Glittering jewels, precious metals, and religious relics—ranging from a spine from the Crown of Thorns to a twig from the Burning Bush, and sundry relics of saints—were important to all medieval monarchs as physical symbols of power, pomp, and religious expression (BBC). King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England had one of these venerable objects— a ruby.
Al2O3) is a gemstone and a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminum oxide). It’s one of the hardest minerals on Earth (9.0 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale of 10) and ranges in color from pink to blood-red. Traces of the element chromium cause the red color to bloom in rubies. The Latin word for red, ruber is the basis for its name. The other variety of gem-quality corundum is sapphire. The ruby is extremely rare and considered the king of the gemstones with its magnificent color and exceptional brilliance.
|Figure 2. View of a ruby in its natural state. Note the crystal habit of terminated tabular hexagonal prisms. Used with permission, Wilensky Fine Minerals.|
By the time Henry VIII dissolved monasteries in England (between 1536 and 1541), he became aware of the gemstone and longed to possess its radiant beauty. In 1540, Henry VIII ordered the shrine demolished. From that rubble, the ruby mysteriously appeared in the king’s Royal Treasury. A rare document describes the event, the “Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton and a strong military guard, arrived at Canterbury to carry out the work of sacrilege. The spoil of jewels and gold of the shrine were carried off in two coffers on the shoulders of eight men, while twenty-six carts were employed to remove the accumulated offerings to God and St. Thomas, and the noted Regale of France was mounted in Henry’s thumb ring (Wall, 1905).”
At Henry VIII’s death in 1547, an inventory of his property was taken, and the Regale doesn’t appear in that document. Edward VI, just like his father, was very fond of jewels and would likely inherit it, but there are no records of it during his reign. The precious ruby quietly disappears from history, forever. Today its whereabouts are unknown.
|Figure 3. Formal portrait Edward VI (1537-1553) in his early teens. Edward was King of England from 1547 until his death at the age of 15. He is the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Image public domain.|
Since the Regale became widely known in 1179, it has been coveted by many people. It was last seen being worn by the Henry VIII of England. Since then the march of time has continued on and years have become centuries—cloaking the ruby with the dark veil of the past. The ultimate fate of Henry’s favorite gem remains unknown.
BBC - A History of the World - About: Transcripts - Episode 66 - Holy Thorn Reliquary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/transcripts/episode66/
Notes and Queries, Jul-Dec 1863. Mocavo, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.
State Papers (ed. 1830), Part II, p. 583. Polydore Vergil, Relation (Camden Society, 30).