Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Treasure trove, at home and abroad

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To search as for hid treasures” is an expression which loses much of its strong significance when it falls on English ears. It is so long since invasion or oppression rendered hiding in the earth necessary, that the idea of such concealed wealth or of earnest search for it has died out amongst us.

Very recently, however, a treasure trove has occurred even in our long-tilled, tunnel-burrowed England. A month or two ago, a labourer, ploughing at Mountfield, in Sussex, raised to the surface a chain of golden links a yard long, attached to each end of which was a horn or “trumpet,” as he called it, of the same precious metal. The peasant showed it to his master, who gave no directions about it, only observing that he did not know what it was; and Butcher retained his trouvaille. A neighbour, called Silas Thomas, examined it, and as when cleaned and polished it shone brightly, he took it for brass, and offered sixpence a pound to the finder for it. This offer William Butcher accepted, selling 11 lbs. of solid gold, worth 550l., for 5s. 6d.

Silas Thomas carried the chain to Hastings, and showed it to his brother-in-law, Stephen Willett, a cab driver, who, having been a gold digger in California, at once recognised the value of the prize, and purchased it of his kinsman. He then sold the gold to Messrs. Brown and Wingrove, of Cheapside, for 529l, and invested 300l. of the money in a Hastings bank.

But the fact of his possessing so much money, and the amount of ready cash exhibited by himself and his brother-in-law, roused suspicion.

Another piece of the metal which Butcher had found was shown to a blacksmith, who, testing it with aqua fortis, found it was gold. The affair was talked of; and finally Mr. Egerton, the Lord of the Manor, where the trouvaille was made, communicated the circumstance to the Treasury.

Inquiries were instantly instituted. The notes paid into the Hastings bank were traced back, and found to have been received by Willett, from Messrs. Glyn’s bank, in payment of a cheque given by the gold dealers. Thus the secret of Willett’s sudden wealth was discovered, and the buried treasure traced.

By an old law of Edward I.’s reign, treasure trove becomes the property of the Crown, if, after an inquest held on it, no owner is found in existence. The coroner of the Rape of Hastings was consequently called on to inquire touching this long-buried treasure, and he pronounced it the property of the Queen.

We are not told whether the chain and horns have escaped the melting-pot or not. It is to be feared, however, that they have not; as mention is made of “three bars of the gold, which have been preserved and examined by several eminent antiquaries, by whom it is believed the treasure has lain hidden in the field for 2000 years.”

It was, it appears, a Druidical ornament. Probably part of the sacerdotal habiliments on festival days. With those golden horns the high priest of the Britons may have called them to the solemn gathering of the mistletoe, or to the awful human sacrifice by which they would have averted the invasion that caused the final hiding of the golden chain and its appendages. What a loss for our Museum! Ulterior proceedings are, we understand, to be taken against Willett for his fraudulent conduct.

But whilst we blame this man, who could grow rich by imposing on an ignorant neighbour, we can scarcely wonder that the concealment of valuable treasure trove should be common.

It is difficult to make the peasantry comprehend manorial rights. A man who finds a treasure in his own ground, and that treasure, one which can have no living owner, naturally looks on himself as its rightful possessor. He has probably never heard of King Edward’s law, and a natural sense of justice does not guide him rightly in the matter.

If a liberal reward were given—nearly the metal value of the trouvaille—it is quite possible that we might have become possessed of many precious relics which now are broken up and consigned to the melting-pot.

A circumstance tending to prove this occurred while the Danish antiquary, Professor Worsoae, was in Edinburgh, some few years ago. A man came to him, and with much secresy offered him a splendid armlet, a massive serpent coil of great value, which he said he had found in his own field, and which he wished to sell privately, as otherwise it would be taken from him. The Professor declined the purchase under such circumstances, though the bracelet was proffered at half its real value; but he gave information of the discovery to his antiquarian friends in Edinburgh, and every effort was made instantly to trace the man and his precious trouvaille, but in vain. He could not be found, and the bracelet probably was melted down almost before the search for him commenced.

In Denmark, a wise and liberal policy with regard to treasure trove is securing to Copenhagen a museum of national relics such as no other nation possesses.

A peasant finding any antiquities on his land, receives the full value for his prize. In consequence of this wise arrangement, every year adds to the treasures of the Danish Museum.

