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Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

Sources of the treasure

This section of the website investigates some of the sources of Richard's treasure. It focuses on individuals associated with the treasure and on objects included in it, revealing some of the ways in which precious objects were obtained and transmitted in the Middle Ages. Each entry gives some background about the person in question, his or her cultural patronage, and his or her relationship to Richard II. Wherever possible, an entry explains how some of the objects listed in the roll came to be in Richard's possession.

Besides named individuals, two important and contrasting groups of people are also included, donors to the king and queen, and the Lords Appellant, victims of the forfeitures of 1397, whose goods were seized by the crown.

Four main themes are explored:

The treasure roll itself has almost nothing to say about the origin of the objects (when and where they were made). It tells us about the source (provenance) of some pieces, but not most of them. On the other hand, it gives fairly detailed descriptions of the valuables and, crucially, the weight of most of them, so that with painstaking detective work, some entries can be matched in other French and English documents. A good example is the dazzling trousseau Isabelle of France brought to England in 1396, where the roll more or less copied the French lists of what was supplied. The roll does give, however, the names of the donors of some valuables. Among them are English bishops and courtiers, both men and women, who were in favour with Richard II, the French king and queen and the Valois princes. Many of these objects must have been specially made between about 1396 and 1399 since they incorporated the heraldic badges of the hart and the broomcod (see Wilton Diptych), associated with Richard's second marriage in 1396.

The question of what is meant by artistic patronage inevitably arises. Where it seems that an object was ordered around a given time and by or on behalf of a specific person, this issue can and should be taken into account. One example concerns the many objects in the treasure roll decorated with the hart and broomcod badges associated with the peace negotiations of 1396 and Richard's second marriage. These were deliberately made or adapted to please the king and queen. A second example concerns Richard II himself. The king ordered vessels to be made from gold extorted from the Londoners, almost certainly in 1392. This is a clear case of 'artistic patronage'. Unfortunately the inventory does not describe these pieces in any detail. We know only that they were heavy and consequently very valuable. The more brutal aspect of a treasure should not be forgotten, its growth through forfeiture. It was also the equivalent of a bank to be exploited, especially in times of war and whenever cash had to be raised.

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