Amateur detectorist unearths rare heart pendant celebrating Henry VIII’s first love

A rare heart-shaped pendant linked to Henry VIII (1491-1547) and his first wife, Katherine of Aragón (1485-1536) was unveiled at the British Museum alongside thousands of treasures discovered by metal detectorists in 2021. Although the spectacular pendant is still to be valued, it has already been designated as an object of national importance.

It’s a “once in a lifetime – no, once in 30 lifetimes” find exclaimed Charlie Clarke, who stumbled across the early Tudor piece whilst metal detecting in a Warwickshire field. The 34-year-old Birmingham cafe owner had only been detecting for 6 months when he heard a loud beep on his detector at the end of a long day of turning up “junk”. After digging up to his elbows, he unearthed one of the most important Renaissance treasures found in Britain for more than 25 years.

The majority of people who saw this at the museum felt it was almost too good to be true,” recalled Rachel King, curator for European Renaissance at the British Museum. But after meticulous scientific analysis, they finally concluded it was the genuine article.

The gold pendant is ornamented with enamelled floral motifs that symbolically entwine the royal couple together. Blooming from the same plant is a pomegranate, Katherine’s symbol, and the double-headed white and red rose, which became an emblem of the Tudors from 1486. Underneath is a ribbon motif carrying the legend TOVS and IORS, an early English pun on the French word “toujours” and “all yours”. The reverse bears their initials ‘H’ and ‘K’. It was attached to a chain of 75 links, in total weighing 300 grams of 24-carat gold.

This beautiful pendant is a thrilling discovery giving us a tangible connection to Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon and enriches our understanding of the Royal Court at the time,” explained Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England.

But despite the best efforts of experts, no official records have yet been found that document the pendant. “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,” said King. It may not have even been worn at all, instead given as a prize at one of Henry’s favourite pastimes – major tournaments where highly ritualised jousting competitions were accompanied by elaborate parties.

According to the Treasure Annual Report and Portable Antiques Scheme (PAS) Annual Report, 45,581 archaeological finds and more than 1,085 treasures were recorded in 2021. Another notable find was a silver strap-end found in Hampshire, decorated with animals and dating back to the 14th century. The most amount of treasure had been reported in Norfolk and Kent with 96% of all finds discovered by detectorists mostly on cultivated land. Under the Treasure Act 1996, finders have a legal obligation to report any potential treasure to local authorities.

Speaking about his extraordinary discovery, Clarke noted that “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?

For more information on treasure finds, read our recent article on its key considerations and tax consequences.

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