The buyer of Henry Vll’s marriage bed which is a focal point for visitors to Auckland Castle can now sleep easy knowing that his bargain buy has been confirmed as a royal treasure.
Ian Coulson, a restorer of four poster beds from Northumberland, spotted the bed in a Chester auction catalogue in 2010 and, convinced it was an historic gem, snapped it up for rather less than a king’s ransom: just £2,800.
Since then his claims about the 528-year-old bed, currently on display in The Power and the Glory exhibition at the County Durham castle, have been open to debate but now expert Dr Jonathan Foyle has vouched for its history and yesterday he travelled up to the castle to give a talk on his findings.
After conducting a series of tests, the architectural historian and broadcaster agrees the four-poster is the marriage bed of Henry VII and his bride Elizabeth of York – so possibly the very one where Henry Vlll was conceived – and that makes it one of the most important pieces of royal furniture in history.
He said: “It’s a complete and utter national treasure; one of the most important single royal objects we have.”
Dr Foyle, who is chief executive of World Monuments Fund Britain, the British affiliate of the World Monuments Fund, admits he had his doubts when he was first contacted by Ian, who had discovered from auctioneers selling the bed on behalf of owners of a Chester hotel that it had been left in pieces in a car park during the hotel’s refurbishment.
“I thought it might have been a replica as there are no Tudor royal beds. I didn’t know what it was although the timber looked very ancient.”
But during his investigations, he found his every question was answered, even a seemingly impossible date carved into the wood panelling.
“I was perplexed as it has an inscription dated 1537 from the Bible and Henry Vll died in 1509. I thought that was a big problem but I found out that the inscription was done after the bed was first made.”
He made real discoveries along the way, confirmed by research he carried out into royal literature. Headboard carvings of Adam and Eve in the image of the king and queen, and also inspired by Christ and the Virgin Mary, were in keeping with the medieval idea about royal deliverance.
“A real breakthrough was finding medieval pigments and painting techniques. No faker could be that forensic.”
Under layers of Victorian varnish, from a partial 19th Century restoration, he found patches of ultramarine blue, worth more at the time than gold.
Dr Foyle, who intends to publish his findings, added: “The experience has been a real rollercoaster and a bizarre journey of discovery.”