The remnants of the flag flown from the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar sold at Sotheby's for £297,000 on Wednesday, trebling the original estimate.
On Wednesday 17 January, Sotheby’s sold over 250 royal and aristocratic heirlooms, among which were 79 items which either belonged or related to Lord Horatio Nelson, the greatest naval hero in British history.
The pick of items – and the one carrying the highest estimate, at £80,000-£100,000 – was a large remnant of the Union Jack which flew from the HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar, they key encounter which effectively ended Napoleon’s hopes of winning dominance over Britain at sea.
But a frenzied bidding war between four would-be buyers drove this unique historical artefact up to £297,000.
Nelson was killed during the battle – shot by a French musketeer – with his body being preserved in a barrel of brandy for return to Britain, where a hero’s funeral awaited. And it seems that the flag from HMS Victory that day was also saved, or at least the fragment from the top left corner which was for sale on Wednesday.
Also in the auction was Nelson’s personal grog chest, including a set of fine decanters, which sold for £68,750 – almost double the estimate of £35-£45,000).
Several more items related to Emma, Lady Hamilton, with whom he had an open affair lasting form 1798 until his death. The highest price recorded was by a portrait of Nelson’s muse by the great Irish neo-classicist Gavin Hamilton, which once hung in her husband’s salon in Naples. Painted circa 1786, this sumptuous portrait realised £369,000 – almost double the £150-200,000 estimate.
Beyond the Nelson-related objects Sotheby’s had a number of other items in the sale described as, “furniture, paintings, decorative arts and precious objects having belonged to important European dynasties and historical figures, including the Duchesse du Berry, the House of Bourbon and a number of German princely families.”
A replica set of the Crown Jewels was one of the items for sale – a set re-created in 1953 by Robert White & Sons, based in Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden to mark the Queen’s coronation. Several such sets were made and put on display around the country.
João Magalhães, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Continental Furniture, said that the ‘Of Royal and Noble’ sale had been four years in the making, and describing it as, “an unmissable event for art lovers looking equally for fantastic property with great provenance and whimsical objects with a great story to tell.”