Strawberry Hill Spotlights
In the run-up to the Lost Treasures Exhibition (from 20th October-24th February), we will be shining the spotlight on a selected number of objects to give you an exclusive preview of what is to come at Strawberry Hill this Autumn. For this installment we shine light upon a most elaborate clock which was given as a wedding gift to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn by her formidable husband, Henry VIII.
‘The Clock Still Goes’-Henry VIII’s Gift to Anne Boleyn
Written by Emily Rhodes
Using the word ‘ornate’ to describe this clock may be an understatement! The mark of royalty is abundant on this clock; perched on top sits a leopard holding a shield with the royal coat of arms and Garter. A further two royal coats of arms are found on either side of the clock whilst one weight is engraved with the royal motto, ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’. It’s crafted from gilt metal of silver, brass and bronze. The clock is intricately carved, featuring fleur de lys, foliage, scrolls and miniature heads surrounding the bell. The hours are represented in Roman numerals in the silvered chapter ring and the pointer is blue steel. The face is mounted on a gilt metal bracket and framed by a glass dome.
However, it is an inscription and a coat of arms on the clock that makes it even more remarkable. On a weight of the clock, engravings of a ‘H’ and ‘A’ are found, tied together with lovers’ knots, above the phrase ‘The Most Happy.’ These engravings indicate that the clock is the legendary gift given to Anne Boleyn (c.1501-1536) by her new husband, King Henry VIII (1491-1547).
This clock is reported to have been gifted by Henry to his beloved wife on the morning of their marriage. ‘The Most Happy’ became Anne Boleyn’s motto and by entwining with the royal motto, along with their initials, Henry was consecrating their union.
Despite this, the clock far outlived the marriage. Three years later, on 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed at the Tower of London following a quick trial for high treason. Merely ten days later, Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour (c.1508-1537). The tragedy of the marriage and the clock’s symbolism are best summed up by the text of the 1842 Strawberry Hill Sale Catalogue:
‘The clock still goes: it should have stopped forever when Anne Boleyn died!’
Lady Elizabeth Germain, a noted antiquarian, gifted the clock to Horace Walpole c. 1760. The clock was put on display in the Library at Strawberry Hill, along with other collections of royal heraldry and references to family and royal weddings, until 1795. It was listed as number 44 on Horace’s list of the Houses’ ‘Principal Curiosities’. It was later purchased by Queen Victoria during the Great Sale of 1842.
While we know that a clock was given to Anne Boleyn on her wedding day, as there are numerous accounts to the fact, historians are unsure as to whether this is the exact same clock which was once owned by Anne Boleyn. Elements of the clock can be dated back to the 16th century, but alterations have been made over the years meaning that the assembly is not necessarily original. However, as Horace would never have let the facts get in the way of a good story, neither will we!
Clock on loan from Her Majesty the Queen.