For the first time in 600 years, a sceptre King Henry V gave to the City of London in gratitude for its support in the Hundred Years’ War will go on public display.
The City of London helped finance the Battle of Agincourt, loaning Henry 10,000 marks (about three million pounds in today’s money). After Henry’s forces won so decisive a victory at Agincourt on October 25th, 1415, the king had the sceptre made and presented it to the city as a thank you gift.
Made by the finest craftsmen — including French ones — of the age, the sceptre is 43 cm long and made out of two spiral-carved stems of rock crystal with ribbons of inlaid gold. At the top of the sceptre is a gold crown topped with fleurs-de-lis and crosses and decorated with gemstones from around the world: red spinels from Afghanistan, sapphires from Ceylon, pearls from the Arabian gulf. Inside the crown is the king’s coat of arms painted on parchment. The sceptre was made between 1415 and February of 1421 when it appears in a painting of the coronation in Westminster Abbey of Catherine of Valois, wife of Henry V
Over the last six centuries, only a handful of people have seen or touched the Crystal Sceptre (or Mace), and it has not been previously researched, exhibited, written about, or photographed.
Henry V’s Crystal Sceptre is as beautiful as it is mysterious. Two shafts of spiral fluted and gold inlaid rock-crystal, with a jewel- and pearl-encrusted crown bearing the monarch’s coat of arms on parchment, the 43cm-long Sceptre was designed to the very highest standards.
And now, one of the City of London’s most iconic treasures will go on display at Guildhall Art Gallery to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. According to recent research by Dr Michael Hall and Ralph Holt, the Crystal Sceptre was given by Henry V to the City of London as a mark of his gratitude to the City for providing the funds to fight the historic battle.
‘Unveiling the Crystal Sceptre: Henry V’s Gift to the City’, which opens on Saturday 24 October, will be a unique opportunity to view the jewel and discover the story of the City’s financing of the Battle of Agincourt. The exhibition will also chart the pilgrimage made by the king, following his victory paying homage to his chosen patron Saints. As well as the Crystal Sceptre, the exhibition will display the Hedon Mace, a weapon used at Agincourt and subsequently encased in silver-gilt, and some of the coins made at the time from silver mined at Combe Martin, and displaying Henry V’s head.
Dr Michael Hall, Curator of Exbury House, Hampshire, and independent art historian, said: “The most remarkable aspect of the story surrounding the Crystal Sceptre is that it is still safely in the hands of those for whom it was made 600 years ago – the City of London. As well as being a rare and surviving English royal treasury object, the precious materials – rock crystal, gems and gold – make it an object of great beauty which has been carefully hiding in plain sight for six centuries. The City of London should now take great pride and pleasure in sharing this relic of Henry V on the 600th anniversary of Agincourt.”
Dr Clare Taylor, who has worked with Dr Michael Hall and Ralph Holt, who uncovered the new research, commented: “I am delighted that Guildhall Art Gallery will exhibit this magnificent City treasure and, for the first time, tell its fascinating story. Over the last 600 years, the Crystal Sceptre has made the most fleeting of appearances at the Silent Ceremony at the Guildhall and at coronations, and few people, even, distinguished historians, knew much about its background. I am hugely grateful to Dr Michael Hall and Ralph Holt for their work to research the Crystal Sceptre, and I am sure that visitors to the art gallery will enjoy this opportunity to see it.”
Sonia Solicari, Principal Curator at Guildhall Art Gallery, said: “The exhibition opens on the day before St. Crispin’s Day and will be a fitting and timely tribute to the City of London’s link to the Battle of Agincourt in this anniversary year. For the very first time, people will be able to see this legendary monarch’s gift to the City and I am sure that they will be fascinated by its history and beauty.”
Unveiling the Crystal Sceptre: Henry V’s Gift to the City runs from 24 October to 3 December at Guildhall Art Gallery, EC2. Admission is FREE.
A catalogue of the Lord Mayoral regalia, including the Crystal Sceptre, and the gold and silver collection at The Mansion House will be launched to accompany the exhibition. Dr. Hall and Mr. Holt with the help of Dr. Clare Taylor, wife of former Lord Mayor Sir Roger Gifford, have authored the book on the silver and gold of Mansion House. The book, the third in a series about the collections of Mansion House, covers more than 80 precious objects, including the regalia of the Mayorality.
The Honour and Grandeur: Regalia, Gold and Silver at the Mansion House will be released later this month to coincide with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. This is the first time the sceptre has been published in its long life, believe it or not. The sceptre itself will celebrate the anniversary by going on public display for the first time. Unveiling the Crystal Sceptre: Henry V’s Gift to the City opens at Guildhall Art Gallery on Saturday, October 24th, the day before St. Crispin’s Day. The exhibition will tell the full story of the sceptre, starting with the City of London’s financial support for Henry V’s great battle and following King Henry’s 1421 pilgrimage to holy sites associated with his three patron saints.
During that pilgrimage he may have stopped in Hedon where he presented the mayor with another Agincourt-related treasure: the Hedon Mace, an iron mace believed to have been an actual weapon used at the Battle of Agincourt which Henry had silver-gilt and presented to the city again as thanks for its support. The Hedon Mace will be on display with the Crystal Sceptre, the only objects given by Henry V that have remained with their original recipients for 600 years.
Unveiling the crystal Sceptre: Henry v’s Gift to the City
Guildhall Art Gallery, London, EC2
24.10.2015 – 03.12.2015
The Honour and Grandeur: Regalia, Gold and Silver at the Mansion House
Paul Holberton Publishing 2015
Curtesy of the exhibition