Saturday, November 10, 2012

Question from Jan - The Regale of France

The Regale of France, donated by Louis VII, and purloined by Henry VIII from the Shrine of Thomas Becket, was made into a ring for Henry. Somewhere - and I cannot now find the source - it was mentioned that this jewel found its way into a collar for Queen Mary (Bloody Mary). Does anyone know the whereabouts of the Regale now or did it just disappear.

Also information and description is confusing. The Regale is most often referred to as a Cabuchon Ruby but elsewhere I've seen it referred to as a diamond. Could anyone elucidate please.

Thank you in anticipation.


Marilyn R said...

Taken from a website referring to the Treasures of Heaven Exhibition last year staged in London and the USA (,

“The final design, begun by William of Sens and completed by William the Englishman, introduced the Trinity chapel, located in the far eastern end of the apse, which culminates in the famous Corona, an axial space that once housed a shrine containing the crown of Thomas' severed head. Richly gilded and decorated with precious jewels, including the RĂ©gale of France, a large ruby donated by Louis VII in 1179, this shrine was the climax of the pilgrim's experience.”

I went to this exhibition at the British Museum, but as yet cannot find the above reference in the catalogue, which is rather large and was sold by all the participating institutions, but if the British Museum agreed it was a ruby, I think it must have been!

Also, according to Wall, J. Charles, ‘Shrines of British Saints’, Methuen & Co., London. 1905. Chapter Four ‘Prelates and Priests’,

“During the month of September the Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton and a strong military guard, arrived at Canterbury to carry out the work of sacrilege. The spoil of jewels and gold of the shrine were carried off in two coffers on the shoulders of eight men, while twenty-six carts were employed to remove the accumulated offerings to God and St. Thomas, and the noted Regale of France was mounted in Henry’s thumb ring.”

I would love to know what happened to it.

Foose said...

I couldn't find any conclusive evidence as to the Regale's ultimate fate, but did come across some interesting snippets. The issue about whether the Regale was a ruby (carbuncle) or diamond is also murky; Italian observer Polydore Vergil says it was a ruby "no bigger than a thumbnail" in his eyewitness account but Erasmus said it was the size of a goose egg. The 1554 inventory describes Queen Mary's collar records "a collar of golde set with sixteen faire diamountes, whereof the Regale of Fraunce is one ..."

I am wondering if perhaps Henry's Regale and Mary's Regale were two different jewels. Henry's sister Mary kept the great diamond called the "Mirror of Naples" presented to her by her first husband, later handing it over to Henry. I don't believe the French ever got it back; is it possible that in England it became known as the "Mirror of France" after some years because of its provenance and association with the French Queen, and eventually confused with the "Regale of France"?

I came across the following items in regard to the Regale's fate, whether ruby or diamond, collar or ring:

- An 1863 Notes and Queries reports that "With respect to the large carbuncle or diamond given by Louis VII, which is said to have been worn by King Henry VIII. in his thumb-ring, it was probably buried with him ... George IV, when Prince Regent, having ordered the tomb of Henry [VIII] to be opened, and the coffin searched for some ring (or rings), which he supposed were still to be found therein ... Nothing however was found except some large bones."

- Records Historical and Antiquarian of the Parish of Upton Bishop, Herfordshire offers an "extract from 'The Morning Post,' March 5, 1883, on the Sale of the French National Jewels:

" ... it is for its diamonds and its history that the collection is so remarkable. The rings ... with one exception, are not very remarkable. That is the renowned gem known as the 'Regale of France' ... " [brief history of Henry taking it as a thumb-ring] "and after the lapse of centuries it found its way back to the land from whence it came."

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any follow-up, or corroborating reports, or even a description (the actual sale seems to have taken place in 1887). However, Cardinal Mazarin, back in the 17th century, was a noted collection of diamonds and bagged quite a number of them at bargain prices from the dispossessed Stuarts, so that might account for how the diamond-Regale returned "to the land from whence it came" (if it did). There's no record of him collecting rubies, so if the Regale was truly a ruby this might be a dead end.

On the other hand, if the Regale was a diamond and somehow did wind up with Mazarin, it might still be extant today, like the Sancy Diamond. Perhaps it is masquerading under another name.

Foose said...

One more point - the account of Henry taking the Regale and wearing it in a thumb-ring appears to have only one source, a Cotton manuscript mutilated in a fire in 1731 (Cottonian MS Tib. E. viii, fol. 269, "The forme and figure of the shrine of Tho. Becket of Canterbury"). One transcription I looked at read:

"... [at one side was a stone with] an Angell of gold poynting ther unto offred ther by a King of Franc[e which King Henry put] into a ring and wear it on his thomb."

The bracketed parts are the ones that had to be restored by various Latinists and scholars. Consequently, I can't help thinking that the story of Henry's rape of the Regale seems rather suspicious. This appears to be the only source, and if Henry had indeed flaunted the Regale on his hand you can't help but think that there would be some contemporary mentions in Letters and Papers, especially among the ambassadorial gossip or reports from Rome. Or that John Foxe would have highlighted this Reformational triumph in his works.

The Regale-as-thumb-ring, or even as just the Regale, also doesn't appear in the inventory taken at Henry VIII's death. Edward VI was very fond of jewels like his father, and the Regale would have been a powerful symbol of the Royal Supremacy in itself; but it doesn't turn up in any accounts of his reign, either.

One interesting reference I came across suggested that making an enemy's bones or remains into a thumb-ring gains the wearer a powerful charm; the poet and playwright John Dryden, in the 17th century, wrote a satire in 1682 against Shaftesbury, leader of the Whigs and a perennial political nuisance to King Charles II, in which he alluded to the Turks violating the tomb of the rebel Albanian Scanderbeg:

"I believe, when he is dead, you will wear him in thumb-rings, as the Turks did Scanderbeg, as if there were virtue in his bones to preserve you against Monarchy."

I don't know the precise date of the Cottonian manuscript relating to Canterbury but I wonder if the thumb-ring allegation was perhaps interpolated for political reasons.

I caution that this was just a cursory search, and possibly there are other documents supporting Henry's translation of the Regale into a thumb-ring. But it also seems the sort of Tudor story that may have no founding in fact, but is widely disseminated and believed because it resonates with people's view of the king involved.

Foose said...

I retract! Partially.

I have been trying to trace the thumb-ring story, and have come up with mentions throughout the 17th century, including Defoe in 1722, 9 years before the fire that damaged the Cottonian manuscript.

In 1706, A Complete History of England: I collected various important histories of the Tudors, including that of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, a very reputable source from the early 17th century. Cherbury's History of King Henry VIII relates the following regarding the spoliation of Becket's shrine:

"Among which, there being one Stone eminent, which it was said, Louis the Seventh coming hither on Pilgrimage from France, Anno Dom. 1179, bestow'd; our King wore it in a Ring afterwards."

So we do have a source relatively close to the 16th century, from a diligent antiquarian who did search for and collect many accounts and documents from the period, and used them in writing his history. Cherbury may have utilized the undamaged Cottonian manuscript or possibly some other account. He does not specifically mention the Regale by name, or specify a thumb-ring, or mention the ruby/diamond issue, but he does substantiate the basic story to some extent. Still, I can't help thinking that if Henry had really done something so outrageous, there would have some contemporary comment on it and more evidence of the jewel in the inventories.

Lara said...

Once again I am blown away by your detective skills Foose!

I meant to post a while back that I looked through my copy of "Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery" for a mention, but with no luck.