curious for Charles to hold onto the figure of Henry VI, even for battle, the two monarchs did have a surprise connection.
King Henry VIII wore the crown during his coronation
She said: “Like Henry VI, Charles was destined to lose a civil war and his life.
“Like Henry VI, he would also go on to be named a saint.”
The gold king figure is currently with the British Museum, pending verification and valuation — some believe it could be estimated £2million.
Its discovery is especially astonishing considering Oliver Cromwell ordered the 7lb 6oz crown to be melted down in 1649, and its 344 precious stones sold separately.
Discussing his find with The Sun, Mr Duckett said: “I’m very proud to have rediscovered it for the world to enjoy and study.
“Henry VIII is one of Britain’s most iconic kings.”
TV historian and chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces also commented: “It’s great news that after centuries of subterranean slumber this little golden figure has been revealed once more.
“It is tantalising to imagine its true history.”
‘Tudor: the Family Story’ by Leanda de Lisle was published in 2013 by Vintage Publishing, and is available here.
‘White King, the Tragedy of Charles I’ Leanda de Lisle was published in 2019 by Vintage Publishing, and is available here.
To find out more about this era, head to Ms de Lisle’s website here.
— to www.express.co.uk