Charlie Clarke had been metal detecting for just six months when he stumbled across what he calls his “once in a lifetime – no, once in 30 lifetimes”, find. He was exploring a Warwickshire field, turning up “junk” and about to call it a day, when a clear beep on his detector led him to dig to the depth of his elbow. What he saw there caused him to shriek “like a little schoolgirl, to be honest. My voice went pretty high-pitched”.
What the Birmingham cafe owner had discovered was a huge and quite spectacular early Tudor pendant and chain, made in gold and enamel and bearing the initials and symbols of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.
When Rachel King, curator of Renaissance Europe at the British Museum, first heard about the discovery, she had to sit down. Nothing of this size and importance from the Renaissance period had been found in Britain for more than 25 years, she said.
The heart-shaped pendant, attached to a chain of 75 links and made of 300 grams of 24-carat gold, is decorated with a bush bearing the Tudor rose and a pomegranate, Katherine’s symbol, and on the reverse the initials H and K. Ribbon motifs carry the legend TOVS and IORS, which King called “a beautiful early English Franglais pun” on the French word “toujours” and “all yours”.
Despite initially seeming almost too good to be true, said King, careful scientific analysis has proved the pendant to be genuine. What experts have not been able to uncover, however, despite scouring inventories and pictures of the time, is to establish a personal link to Henry or Katherine.
“Nonetheless, its quality is such that it was certainly either commissioned by or somehow related to a member of the higher nobility or a high-ranking courtier.”
One hypothesis, based on careful analysis of its iconography and other historical records, is that the pendant may have been commissioned to be worn or even given as a prize at one of the major tournaments of which Henry was so fond, around the time of the famous Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Though its size suggests it would only fit a woman, it may not have been meant to be worn at all.
Nothing remotely similar survives from the period, said King. “In the British Museum, we’ve got the largest collection of objects from the early Tudor periods in precious metal; none of them are anything like this.”
But what on earth was it doing in Warwickshire? On that, she said, they were still “feeling their way”. “We don’t know why it was in Warwickshire and who had it there. At least not yet.”
Discovered before the start of the pandemic, the pendant was unveiled at the launch of the annual reports of Treasure Act for 2020 and the Portable Antiquities Scheme for 2021. A total of 45,581 archaeological finds were recorded in that period, of which 1,085 are classed as treasure – 96% were found by detectorists, most on cultivated land.
The Tudor pendant has not yet been valued but is certain to be worth a highly significant sum which Clarke will split with the landowner of the field. He said it meant his four-year-old son, also called Charlie, would have “the best education possible”. “That’s all it’s really about. Birmingham is a bit of a rough place, and I think any parent … would want the best education for their children.”
Inevitably, Charlie wants to be a treasure hunter when he is older, says his dad. “He wants to go to the jungle and find a box of pirate treasure. At that age, it must be so intriguing.
“People say it’s like winning the lottery; it’s not. People actually win the lottery. When was the last time a crown jewel was unearthed?”