Belgian woodcarver discovers stolen English coat of arms

Outstanding detective work by Belgian woodcarver Patrick Damiaens led to a valuable carving being reunited with its home in England decades after being lost.

I have blogged about Patrick Damiaens, the talented Belgian heraldic and ornamental woodcarver, before, in this post. When he contacted me recently about some outstanding detective work he had done – following in the footsteps of famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot – I knew this would make a fascinating post.

Every year, Patrick visits the Antica art and antiques fair in Namur. On a stand of a Flemish art dealer, his attention was caught by a magnificent 80 cm-high alabaster carving of a coat of arms. It was exhibited on a pedestal and was described as being of German-Austrian origin from the mid-16th century.

The alabaster carving, including the coat of arms, discovered by Patrick Damiaens in an art fair in Namur, Belgium

As heraldry is a great interest of Patrick’s, he studied it closely and remarked to the art dealer that he thought the piece was more likely to be English rather than German. He got the art dealer’s approval to take some photographs of the item to do some research on it.

Hercule Poirot tapped his forehead: “These little grey cells. It is ‘up to them.’” (Agatha Christie)

Back home, Patrick put on his Hercule Poirot hat, opened his computer, got out his books and magazines, and contacted a friend in England, Richard Lichten, who was also a heraldry enthusiast. His friend suggested that the coat of arms displayed the crest of the English family Throckmorton. However, the Throckmortons of England are an extensive family covering many years, so more detective work was necessary.

Patrick could tell by the style of the shield, the ornamentation and layout that it dated back to the 16th century. A key discovery was a martlet in the shield. This is a stylized depiction of a bird like a swallow. In heraldry, a martlet indicates the fourth son. Combined with the date, this narrowed down the coat of arms to that of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (1515/1516 – 1571).

Arise Sir Nicholas!

Patrick was shocked to discover that it was Sir Nicholas’ coat of arms, as he was a prominent English diplomat and politician. The fourth of eight children of Sir George Throckmorton of Coughton Court, Sir Nicholas was a close advisor to Elizabeth I, played an important role in the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, and between 1559 and 1564 was Ambassador to France.

However, in 1569, Throckmorton was suspected of involvement in the conspiracy against the Duke of Norfolk and was locked up in Windsor Castle. Although he was not brought to trial, he never regained the  trust of Queen Elizabeth I, and died in 1571.

If that had been the end of the story, Patrick had already made an important discovery, but there was a question that needed answering …

How did the coat of arms end up in Belgium?

In his research, Patrick found out that Sir Nicholas Throckmorton had been buried in St Katharine Cree church in London. In his memory, a monument was erected in the church. Patrick discovered a 1793 engraving that showed the Throckmorton monument in its complete state, including the coat of arms.

An engraving of the monument to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton clearly shows the alabaster carving in pride of place

However, later photographs showed the monument without the Throckmorton coat of arms! This is clearly the situation now:

The Throckmorton monument in St Katherine Cree church in Leadenhall Street, in the City of London, but the alabaster carving is missing (photo courtesy of Phil Manning)

Patrick contacted the supervisor of St Katharine Cree church in London who confirmed that the Throckmorton coat of arms had disappeared from the monument some time after 1929, possibly during the Second World War to protect it from bomb damage, or shortly afterwards. He said that the piece of artwork could never legally have left the church because there was never a transfer deed. The most logical reason therefore was that it was looted art!

Home at last!

Patrick contacted a specialist at Christie’s London, who was impressed with Patrick’s research work and agreed that the coat of arms in Namur was the missing piece from the Throckmorton monument.

A legal process was then put into action involving the art buyer in Brussels and a lawyer from Art Recovery International, which specializes in the recovery of stolen, missing and disputed cultural property. Despite facing a financial loss, the art dealer agreed to return the piece to St Katharine Cree church.

The story was picked up by British newspaper The Guardian, although for some strange reason, Patrick’s detective work was relegated almost to the end of the article.

Well done Patrick!

I hope that this blog post rightly puts the focus back on Patrick.

Without his initial discovery, his inquisitive mind, his painstaking research and his enthusiasm for the subject, this magnificent carving might never have been restored to its rightful position.

Patrick with a coat of arms that he has carved himself

35 comments on “Belgian woodcarver discovers stolen English coat of arms

  1. Thank Denzil, love your blog entry. All the effort you have made and that the reader will find the subject interesting. Thanks again. P 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a fascinating story! And, credit where credit is due. Who needs fiction, when there is intriguing non-fiction everywhere. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely Leen. And Poirot is also a real character too. (He is, isn’t he?)


  4. Fascinating story of discovery, research and recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. great story and post. Patrick – congratulations on your excellent sleuthing. In the coat of arms you carved in the picture above – can you tell us a little bit about it? Why Thistles? Thank you both for an excellent story.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. nice piece of work indeed

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice and interesting post 🙂 ! Bye. Kamila

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That was very interesting too read, I have learnt a lot of things I didn’t know !!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What an interesting piece of detective work. I feel a little sorry for the art dealer but it was nice to hear he was happy to return the coat of arms to its original home.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have to admit, you had me at Poirot–but Patrick stole the show 🙂 Uber impressive…thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That is an inspiring account of what can be achieved when someone has the passion, interest and persistence to resolve something. It seems there was a little synchronicity in the mix too, so the outcome was meant to be. It’s a shame the Guardian article altered the slant of the story, doubtless the reporter was angling it for his own purposes. Let’s hope the piece remains safely in its rightful place for posterity,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely right Theresa. I am hoping to add a postscript covering a possible ceremony to mark the return of the missing piece. So watch this space!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is so cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is brilliant! What fantastic work by Patrick, and to you too Denzil for writing it all up so wonderfully.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Interesting story! Thanks for sharing it with all of us! “_

    Liked by 1 person

  15. lilhiddentreasures

    Wow! There is so much history in this post! Great work to both of you in investigating the truth on Sir Nicholas’ Coat of Arms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked it Lilian. Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for your invitation to join your Share your Blog on Pinterest and for following me. I’m a Pinterest newbie so any help is greatly appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent job at solving the mystery, Patrick! And awesome job telling the story, Denzil – I especially appreciate the nod to Poirot, because you’ve reminded me it’s been far too long since I’ve read any Christie stories. Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you Denzil for the really nice article and the nice compliments from the blog readers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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