On May 2nd this year Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, “was safely delivered of a daughter”. Cheers from die-hard royal fans outside the hospital greeted the announcement. Shouldn’t they have waited outside Buckingham Palace because that’s where the news was announced first? The relentless coverage outside the hospital by hysterical reporters with little to say was a total non-event.
All this kerfuffle reminded me of a piece I wrote in 2011. The royal couple (should that phrase be in capital letters?) was the catalyst for an article I wrote on royal souvenirs, the majority of them found by detectorists.
Ignoring the royal nuptials in April 2011 was a deliberate choice. Not because I’m a rabid anti-monarchist, but because I’m far too old for such feverish excitement. My antidote at the time was to go metal detecting instead.
This reluctance to join in the festivities may also have something to do with the dull and still unread Coronation Book 1953 on The History and Meaning of the Ceremonies of Crowning presented by Durham Education Committee on the occasion of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.
A local association more in tune with the wants of young people presented every bairn in the village with a coronation mug filled with boiled sweets. I remember the sugar frenzy very well. It was only four months before that rationing had ended; I emptied my piggy bank and headed straight for the nearest sweet shop. Maybe this is too much information, but I remember queuing up at the post office-cum-general store with my sister Mary for what seemed ages and buying Smarties, Kit Kat’s and a packet of PK chewing gum.
Frontline of Tacky
Moving on. There were (predictably) thousands of pieces of memorabilia flooding the market ahead of Will and Kate’s big day. One tacky treasure I noticed, evidently the perfect royal wedding souvenir for someone feeling a bit flush, was a Prince William and Kate Middleton loo seat! And then there were the tee shirts, crockery, postcards, fridge magnets and coins. Buckingham Palace even produced its own official souvenir range. In fact, everything from condoms (called Crown Jewels) to sick bags were available worldwide; very appropriate.
Also literally cashing in on royal wedding fever was the Royal Mint, who unveiled its official commemoration legal tender £5 coin. The interesting thing was that the coin cost almost twice that amount as they were being sold for £9.99, meaning that they would never be spent! I would love to say that this gave rise to the expression Making a Mint, but you wouldn’t believe me!
A memento that is likely to be lost is the coin (medal?) shown below and created by the Birmingham Mint. It has no monetary value and is designed to be a souvenir of the ceremony.
Birmingham (the mint), which was established in 1794 and believes it is the world’s oldest independent mint, sold the coins for £5 but offered them to schools and charities for just £3 as a fundraiser. Good for them; a shrewd move. I wonder if detectorists can count on finding casual losses of this base metal brass alloy coin in the future!
The Archaeological Record
In their searches, detectorists have provided evidence for royal weddings – especially from the post-medieval period and we can learn much from them. Sussex Finds Liaison Officer Laura Burnett, at the height of royal wedding fever, highlighted on the PAS site a detectorist find subsequently acquired by Somerset County Museum.
The silver heart-shaped locket is in two parts, one being slightly smaller and fitting inside the other. It has a male crowned bust, with long hair and a beard and flanked by the initials CR. The larger side is similarly decorated with a female bust, facing left with a suspension loop at the top. The initials are KR.
The locket commemorates the marriage of Charles II and Katherine of Braganza in 1662 and was found near the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor that took place on 6th July 1685. Laura suggests that it’s possible that someone fighting on the side of the King lost the locket during the battle.
Other items on the PAS database originally thought to have been produced to commemorate the same marriage are sheet-silver cufflinks found in Yorkshire, and a button. Buttons bearing the motif of clasped hands or two hearts beneath a crown are common. Although associated with Charles II, the motif probably continued in use beyond his reign.
In July Marie Hunt found a rather interesting silver gilt medallion in the Oswestry area of Shropshire commemorating the marriage of Charles I to the French princess, Henrietta Maria, in 1625.
The unusual thing about this find is that the medallion was part of a group of silver coins. Six of the coins were of the English monarchs Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I and consist of two sixpences of Elizabeth, two pennies of James and two pennies of Charles.
Dr Barrie Cook, curator of Medieval and Early Modern Coinage at the British Museum said:
… the group is … likely to have included the silver medal, since its date is a good match to this scenario. It is not normal to find medals with coins in this way, but a possible explanation is that this small one served as a pocket piece, carried around for luck, as a symbol of loyalty or as even a marital memento, since it commemorates a marriage.
The rather large (65mm diameter) medallion shown here was produced to commemorate the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in March 1863 and was minted by Ottley of Birmingham.
Note the hole at the top for a ribbon, enabling it to be worn around the neck. There seems an unusually large number of medallions were produced on this occasion. Here’s a rather fine example in bronze (below) commemorating the marriage of Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.
In reality, metal finds relating to royal weddings are few and far between. If the history of the last one thousand years was wiped clean and all we had to go on to help us understand royal marriages through the ages was the artefacts, they would tell us very little. But that fact should not deter us in our quest to find more, so contributing to the archaeological record. Even as I write, detctorists are doing just that. More power to your swinging elbows!
I’ve found the coronation mug mentioned above and presented to me in 1953.
Alan Warner’s (aka QM) silver cuff linked to the marriage of Charles II and Katherine of Braganza.
Goodness … this is great! I have another submission from the British Metal Detecting forum – this time from Doug (aka Dekay), who found the tin badge a couple of years ago. Thank you for sharing!
Jim Hunt, who confesses never to have read my Blog – shame – was told about my post on royal memorabilia and sent the medallion below, which celebrates 60 years of Victoria’s reign. Thanks for your contribution, Jim. Give me time and I’ll think of a suitable penance!
This blog post has been resurrected from different sources. I haven’t been able to give acknowledgement in every case and could have made mistakes in attribution. Please let me know of any errors or omissions and I will rectify immediately – John.