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IN THE vaults of the British museum lies a two-and-a-half-inch figure so potentially valuable it is beyond the dreams of any treasure hunter. It was discovered by metal detectorist Kevin Duckett, who flipped a clod of earth in an otherwise unremarkable Northamptonshire field on a sunny day and found something so surprising it made him fall to his knees.
Poking out was the solid gold figure of a king — unearthed after perhaps years. The crowned golden figure, holding a shimmering orb and sceptre, stands on a spotted antelope, which I recognised immediately as the heraldic beast of the 15th century Lancastrian king Henry VI. He was murdered in on the orders of his victorious rival, the Yorkist king Edward IV. But Henry VI had a remarkable afterlife. People decided that, while he had been a bad king, he had been a good man, and declared him a saint.
When, during the early s, Thomas Fuller of Hammersmith, west London, was hanged on a false charge of stealing cattle, he prayed to the late king, who he later claimed kept him alive for a whole hour by thrusting a hand between the rope and his windpipe until he was cut down. The royal chapel was like a tourist hot spot. Benidorm in Berkshire. Pilgrims bought badges of cheap lead alloy to mark their visit. Pilgrims prayed before his hat, spurs and a piece of his bedstead, while other riches adorned the altar dedicated to him.
With the Reformation more than 90 per cent of religious art was destroyed. So this would be a very rare survival. But Mr Duckett asked me to research a far more startling possibility. There were crosses and fleurs de lys encrusted with jewels. There were also indistinct figures of three kings. They were attached to the crown with a similar fixing to the gold figure he had found. He went to see the crown at Hampton Court and, to his shock, saw staring back at him a cruder version of his gold king.
On the five fleur de lys were fixed three figures of Christ, one of St George and one of the Virgin and child. I discovered that in the Tudor Ryalle Book of household regulations, it was decreed the king should be processed in his crown every Epiphany — when the three kings brought gifts to the Christ child.