The 1835 Royal Yacht Squadron’s King’s Cup

13th June 2022

We are fortunate enough to have many items in our current collection with connections to royalty.  We also have a large number of important items of maritime interest.  One piece in our collection combines both of these themes so perfectly that it is of exceptional importance and is a true collector’s prize.

King William IV 46 ’s cup for the Royal Yacht Squadron, 1835
King William IV 46 ’s cup for the Royal Yacht Squadron, 1835

It is a large silver gilt bowl, made by the Royal goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Co. in 1835.  As the most important silversmiths of their day, Rundells produced some magnificent pieces of silver and silver gilt which were particularly favoured by George IV.  Large numbers of very important pieces remain in the Royal Collection and other stately home collections to this day.  What makes this one so intriguing to us is that the trophy was given by William IV to the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1835 – as recorded on the reverse. Our research revealed that the trophy was in fact the King’s Cup, presented for a race that took place on the 21st of August of that year – the King’s birthday.  The story was revealed in newspaper archives.  A reference in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle from the 9th of August 1835 stated:

His Majesty presented the R.Y.S. with his customary splendid silver gilt bowl, value 100gs, manufactured by Messrs. Rundell Bridge and Co. with great taste, which will be contested for on His Majesty’s birthday, the 21st inst., and is expected to be a very interesting race, from the well-known qualities of the yachts that have entered”.

 

The race itself was indeed exciting and was won by the Irishman John Smith-Barry of Fota House in Co. Cork.  An account from the sporting magazine dated august 24th 1835 of the ‘Cowes Regatta’ enthused “The beautiful King’s cup was won by Mr Smith Barry’s Columbine beating The Corsair, The Fanny and The Albatross. The vessels that contended were from 90 to 70 tons and all were built by Mr Ratsey.  His most gracious majesty’s beautiful cup will for the first time find its way to the sister isle, and grace the sideboard of the hospitable and liberal proprietor of Cove Island in Cork Harbour”.

The Earl of Yarborough, later first commodore of the club, welcomed the Prince Regent as a member in 1817 and in 1820, when the Prince Regent became George IV, it was renamed the Royal Yacht Club.  However, William IV could be considered the first Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron as it was he who renamed the club in 1833, and he constituted himself its head.  Its association with the Royal Navy began early and Nelson’s captain at Trafalgar, Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, headed the list of naval members.  In 1829 the Admiralty issued a warrant to wear what is now the navy’s White Ensign.  

William IV earned the nickname “the sailor King” having served in the Royal Navy in the Caribbean and North America as a young man.  His passion for the sea served him well when, in 1827, he was appointed Lord High Admiral – the first time the post had been filled since 1709.  During his time in the navy, William is believed to have had a strikingly similar experience to those of humbler birth, apart from having a personal tutor with him as a very young man.  He was present at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, rose to the rank of lieutenant by 1785 and was made captain of H M S Pegasus in 1786.  So similar was his experience of naval life to that of his shipmates that he was even arrested as part of a drunken brawl in Gibraltar (though he was quickly released when his identity became clear to those prosecuting the case).

William caught the attention of no less an officer than Admiral Nelson who stated: “In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the [Naval] list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal.”  They became great friends, with William giving away the bride at Nelson’s wedding.  His naval career culminated the captaincy of H M S Andromeda in 1788 and finally the rank of rear-admiral when commanding H M S Valiant in 1789.

The Cup itself is a wonderful piece of sculptural silver, made by the highly talented silversmith William Bateman for Rundells and marked accordingly on the base.  Trophies relating to the activities of the Royal Yacht Squadron rarely appear on the open market and this is a further indication of the item’s importance.  In addition, it is a wonderful piece of Royal history of the highest quality.  It is, in short, a true masterpiece and, appropriately, will feature on our stand at the forthcoming Masterpiece Fair.  We look forward to seeing you there and sharing this and our other exceptional pieces with you then.

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