Friday 13 April 2018

Destruction and Restitution - The Crown Jewels

‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown…’ 
Charles I before his execution in 1649.

Anyone visiting the Tower Of London to see the magnificent display of the Crown Jewels of England would never believe that they were once broken up and melted down. Yet after the execution of Charles I, they were destroyed because nobody thought there would ever be a monarchy again; that England would from now on be under the control of Cromwell's Protectorate.

Less than a week after the King's execution in 1649, the Rump Parliament voted to abolish the monarchy. The crown jewels were "symbolic of the detestable rule of kings"and "monuments of superstition and idolatry", so the vote was taken to sell them off. It was also a precaution against future rebellions or any future uprising of 'royalty.'

The most valuable object of them all to be lost was Henry VIII's Crown, worth then £1,100. Only two crowns survived - the crown of Margaret of York and the Crown of Princess Blanche, because they were used by the women for their weddings in Europe and had thus been taken out of England before the Civil War. Looking at the picture below, we can only imagine what it must have felt like to lay hands on such treasure.
The Crown of Princess Blanche
The Knave of Diamonds
The task of disposing of it all fell to Sir Henry Mildmay. Clarendon calls him  a "great flatterer of all persons in authority, and a spy in all places for them", which is hardly a recommendation! I have an interest in him because he was knighted at Kendal in Westmorland, which is my nearest town, and I'm always interested in history from my locality. 

By all accounts Mildmay was intent upon the good life and was made Master of the King's Jewels in 1620 before the Civil War. Not only was this prestigious, but ensured him a seat on the Privy Council, and servants, carriages and good accommodation whenever he travelled. This position also proved to be very convenient when he later abandoned his Royalist ideology and sided with Parliament in the English Civil War.

Mildmay was a judge at the King's Trial, although he did not sign the actual death warrant, so was not officially a 'regicide.' On the 9th August 1649 he was ordered to destroy the Coronation Regalia, break up the jewels and melt down the gold. This act was very unpopular with the general public, leading the Earl of Pembroke to call him the 'Knave of Diamonds'. The coronation and state regalia were melted down, the gemstones removed, and the gold was re-used to make hundreds of coins and keep the fledgeling Protectorate economy afloat.

After Cromwell's death, and the Restoration of Charles II as King, new jewels were needed for the coronation, and keen to preserve tradition, they were based on old records of the ones that were lost. These were re-fabricated by the Royal Goldsmith, Sir Robert Vyner, at a cost of £12,184 7s 2d – an ernormous sum, as much as the cost of building and furnishing three warships. Vyner outsourced the work, which had to be done in haste, to a number of craftsmen, most of whom remain unidentified. Charles II was short of money though, and Vyner had to petition him frequently to pay up. By 1673 Vyner pleaded that he was close to bankruptcy. Despite this, the new reproductions of the medieval originals made in 1660 and 1661, form the nucleus of the Crown Jewels today.

Picture from the Daily Mail
They include St Edward's Crown, with which the current Queen was crowned (see this article about how she was re-united with it after 65 years of reign) two sceptres, an orb, and other regalia. A few medieval objects such as a silver-gilt anointing spoon were returned to the Crown by loyal subjects.

Public Humiliation
On 1 July 1661 Henry Mildmay was brought to the bar of the House of Commons, and after he had been made to confess his guilt of his presence at Charles I's trial, and the subsequent destruction of the Royal Regalia, he was stripped of his honours and titles and consigned to the Tower for life. In a weird addendum to this, there was the further proviso; that every year, on the anniversary of the king's sentence (27th January), he was to be dragged on a sledge through the streets and under the gallows at Tyburn, with a noose round his neck, as a public humiliation, before being dragged back to the Tower.

In a petition he sent to the House of Lords, he alleged that he was present at the trial only to seek some opportunity of saving the king's life.
If you believe that, you'll believe anything!

In March 1664 a warrant was issued for Mildmay's transportation to Tangier, which is where he died.

Regalia, Robbers and Royal Corpses - Geoffrey Abbott
Dictionary of National Biography

Stuart England - Blair Worden

Find Deborah's books here or chat with her on Twitter @swiftstory

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