Golf club ‘will make millions’ after Wolsey statues find

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 29, 2014 11:22

Cardinal Wolsey

Wellingborough Golf Club in Northamptonshire has, like almost all golf clubs in the UK, felt the consequences of the economic downturn of the last few years, and a spokesman for the club has told the Daily Telegraph that a few million pounds would ‘secure the club’s future’.

Incredibly, at some point in the last few hundred years, the four bronze statues that were made for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey, lord chancellor to Henry VIII, found their way to the gateposts of Harrowden Hall, a country house that Wellingborough Golf Club took over in the 1970s – without anyone knowing about the statues’ history or worth.

In 1988 two of the statues were stolen and were unwittingly sold by Sotheby’s in 1994 for just £12,000, without any mention of Cardinal Wolsey.

It wasn’t until an academic saw the stolen statues and tracked them to Wellingborough that he was able to detail their history – which has led to the V&A submitting a £5 million bid for the historically significant artefacts.

David Waite, Wellingborough’s general manager, said: “They were just assumed to be a couple of lead statues. I suppose thefts like that happened all the time and we didn’t think that much of it.

“After they were stolen we moved the other two into the hall for security and that’s where they stayed until someone wandered in and suggested they might be of national significance.”

As soon as the club learned of the angels’ provenance, they were put into secure storage before being lent to the V&A for safekeeping.

“We’re not counting our chickens but it would secure the future of the golf club,” Mr Waite added.

Complex laws on art theft – including a statute of limitations on stolen pieces, whether the current dealer acquired them in the UK or abroad and whether they were acquired in good faith – mean the club cannot get the stolen angels back, but the club could make more than £2.5 million before taxes are taken into consideration.

Dr Paul Williamson, chief curator of sculpture at the V&A, said: “It is an astonishing discovery. Nobody imagined these things had survived.

“And if the two angels hadn’t been stolen, they would still be on the gateposts and nobody would know what they were (via pascal). So, in a way, ultimately they will benefit from the theft.”

“Thanks to the discovery of Wolsey’s angels, a great Englishman we have forgotten may have his monument at last,” said writer Hilary Mantel.

“The recovery of Wolsey’s angels is one of those miracles that historians pray for; something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time.

“To claim the angels for the nation would connect us to one of the liveliest eras of our history and one of its most remarkable men.”

According to the Telegraph, the angels were commissioned in 1524 from the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano as part of a magnificent, Renaissance-style tomb for Wolsey.

But Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII when he failed to secure Papal approval for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was buried without ceremony in 1530.

Henry appropriated the angels and other tomb carvings. They later passed to Elizabeth I, before being sold off to raise funds during the Civil War.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 29, 2014 11:22