Jewel once owned by Joan of Arc at centre of stormy dispute

UK authorities may demand the return of a ring which once belonged to Joan of Arc after it was sold to a French theme park in February.

On Wednesday (16 March), The Art Newspaper raised the question of whether the ring had been legally exported to France following its sale. If it is discovered that an export licence was not obtained it is thought that British authorities are likely to request the return of the ring.

Sold for £297,600 (with buyer’s premium) by TimeLine Auctions on 26 February, the silver-gilt ring was made in France in around 1400. It was given to Joan of Arc by her parents as a devotional object for her first communion and taken to England following her execution in 1431.

Handed down several generations from Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who was present at Joan of Arc’s trial and execution, it came to be owned by Cyril Bunt, a library employee at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was Bunt’s son Robert who consigned the ring for sale at auction.

After a fierce bidding war, the ring was purchased by the Puy de Fou Espérance Foundation, which owns a historical theme park near Nantes, France. According to export regulations, the sale should have prompted an application for an export licence. This is required for antique items worth over £39,219, which have been in the UK for over 50 years.

However, when questioned a spokesman for the Puy de Fou replied that it “probably has an export licence.” London lawyers acting for the Puy de Fou reportedly told The Times that they were also unaware of whether a licence had been obtained:

“There are many ways where a licence could have been obtained without me being aware of it, or being involved in the process,” one said.

Arts Council England guidance on obtaining an export licence states that they are typically issued after 28 working days. The Joan of Arc ring is thought to have landed in France by 11 March only ten working days after the TimeLine sale.

If no export licence was issued and the ring is returned to England, UK buyers could potentially match the Puy de Fou’s purchase price and keep it in the country.

Planning on bidding for an artwork or antique? Take a look at our art lawyer’s guide to buying art at auction.

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