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Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

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Eleven gold crowns open the list of Richard II's treasure. Several probably dated from earlier reigns. One must have been very small. It weighed little, had no gems and had perhaps belonged to a reliquary image. The others were intended to be worn either by a king or by a queen. Much of their value was in the gems, which are minutely enumerated.

Isabelle's crowns

Eight crowns with alternating large and small fleuronsfleuron - lily-shaped pinnacle rising from the circlet of a crown  are described. Two had been had been made in Paris and had been brought to England in 1396 by Isabelle of France. Both had a circlet (band) of eight plaquesplaque (of a crown) - segment of the circlet or band  and eight alternating fleurons. One was valued at £1,740 13s. 4d., the other at £1,200 (see coinage). The more valuable of the two was enriched with sapphires, balas rubies and clusters of pearls set around small diamonds. The large fleurons of this crown were additionally decorated with the broomcodsbroom - ('genêt') one of the heraldic badges of Charles VI of France in the form of branches, seed pods (broomcods), or broom flowers. Adopted by Richard II in 1396.  associated with Isabelle's father, Charles VI, and the may flowers (mouron) associated both with her mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, and with Isabelle herself. The French royal badges were probably executed in pointillépointillé - pattern formed of dots incised with a fine point , the technique which can be seen on the Royal Gold Cup. In 1401, after Richard II's death, Isabelle returned to France, the marriage unconsummated. Her crowns were sent back with the rest of the jewels from her trousseau, as stipulated in the marriage contract.

The 'great' crowns and other crowns

Six other crowns were said to have fleurons: one eight, two ten, one twelve. Two seem to have been incomplete since an uneven number of fleurons was recorded, eleven rather than twelve (see below) and thirteen rather than fourteen. Nothing was said about the structure of the remaining two, the most valuable and no doubt the king's principal crowns. The 'great' (grand) crown, was very heavy at 23 marks (see weights). It was enriched with two large oriental rubies, balas rubies, sapphires, emeralds and freshwater pearls, and was valued at the staggering sum of £33,584. The other, weighing 9 marks 4 oz., set with emeralds, balas rubies and pearls, was estimated to be worth the lesser but still enormous sum of £10,101 6s. 8d. Crowns or detached pieces from crowns were often chosen in both England and France in this period for pawning when the king needed to raise money. Elsewhere in the inventory detached gold and jewelled fleurons are described.

The surviving crown

A photograph of the Munich crown

Crown, c. 1380 and 1402: Munich, Schatzkammer der Residenz (Bayerische Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen) Inv. no. 16.

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One of the crowns is the only object in Richard II's inventory which certainly survives today. It now consists of a circlet of twelve hinged plaques and six large and six small fleurons. Each of the twelve fleurons fits into a separate plaque. The larger fleurons have two prongs like a tuning fork, the smaller a single prong. It could have been dismantled for travelling or storage. As described in Richard II's inventory and again in November 1399, it was incomplete. There were only eleven plaques in the circlet, although there were twelve fleurons. Twelve fleurons need twelve plaques. To achieve a symmetrical effect, large and small fleurons must alternate. The crown seems therefore to have been unwearable in 1399.

A photograph of the treasure roll

The crown described in the treasure roll, E 101/411/9, m. 1 (Kew, National Archives). The entry for the crown is shown highlighted.

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R 7 Item, j coronne de xj overages, garniz de xj saphirs, xxxiij balays et Cxxxij perles, xxxiij diamantz, dont viij contrefaitz. Item, vj florons chescun d'un balays, v saphirs chescun de ix perles, dont defaut en tout vij perles. Item, vj meyndres florons, chescun d'un saphirs, iiij petitz balays, j emeraud', dont defaut j emeraud' et ij petitz perles en chescun, pois' v marcz vij unc', et vaut outre CC li., dont la somme, CCxlvj li. xiijs. iiijd.

[Item, a crown of eleven plaques, set with eleven sapphires, thirty-three balas rubies, a hundred and thirty-two pearls, thirty-three diamonds, eight of them imitation gems. Item, six fleurons each with a balas ruby, five sapphires, and nine pearls, seven pearls in all being missing. Item, six smaller fleurons, each with a sapphire, four small balas rubies, an emerald (one emerald being missing) and two little pearls in each, weighing 5 marks 7 oz., additional value £200, total, £246 13s. 4d.]

The crown in Blanche's trousseau

In 1402 this crown was sent to Bavaria as part of the trousseau of Henry IV's elder daughter, Blanche (1392-1409), when she married Duke Louis III. Earlier in the same year a London goldsmith was paid for restoring the crown. He replaced the missing gems and pearls and adding a twelfth matching plaque to the circlet. The plaques are composed of jewelled gold hexagons of openwork tracery enamelled alternately in red and blue and interconnected by rectangular hinged pieces also of openwork tracery. The added plaque matches in design, but can be recognised by the coarser workmanship of the gold tracery, of the blue enamel and the applied flowers. The translucent green enamel on the reverse of the rectangle is also of inferior quality to the other eleven pieces. Many gems have also been replaced over the intervening centuries.

The eleven gold crowns are listed on membrane 1 of the treasure roll.

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