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The Man with the Golden Spoon

My second post celebrating the Coronation of King Charles III, about the intriguing history of the Coronation Spoon, was originally written for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

When we watch the Coronation of King Charles III, we’ll have a rare chance to see the Crown Jewels being put to practical use, rather than being ogled by tourists in the Tower of London. The Crown Jewels play a crucial and symbolic role in the thousand-year-old ceremony.

Unfortunately, the ones we shall see on 6th May are not quite that old, because on the abolition of the monarchy at the end of the English Civil War in 1649, Oliver Cromwell had the original Crown Jewels destroyed.

Ironically, he sent them to the Tower of London for this purpose. Only after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 would the Tower of London serve to keep the Crown Jewels safe.

A modern republican might view Cromwell’s action as entirely justified. It certainly sounds in keeping with 21st-century environmental principles to make the most of the earth’s resources: reduce – reuse – recycle.

  • Reduce? Well, he had just beheaded Charles I.
  • Reuse? He could skip that stage, assuming the monarchy had gone for ever.
  • Recycle? Yes, that would do nicely. Thus he had the gemstones removed and sold, and the gold melted and reformed into coins stamped ‘Commonwealth of England’.  Talk about adding insult to injury.
photo of gold Commonwealth coins
Perhaps these Commonwealth Coins had a previous incarnation as part of the original Crown Jewels? (Photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. – Creative Commons)

Only one item from the original royal regalia survived unscathed: the golden Coronation Spoon. Although it may sound humble, it’s the most ancient, dating back to the twelfth century, and the most sacred, being used to anoint the sovereign with holy oil.

How did the spoon survive Cromwell’s otherwise comprehensive desecration of the Crown Jewels?

Clement Kynnersley, a court official who had cared for the late King’s wardrobe, had the remarkable foresight to buy it for sixteen shillings. The equivalent of 11 days labour for a skilled craftsman in those days, this must have seemed a lot to pay for a single piece of cutlery. But it was more affordable than a crown, orb or sceptre, and easier to conceal.

In short, it was a compact entry-level investment in royal regalia.

Perhaps Kynnersley was less optimistic than Cromwell about his future and saw the spoon as the ticket back to his old job if the Commonwealth crowd lost favour.

In any case, he didn’t melt the spoon down to make gold coins, but preserved it intact. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he presented the spoon to the new King Charles II, who promptly gave him a job at court. Mission accomplished?

I’m rather taken with the pragmatic Clement Kynnersley, who puts me in mind of the character in the old folk song, The Vicar of Bray.  I just hope that during the Interregnum he didn’t use his golden spoon to stir his tea or eat his breakfast boiled egg.

God Save the King’s Spoon!

musci and lyrics for first verse of The Vicar of Bray


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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