When antique dealer Paul Fitzsimmons bought an ornate wooden bird from an auction for £75 ($101) in 2019, he knew that it must have been associated with a member of the royal family – but he just didn’t know who.
So he put on his detective goggles, eventually coming to the conclusion that its original owner was Anne Boleyn – the Tudor queen who was beheaded by Henry VIII of England. Now, the rare artifact is believed to be worth around £200,000 ($269,900).
Fitzsimmons, from Devon, in southwest, England, is now planning to gift the 16th century falcon to Hampton Court Palace – where the wooden bird would have likely adorned Boleyn’s private quarters – on a long-term loan. He said he was delighted to make the discovery after matching the bird to a Hampton Court Palace drawing that depicted the same piece. An analysis of the bird against the drawing confirmed his hunch.
“It is really quite an incredible find because Anne Boleyn is probably the most famous woman of all time,” Fitzsimmons told CNN. “And Henry VIII did his utmost best to completely obliterate every trace of her. All her emblems were removed from the palace, and nothing survived,” he said, adding: “This is really quite spectacular because it is in perfect condition and it has got all its original gilding, all its original paint.”
The notorious Henry VIII famously split from the Catholic Church to divorce his first wife, Catherine, in order to marry Boleyn in 1533. The move led to the creation of a separate Church of England. But three years later, he accused Boleyn of adultery, incest and conspiracy – and ordered her death.
Fitzsimmons said that while the staggering value of the Boleyn bird is notable, the most important thing to him is making sure that it “gets back to the right location where it should be.”
“It really has to go back to Hampton Court Palace,” Fitzsimmons said of Henry VIII’s favorite residence. “It does carry a huge value. But it’s not about the value,” he added.
Historian Tracy Borman, chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages Hampton Court Palace, told CNN that she is also excited about the discovery of Boleyn’s wooden falcon.
“This discovery is hugely significant. Artifacts relating to Anne Boleyn are incredibly rare, thanks to the fact that Henry VIII wanted all traces of her removed from his palaces after her execution in 1536,” Borman said.
Borman explained that the bird is “very similar to others carved for the Great Hall at Hampton Court in preparation for Anne becoming queen and was likely part of the decorative scheme. The carving is very fine and restoration work has uncovered the beautiful gilding which suggests it was a high status item.”
She added that the bird was “likely saved by a supporter of Anne,” saying that it is “wonderful that it has survived for almost 500 years, right up to the present day.”
Borman also pointed out that the discovery is bound to excite Boleyn’s notable fanbase.
“Of all Henry’s wives, Anne Boleyn has by far the largest following so this find is likely to attract a huge amount of interest,” Borman said.
Borman’s forthcoming book “Crown & Sceptre” will offer a comprehensive history of the British monarchy. She said she is “delighted” that she found out about this surviving artifact of Boleyn’s life in time to include it in the book.