Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Crystal Sceptre

The Crystal Sceptre: that sounds like - and I think probably is - something from one of those witches and warlocks computer-generated games.  But it is also a part of English history and was put on public display yesterday, the first time ever in its nearly 600 years history.

It was 600 years ago today, St Crispin's Day, that English soldiers led by King Henry V defeated a French army near the village of Azincourt, known to we English as Agincourt.  Henry had thought himself entitled to become King of France but when that was denied to him, he said he would settle for Aquitaine, Brittany and Normandy among other parts of France.  And he wanted Princess Catherine, daughter of the French king Charles VI, as his wife.  It was the French refusal to agree to this that led to the start of the Hundred Years War and Henry's invasion and, eventually, the Battle of Agincourt.

I could easily become distracted here and give an account of the battle in which the English army, generally accepted to have been outnumbered by 4 to 1, was victorious - but by doing so I would probably forget all about the Crystal Sceptre.

Taking an army across the Channel to France, besieging the port of Harfleur for three months and then generally wandering about the French countryside, marching some 260 miles in just two and a half weeks, was an expensive undertaking.  To help finance the expedition, Henry had borrowed heavily from the City of London and various wealthy merchants.  The City chipped in 10,000 marks, about three million pounds in today's money.  As a token of his gratitude, the King commissioned the Crystal Sceptre to be a gift to the city.

Photo: Christopher Pledger, from the Daily Telegraph
The sceptre is 17 inches tall and consists of a carved rock crystal stem inlaid with gold.  The jewels which decorate the crown at the top of the stem were sourced from the far corners of the known world; red spinels from what is now Afghanistan, blue sapphires from Ceylon and dozens of pearls plucked from the seas of the Arabian gulf.

Also from the Daily Telegraph

Just when the sceptre was presented to the City of London Is not known, but it is featured in a painting of the coronation of Queen Catherine of Valois, Henry's wife, which took place in February 1421.  In the picture it can be seen held by the lord Mayor of London - or so I am told.

The sceptre has never before been seen on public display and is normally only removed from its place of safe keeping for coronations and for the swearing in of each new Lord Mayor of London.  It will be on public display for just six weeks.

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