Is this the crown jewel of metal detecting?

Is this the crown jewel of metal detecting?

February 1, 2021

Is this the crown jewel of metal detecting? Found by a treasure hunter under a tree in Northants, the golden emblem that might have adorned Henry VIII’s head

A golden king rises from the mud of a lonely field, where he had lain undisturbed for the best part of 400 years.

In his left hand he holds a shimmering orb, in the other an equally lustrous royal sceptre. At his feet crouches a white antelope, the king’s personal heraldic beast.

His Majesty’s sudden appearance is altogether astonishing.

Kevin Duckett cannot hope to surpass his discovery of what is thought to be an exquisite fragment of the lost crown of the Tudor dynasty, which had once adorned the head of Henry VIII

This is not an Arthurian myth or a tale of English folklore but the extraordinary story of what could be one of the greatest archaeological finds in Britain.

Short of uncovering the Holy Grail, metal detectorist Kevin Duckett cannot hope to surpass his discovery of what is thought to be an exquisite fragment of the lost crown of the Tudor dynasty, which had once adorned the head of Henry VIII.

The last monarch to wear the jewel encrusted band was the ill-fated Charles I. Following his execution in 1649 the crown’s gold was melted down for currency, the diamonds and other precious stones sold off. But one piece had escaped, it now seems.

A two and a half inch solid gold figurine of the sainted King Henry VI, who had lost his own throne and life in the War of the Roses, had been a centrepiece of the Tudor crown.

Somehow it survived the Cromwellian smelting only to be discarded under a tree near a pond in rural Northamptonshire, just across the border from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough.

A two and a half inch solid gold figurine of the sainted King Henry VI, who had lost his own throne and life in the War of the Roses, had been a centrepiece of the Tudor crown

And that is where Mr Duckett found him. An estimated value of £2 million has been reported.

On the fateful day Mr Duckett had been working the area for 20 minutes without any success. 

‘Then I got a very loud positive signal from my detector and started to dig down before spotting something. It was lodged in the side of a hole just a few inches down.’

He saw that ‘something’ was shiny, but was able to manage his expectations: ‘At first I wondered if it was a crumpled foil dish from a 1970s Mr Kipling product, or even a gold milk bottle top.’

This gloomy analysis was dismissed once he’d removed the object from the ground. ‘I knew by its colour and weight that it was solid gold,’ he is reported to have said. 

‘I brushed off the soil and sat down in amazement. The rush of adrenaline and the buzz of excitement started to flow through my body.

‘I was holding what appeared to be a heavy solid gold and enamelled figurine.’

On the base were inscribed the letters ‘S H’ which Mr Duckett, 49, recognised as standing for Saint Henry. The figurine was that of the last monarch of the House of Lancaster.

But why had it been made and how had it come to an apparently ignominious end, so far off the beaten track?

So began the detective work.

Mr Duckett followed the rules laid down by the Treasure Act. This stipulates that all finds of ‘Treasure’ must be reported within 14 days to the district coroner.

Under the act a Treasure is ‘any metallic object, other than a coin, provided that at least 10 per cent by weight of metal is precious metal (that is, gold or silver) and that it is at least 300 years old when found.’

By the time of his death, Henry VIII (seen depicted above) had exerted the Crown’s power over that of the English Church, which might have been the reason behind such a symbolic alteration

The question of whether or not something is ‘Treasure’ can be determined with the help of a local Finds Liaison Officer from the Government’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.

It was to a FLO that Mr Duckett turned. The figurine is now being examined by experts at the British Museum.

One of the most important clues to the purpose of the figurine was the presence of what appeared to be a fixture point at the back. This hinted the king had once been attached to something.

It has been suggested that it could have been a pilgrimage badge — but the fact it was made of solid gold rather than the usual base metal makes this unlikely.

Then early last year Mr Duckett had a revelation. Or rather, he happened to watch a YouTube video which had been made by Historic Royal Palaces concerning a replica of Charles I’s crown that the organisation had put on public view in 2012.

Mr Duckett was transfixed. He made immediate plans to visit the replica at Hampton Court Palace. The likely history of the figurine began to fall into place.

The Tudor crown in question is first mentioned in an inventory of Henry VIII’s jewels in 1521. On three of the five fleur-de-lys which provide the vertical structure of the crown were fixed the figures of Christ, St George and the Virgin and Child.

But in another inventory made on Henry VIII’s death in 1547 these three figures had been replaced with a trio of English kings: Historical Royal Palaces believes them to be the saint kings Edmund the Martyr, Edward the Confessor and Henry VI.

By the time of his death, Henry VIII had exerted the Crown’s power over that of the English Church, which might have been the reason behind such a symbolic alteration.

The crown was used for the coronation of Henry VIII’s children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and then for James I and Charles I.

But by 1644 England was gripped with Civil War between those who supported the King and the Parliamentarian faction.

Yet while Cromwell had the royal plate melted down to pay for his roundhead armies, the crown remained untouched in the Tower of London. Or it was undisturbed until Charles decided to leave the capital to fight Cromwell’s men, suggests the Tudor historian Leanda de Lisle.

Had Charles taken the figurine to war with him? The mentally unstable King Henry VI who was dethroned and murdered might seem a strange talisman to have kept, except for one thing, argues Ms de Lisle, author of White King: The Tragedy of Charles I.

‘Charles was haunted by the belief that all his misfortunes were God’s punishment on him for signing the death warrant of his unpopular servant Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, a man Charles believed to be innocent of the treason he was accused of . . .

‘Henry VI supposedly had once appeared in a miracle to save an innocent man from a hanging. Did Charles hope for some kind of similar intervention?’

If the figurine had left London with Charles there is a plausible reason for its final resting place.

In 1645 the King was present at the decisive Battle of Naseby, when the Royalists were routed by Cromwell’s New Model Army.

He lost all his baggage and papers and barely escaped with his life, having to ride through a Parliamentarian cavalry cordon, leaping a stream and losing his pistols.

Did he also lose the figurine? It was found only five miles or so from the Naseby battlefield, along a line of the Royalist retreat. In 1646 Charles surrendered to his enemies and on January 30, 1649 was executed in Whitehall.

In 1650 his crown, or what was left of it — weighing 7lb, six ounces and valued by Parliament at £1,100 — was reduced to coinage and 344 individual gems.

Historic Royal Palaces made the replica of the crown using a 1631 painting of Charles by Daniel Mytens the Elder as guidance.

In the portrait the King is standing next to a red velvet-covered table upon which the crown, his orb and sceptre have been placed.

Mr Duckett said: ‘I’d seen the replica on YouTube and the tiny figures on the fleurs-de-lys but I couldn’t be sure.

‘I headed to the palace to find out. I’ll never forget the sheer excitement as I got closer to the Grand Hall where the replica sat in all its glory.

‘I entered the room and my figurine’s identical twin was staring right at me.”

A wonderful moment. And potentially very lucrative.

Both Mr Duckett and the owner of the land upon which the golden king was found are entitled to receive a reward up to the market value, if a museum declares an interest in purchasing the piece and an inquest is held which declares it to be Treasure and therefore Crown property.

If no museum indicates an interest, the disposal of the piece has to be agreed between the finder and land owner.

It should keep Mr Duckett and his family in gold-topped milk and Mr Kipling’s cakes for several generations to come.

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