Denmark is, indeed, singularly rich in “hid treasures.” In her Museum are to be found the relics of the “age of stone,” mentioned by Sir C. Lyell. And golden hair-pins, needles, and stilettos of the same precious metal, once used by the fair “Sea- kings’ daughters” of former ages, attest the honesty of her peasantry and the success of her liberal law. With these are also preserved some golden war trumpets of the old Scandinavians, of rare value and beauty. Perhaps our Mountfield horns might have proved of the same age and fashion if they could have been compared with each other.

The largest and most perfect horn yet discovered was found near Tonder, in Slesvig, in 1639,[1] by a young Danish peasant, called Katherina. As she was returning home one evening she saw something sticking up from the ground, but passed it without examining it. Some days later her foot struck against the same object, and she determined to pull it up and see what it was. By dint of great exertion she succeeded, took it home, carefully washed it, and rubbed it free from mud, and was laughed at as wasting her labour on a brass horn! But Katherina liked her found treasure, and believed in it, and took one of the rings which hung from it to a goldsmith in the village, who declared it to be gold.

The discovery was noised abroad, and at length reached the ears of the king (Christian IV.), then on a visit to his son, the Crown Prince, at Glückstadt. He purchased the horn of the girl, and presented it to the prince. It weighed seven pounds, and was worth about 450l.

In the year 1737, near the same place, a peasant, named Erik Lauritzen, found another gold horn. He presented it to Count Schack, the owner of the land, who gave it to Christian VI. The king sent the peasant 25l. The value of the horn was 500l. The peasant was so delighted that he wrote twice to thank the king for his liberality.

These horns were drinking-cups. One of them contained three pots and a-half of wine; a cup worthy of Thor himself! Their story is not yet finished.

In 1802 they were stolen by a jeweller named Heidenreich, and were melted down before their loss was discovered. The robber was imprisoned for life, and that life lasted eighty weary years!

But the great treasure trove of the present century was that made in Spain in 1859.

Romance and tradition have always associated the idea of hidden treasure with the name of Andalusia. Everybody knows that if one could but find the lost key of the hall of the Abencerages in the Alhambra, one would be able to discover the Moorish treasure hidden in its vaults and gardens (for the key is as communicative as Blue Beard’s!); and the discoveries of four years ago appear to confirm romance and tradition in their assertions.

For, behold, a peasant digging a wild, uncultivated spot near La Fuenta de Guazzazar, discovered there eight golden crowns enriched with gems of rare value! Attached to four of them were massive jewelled crosses of gold, which, with two inscriptions of a very singular and elegant character, are supposed to prove that they were offerings made by a Gothic king to the church, for pendant from the largest crown, by small separate chains, are letters of gold forming these words:

Reccesvinthus. Rex. Offeret.

Now Reccesvinthus was king of the Visigoths in 653; he is described in the chronicle of the Archbishop of Toledo as a devout Catholic, and one who

“Altaria Christi ornamentis variis decorabat.”

Thus we easily ascertain the date and destination of these crowns. Were they a thanksgiving for some household mercy vouchsafed to the family, or only a united offering of devout worshippers? for strangely enough, they consist of a king’s crown, a queen’s, and six small ones of varied size, belonging evidently to children.

Very splendid was the gift. The largest crown is twenty-seven inches in circumference—a hoop of massive gold plates soldered together, the margin of Cloisonée work with incrustations of cornelian. It is enriched with thirty Oriental sapphires of large size, en cabochon, and set in collets, giving to the gems a very prominent relief. Thirty very large Oriental pearls alternate with the sapphires; the intervening spaces are pierced in open work, and engraved to represent foliage and flowers.

But the chief beauty of this remarkable crown is the fringe of jewelled letters, which, as we have already said, records the offering it by the king. Four golden chains attached to the upper margin (united by an elegant foliated ornament enriched with pendent pearls and emeralds, and surmounted by a knob of rock crystal elaborately carved and polished) served doubtless to hang it up in the church.

Within the crown, suspended by a long slender chain, is a Latin cross, which hangs a little lower than the letter-fringe. It is set with six fine sapphires and eight pearls in very high relief; jewelled pendents are attached to the arms and foot of the cross, and on its reverse side is the acus, by which it might be attached, when worn as a fibulæ, to the royal robes.

