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Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

items » gold vessels

Gold vessels (except cups)

January from the calendar of the 'Très Riches Heures'

January from the calendar of the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry. Paris, c. 1411-16. Chantilly, Musée Condé, ms. 65, f. 1v. The duke's Nef is on the table at his left.

A list of 'Gold vessels' immediately follows the crowns in the treasure roll. Similar kinds of objects are depicted in the January miniature from the calendar of the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry. Everything described could have been used at a royal table or displayed on a buffet or dresser. There are no cups or other drinking vessels in this section, because they were very numerous and were listed separately (see cups).

Basins and flasks

Several pairs of basins are described. These are known today as gemellions and were for washing before and after the meal. A pair of little jewelled flasks may have been for rosewater.


Salts (elaborate salt cellars) would have been placed at table in front of the king and the most important guests. One was in the shape of Richard II's badge of a hart; another was fashioned like a swan. The container of yet another salt was made of jasper. This stone was believed to guard against poison by sweating in its presence.


There were nefs, that is vessels in the shape of a ship. Nefs were either to store plates and other utensils, or like the nef described in more detail below, they were used to collect alms to be distributed to the poor after the meal.

Other objects

In addition there were two dozen large serving dishes, five dozen individual dishes, and two dozen saucers which would have been shared. Two sets of gold spoons were each of a matching dozen, but there were also single gold mounted spoons in more exotic materials: beryl set with gems and shell with pearls. Pots of different sizes, the largest holding a whole gallon, were for wine or other liquids. There were several candelabra to light the feasts.

Use and provenance

It is an interesting question whether these entries describe vessels that were used in the chambers of both the king and queen. There are a few clues, although these should not be overinterpreted. Besides several gifts from courtiers, some pieces were from the trousseau of Isabelle of France and bore her arms. They were therefore originally intended for the little queen's use. On the other hand, two pairs of basins, the large sets of platters, dishes and saucers, a pair of candelabra and six pots had been made from gold extorted by Richard II from the citizens of London, probably in 1392 when he imposed a £10,000 fine on them. Other pieces had come into the treasure as a result of Richard's policies. The spoon of beryl in its own protective case was among objects seized from the king's uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, in 1397 (see Lords Appellant). Three items, a nef, a pair of very large bottles and a spiceplate, were the gifts of the French king, Charles VI, at Ardres.

The nef called " The Tiger"

A photo of the tiger from the Goldenes Rössl

Tiger badge of Charles VI. The Goldenes Rössl, detail. Paris, before January 1405. Altötting, Church Treasury. See Charles VI for more about this object.

By far the largest and most valuable nef had been given to Richard on Friday 27 October 1396 by Charles VI when the two kings met at Ardres. Fifteen months earlier it had been given to Charles by his uncle, Duke Jean de Berry, for New Year's day 1395. It was very heavy, enriched with gems, and stood on a bear, one of the duke's badges. In the castles at the prow and stern stood tigers, badges of Charles VI. This precious almsdish was known in the fifteenth century as 'The Tiger'. From the battle of Agincourt onwards, it was pawned to English captains to guarrantee their pay during the expeditions against France.

R 38 Item, j neif d'or pur almoigne ove ij tigres et ij colers, garniz chescun ove iij balays et ix perles estoisant sur j pee d'un bere, garniz ove xiiij balays et xvij perles, dont faut j perle, du don' le roi Franceois, pois' de Troie xxxij marcz et vj unc', et vaut outre Ciiijxxxv li., summa, Dxliiij li. vjs. viijd.

[Item, a gold nef for alms with two tigers and two collars, each set with three balas rubies and nine pearls, standing on a foot of a bear, set with fourteen balas rubies and seventeen pearls, one pearl being missing, the gift of the French king, weighing 32 marks 6 oz. Troy, additional value £195, total, £544 6s. 8d.]

Gold vessels are listed on membrane 2 of the treasure roll.

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