Saturday, 27 April 2013

The King's Jewels

As a renaissance monarch - with a huge ego - Henry VIII had to have the very best. This included his jewels which were considered among his most personal belongings. When the King travelled from palace to palace his jewels went with him; they were transported in coffers. This English King was infamous for his love of jewellery but that was not necessarily a bad thing - during the renaissance a King's wealth was supposed to be displayed in any means possible. It was even said that Henry VIII had more jewels than most other princes in Europe!

But Henry was also known to lavishly bestow large jewels on his wives - at least when they enjoyed his good-will! For example, Henry VIII gave Anne Boleyn a jewel that coat 15.000 crowns.
It was custom for the King to have jewels sewn into his clothes as well as using gold or silver thread. When an inventory was drawn up for the belongings of Henry VIII in 1547 it showed that the King owned no less than 3690 precious gemstones.

Replica of the Tudor crown
Sadly, none of Henry VIII's jewels has been identified as the belonging of the Tudor King. The only piece of jewellery actually worn by Henry VIII which look we can be certain of, is his crown. It was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell when he took over government but ever since then a replica has been created following descriptions from the Tudor age. It is unknown whether the crown was commissioned by Henry VII or Henry VIII but we do know that Henry VIII wore it on certain occasions.
The crown first appeared on an inventory from 1521. And of course, it was extravagantly executed. The gold alone weighed 3,4 kilos! To embellish the crown 58 rubies, 28 diamonds, 19 sapphires, 2 emeralds and 168 pearls were used. A recently discovered mural of Henry VIII shows the King wearing the Tudor crown. The crown was passed on to the King's children and was used for the coronations of Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. It appeared that Henry VIII actually had the crowned remodelled when he was created Head of the Church of England - he replaced three small kings with three equally small figures of Jesus Christ.

Since no original jewels survive we have to look to other methods to know of the King's jewels looked. There is probably no better option than that of looking at the many portraits of the King in which he wears some of his vast collection. So, these are some of the jewels that appear in portraits of Henry VIII:

                                 Gold necklace with gold
                                  pendant and onyx stone -
                                portrait of Hans Holbein
                             the Younger
Another portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger - the King is
wearing a chain of golden pendants with either rubies or onyxes
linked with four lines of pearls

The upper necklace is of a rather thick gold chain and centres
around an onyx. The chain beneath it is rather strange compared
to the normal style at the time. It would seem to consist of gold, rubies,
small onyxes and a single, large pearl.

Henry wore this on a portrait from the time when he was
married to Catherine of Aragon. The overall expression is more cheerful
than some of the more sombre ensembles. 
                                 This brooch was pinned on a black hat
This brooch is from a portrait of an
ageing Henry VIII. It looks like a lot of
metal-work has gone into decorating the gold.
These ouches or brooches were pinned
on the waistcoat


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  3. It says no original gemstones survived. We’re they destroyed or just sold off? I know Cromwell melted down much of his jewelry but what happened to the stones? Wouldn’t they still exist?

  4. It says no original gemstones survived. We’re they destroyed or just sold off? I know Cromwell melted down much of his jewelry but what happened to the stones? Wouldn’t they still exist?