Originally published February 22, 2023
It’s not every day that new Tudor artefacts are discovered. Earlier this morning, researchers at the British Museum announced the discovery of a heart-shaped gold pendant, dated to approximately 1521. Perhaps the most significant part of this discovery is the interwoven ‘H’ and ‘K’ initials, confidently linking this find to Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.
It is possible that this pendant was part of the Tudor court’s famed methods of pageantry. It may have been presented to Queen Katherine by Henry himself at a jousting tourney at the royal palace of Westminster, intended to celebrate the birth of their son, Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall. That would place the pendant’s murky origins to January of 1511 at the latest.
At the tournament, King Henry proudly wore symbols of the heart, Katherine’s initials, and Katherine’s emblem – a pomegranate – woven throughout his clothes and his horse’s gilded caparisons.
“The words embroidered on his gold basse skirt and his horse’s trapper were a public profession of love,” writes author and historian Giles Tremlett in Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. “Henry was ‘Cure loial’, Catherine’s ‘Loyal Heart’. Should anyone doubt exactly who the object of his affections was, Catherine’s letter ‘K’ was embroidered all over his pavilion.”
If Katherine did indeed receive the pendant at this sumptuous – and very special – event, it would have been presented alongside a garland of six dozen silk roses. One sailor present at the tournament pocketed seven gold ‘H’s’ and ‘K’s’ which he in turn sold to a goldsmith for £3 9s 8d – a pretty penny for a working Tudor man.
Though Henry spared no expense for the celebrations, his son would sadly breathe his last less than a month later, casting a bleak pall over the couple’s celebrations.
Little of the object’s provenance has been revealed. We are told that it was unearthed by a metal detectorist in a field in the Midlands, who ‘shrieked like a school girl’ upon finding it. As research continues in the coming months, we hope that more information about this enigmatic object will be released to the public.