Our lady-readers might like to know what sort of crown the Visigoth queen wore. It is a broad circlet set with fifty-four rubies, sapphires, emeralds and opals. A fringe of eight pendent sapphires rested on her brow, and there are little loops within the edges for attaching to it a cap or lining, so that the heavy gold might not chafe her delicate forehead. This crown has also a cross within it, but less costly than the king’s.

The children’s crowns are small circlets of open gold-work; three horizontal little hoops, traversed by numerous upright lines with gems and mother- of-pearl at the points of intersection. Indeed, mother-of-pearl, probably then of great value, is used profusely for the children’s crowns, and has lasted admirably during its long entombment, being still brilliant. Some mock stones placed in the smaller crowns are defaced and spoiled, perishing, as everything false must, under the hand of Time.

In the days of the Eastern emperors the children “born in the purple” were permitted to wear the royal insignia, and the fashion of Constantinople appears to have been followed by the Visigoth monarchs; who were the more likely to imitate the Byzantine mode at this time, from the fact that they had only worn crowns for sixty years when Reccesvinthus succeeded to the kingdom—Lewvigildus being the first Gothic king of Spain who possessed a royal diadem, and he reigned in 586; Reccesvinthus in 653, about forty years before Roderick, “the last of the Goths.”

Our readers are well aware that it was in the reign of the latter monarch that the Saracens invaded Spain. Doubtless it was to preserve these costly offerings from the Moors that the monks concealed them in the earth, from which they were never able to reclaim them, and where they have remained a thousand years, untouched and hidden in the ill-cultured soil of Spain.

The proprietor of the land on which they were found carried them to Paris, and sold them to the French Minister of Public Instruction, for the national collection at the Hôtel de Cluny, for the sum of 4000l. The discovery and sale, however, reached the ears of the Spanish Government, which at once claimed them as inalienable heirlooms of the Spanish crown. Whether that claim has been allowed or not, we know not. The war between France, Italy, and Austria broke out shortly after, and in the stirring events of the present, these mementoes of a long faded past have been forgotten.

There must have been a tale attached to such an offering; could we know it, we might feel a strong human interest, perchance, in this shadowy old Gothic king, whose very name was forgotten till the discovery of these offerings of his piety restored it to the lips of men.

One cannot help wishing that so interesting a relic of her past may be restored to Spain.

The earth has always been the hiding-place for treasure during periods of long and successful invasion, and it is in countries which have suffered most from foreign foes that we find the belief in “hid treasures” most prevalent.

In Hungary, the invasion of the Huns (those Ogres of the nursery) produced an amount of treasure-hiding which to this day is not forgotten; and a set of men who pass their lives in the mountains in a vain but fascinating pursuit of buried gold are still called “treasure-seekers.”

In the East, the same impression prevails, and there, probably, it is well grounded. We have ourselves heard of a recent case of treasure-hiding which may one day come to light when Greece is again an empire, and her soil worked by her sons,—if such a dream be not too wild!

A Greek lady told us that her husband’s brother, who was one of the leaders in the Greek struggle for liberty in 1828 or 1830, being “hunted on the mountains by the Moslem foe,” committed to the sure keeping of Mount Athos the gold and gems which formed the sole remaining heritage of their house.

He had of course intended to communicate the secret of its place of concealment to his brother, but he was unhappily slain in some obscure guerilla conflict before they met again.

A letter left behind him informed the survivor that Mount Athos was their banker, but did not in the slightest degree enter into particulars as to the absolute spot in which the gold and jewels were buried. Probably the Greek chief had a higher opinion of the patriotism of his followers than of their honesty, for he confided the secret to no one. When Greece was tranquillised, the family had a strict search made on every spot where Odysseus had been known to rest or wander, but in vain—to this day Mount Athos keeps the secret of the hid treasure. We have been told that amongst those which remain undiscovered, are the crown and regalia of Poland, buried at the time of the infamous partition of the country—as the statue of Charles I. at Charing Cross was in the days of England’s troubles.

We conclude by an earnest hope that the time is coming when its hiding-place may safely be revealed, and Poland, free and victorious, may rejoice in her royal treasure-trove.

  1. See “Jutland and the Isles,” by H. Marryat.