Northern Ireland

King William of Orange stirrups fail to meet reserve

King William of Orange with Mary II Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption King William of Orange with his wife, Mary II

A pair of riding stirrups once worn by King William of Orange have failed to kick up a storm at auction in London.

They were worn by King William III - King Billy - at the Battle of the Boyne of 1690.

As Orangemen prepare for their annual Twelfth of July celebration of that victory over Catholic King James II, the sale looked to have perfect timing.

However, the lot - auctioned at Christie's on Thursday - failed to meet the reserve price of £40,000-£60,000.

Speaking ahead of the auction, historian Dr David Hume said the stirrups are "a very significant artefact", and that a potential buyer approached him for his opinion ahead of the auction.

"It's not often items like this come on the market," he said.

But he added that the success of the auction depended on who was interested, as the estimated price seemed "quite high for a pair of stirrups".

And this prediction proved correct - although, while the reserve price was not met, the auction house said there had been interest.

Serious action

Dr Hume said King William was in the "thick of the battle" at the Boyne, adding: "His horse got stuck in the mud."

No doubt the stirrups came in useful.

The 17th century riding stirrups and William's saddle cloth from the battle were so revered by some in Ulster that, when they were set on a horse and taken on procession, the crowds had to be held back as they rushed forward to kiss or touch them, Lt Col William Black noted, writing in the 1800s.

The stirrups have impeccable provenance. After the battle, the king gifted them, a pair of his gloves and a saddle cloth to Sir Frederick Hamilton, his aide-de-camp.

Image copyright Christie's
Image caption No other 17th century stirrups with a royal association are known to survive

These were passed on to the Cary and Beresford families, then to the Blacker families and, in 1881, the cloth and gloves were given to the Orange Order of Ireland.

They have a double connection to royalty and that has enhanced their value.

They originally belonged to William III's grandfather, Charles I, and are marked with his crowned CR cypher and the date 1626.

Image caption A pair of inky creased gauntlets worn by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne

Christie's said William's use of his grandfather, Charles I's horse furniture was "most symbolic". William had been born and raised in Holland and invited to take the British throne by British Protestants deposing his Catholic father-in-law James II.

"It is possible that the cypher was added at this moment. It is believed that no other pairs of seventeenth century stirrups with a royal association are known to survive," said Christie's.

It's understood that the horse furniture was inherited by the Blacker family of Carrickblacker, Armagh. Lt Col Blacker was involved in the formation of the Orange Order of Ireland and became the first Grand Master of the Orange Order in Armagh in 1797.

In a manuscript, Lt Col William Blacker describes seeing a procession featuring the horse belonging to his father decked out in the stirrups and embroidered saddle cloth.

Image caption King Billy features on many of the Orange banners paraded through the streets by Orangemen on the Twelfth

"He was attended by 12 of the finest looking men in the county, all 6ft (1.8m) high and uniformly dressed," he writes.

"Two of them led the horse while the others kept off the traffic, which was no easy matter, when there was a multitude, particularly of old people, both men and women, who strove to kiss or touch the relics as they passed along."

Following Lt. Col. Blacker's death in 1855, his nephew Major Stewart Blacker placed the saddle cloth, gloves and stirrups with the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for safe keeping.

Prior to Major Blacker's death in 1881 the saddle cloth and gloves were gifted to the Orange Order of Ireland and are held in the collections of the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast while the stirrups were retained by the family.

The stirrups were offered for sale by an unnamed vendor.

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