Henry VIII amassed the most spectacular collection of gold and silver of any British monarch. Plate and jewels were hugely prominent in medieval and Renaissance courts and played an essential role in dynastic marriages and diplomacy as well as in cementing the bonds between king and court. Ranging from plain domestic wares to extraordinary bejewelled works of art, Henry's collection embraced virtuoso continental objects as well as vast quantities of plate commissioned from London goldsmiths or inherited from his father. But nearly all of these holdings were destroyed over the following century, and of the thousands that he owned no more than a handful have survived to modern times.
This book makes use of the wealth of surviving documentation - inventories, drawings, lists of payments, dispatches by foreign ambassadors and other records - to explore this lost collection and the light it sheds on the monarchy. Starting with an assessment of the young king's inheritance from his father, the book considers the role of plate at state banquets, in great church services and in the regular exchange of gifts between courtiers and ambassadors; the role of plate and jewels as a potent symbol of power; how the king used confiscation as an instrument of humiliation of those who fell from grace, including Cardinal Wolsey and Katherine of Aragon; and how Henry's avaricious seizure of church plate towards the end of his life throws light on his changing character. While the focus is on plate and goldsmiths' work, the context ranges from court ceremonial to rivalry between princes, the role of the church, the vulnerability of persons and institutions with covetable assets, and relations between the king and his own family.
Bringing the existence and significance of these lost riches back to life, the book sheds new light on Henrician and Tudor court culture.
TIMOTHY SCHRODER was Curator of Decorative Arts at the Los Angeles County Museum and a Consultant Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Current or recent roles include Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company, President of the Silver Society and a Trustee of the Wallace Collection. Publications include English Domestic Silver, The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver and British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean Museum.