Buckingham Palace has been forced to concede that what it believed was a replica of a rare Benin bronze head, given to the Queen 30 years ago as a diplomatic gift, is, in fact, the genuine article “liberated” from Nigeria’s main museum in strange circumstances. When General Yakubu Gowon, President of Nigeria, made a state visit to Britain in 1973 his officials told the Palace that he intended to present the Queen with a modern copy of one of the country’s famous Benin antiquities. But, according to an investigation by the Art Newspaper, a specialist British publication, Gen Gowon, in fact, removed a genuine bronze head, about 12in high and dated around 1600, from the National Museum in Lagos as his gift.
Anxious to thank Britain for its support during the Biafran war, Gen Gowon initially asked one of his regional military governors to commission a replica bronze.
But he was disappointed with the result.
Professor John Picton, a British expert who was deputy director of the antiquities department at Lagos museum in the 1970s, said that Gen Gowon telephoned Ekpo Eyo, head of the department, on a Saturday to say that he was coming round that morning to choose a gift for the Queen. “Dr Eyo hurried to the museum and managed to remove a few of the finest and unique items and put them in the store,” Prof Picton, who now works at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, says in this month’s edition of the Art Newspaper.
“General Gowon soon arrived. He looked around and took one of the bronzes from the display.
“Dr Eyo was horrified because it was quite improper for the state to be raiding the museum. Dr Eyo also realised that it would weaken Nigeria’s position in the debate over the repatriation of the Benin bronzes.” Prof Picton also said that the gift made a mockery of Nigeria’s export regulations since a licence would never have been granted by the antiquities department for such an important item.
The provenance of the Queen’s gift came to light when an expert from the Art Newspaper recently saw the head displayed in a new exhibition at Buckingham Palace of state gifts given to the Queen during her reign. Believing that the head was not a copy he called in Prof Picton and Dr Nigel Barley, another expert from the British Museum, with Buckingham Palace’s approval.
Both confirmed it as authentic, dating it to around 1600 and identifying it as a piece that would have stood on an altar in the palace of the Oba (king) of Benin for about 300 years.
By a strange twist, the head was probably in this country before. In 1897, a British Punitive Expedition looted the Oba’s palace and many bronzes found their way back to this country.
In the 1950s, some of the bronzes were returned to help set up the National Museum in Lagos. Nigeria was still a colony and it was the Colonial Office in London that bought bronzes on the open market in this country. Nigeria is pressing for further bronzes, including some in the British Museum, to be returned. The Art Newspaper says that the case for restitution will be weakened by the discovery of the true nature of the former president’s gift.
Frances Dunkels of the Royal Collection described the head yesterday as “very beautiful” and said that she accepted the experts’ finding. She said that there were no plans to return it to Lagos and that there had been no overtures from the Nigerian authorities.
She said: “At the time it was presented to us as a modern copy and there was no reason to doubt that. It was a state gift.”
Pressed on whether there was a moral obligation to hand it back, she said: “I don’t think that one can form an opinion.” (The Guardian)
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When she’s not serving as the mother of her country, the Queen loves driving, often taking her family for spins in her Range Rover. And on Sunday, the 91-year-old great-grandmother was spotted in her green Jaguar, taking a spin after attending church services in Windsor.
The Internet deemed the photo instantly iconic.
The Queen may be a noted car aficionado, but her solo outings may become more frequent. Last Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced that her husband, Prince Phillip, 95, will no longer carry out his public role starting this fall, though the Queen will continue to attend her full program of official engagements.
Elizabeth first learned how to drive during WWII, serving as a mechanic for the U.K’s Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, and she is the only person in the country who doesn’t legally need a license or official plates behind the wheel. (USA TODAY)
“In what is described as a ‘big shift’ in Prince William’s approach to his royal role, the duke will leave his job with the East Anglian Air Ambulance this summer,” The Times reported on Sunday. William will reportedly end his career as an air-ambulance helicopter pilot based in Norfolk, and he and his family will officially call Kensington Palace their home. Prince George and Princess Charlotte will attend school in London following the move from Anmer Hall.
Fans of The Crown know that William’s grandfather, Prince Philip, faced a similar decision after his wife became Queen Elizabeth II. After they were first married, Philip served in the Royal Navy. As King George VI’s health became progressively worse, however, Philip was forced to take an open-ended leave from the Navy. His career officially ended when the king died, and Elizabeth ascended the throne. Philip became the Queen’s consort, and he looked for other ways to fill his time.
He took over management of the royal estates, helped plan Elizabeth’s coronation, and embarked on what would become the patronage of more than 800 charities in the following decades. He also took up flying, reportedly hoping to receive his pilot’s license faster than anyone else in history. Philip’s aviation-related aspirations rankled the government. He was forced to curtail riskier in-air behaviors, which frustrated Philip. Although he continued to pilot planes, his situation mirrors William’s in that they both had to remain grounded when it came to putting their royal duties first.
Now, just like his grandfather, William is reportedly stepping away from risky piloting. He’s also said to be increasing his royal duties, albeit remaining in the background to let his father Prince Charles, the heir-apparent to the throne, take a leading role. “William is believed to be acutely conscious that his emergence as a full-time royal should not overshadow his father’s role as heir to the throne,” The Timeswrites. While William likely always knew a time would come when he would have to shift his focus from being an air-ambulance pilot to a full-time royal, he is reportedly saddened at leaving his career behind.
“I know he has really loved living in Norfolk and being just one of the lads at work. He loves the banter,” a friend reportedly told The Times. Another royal source told the outlet, “He will really miss the flying. He does love it.” (Vanity Fair)
“Bloody hell, Your Majesty, I nearly shot you,” he blurted out.
“That’s quite all right,” the queen apparently replied. “Next time I’ll ring through beforehand so you don’t have to shoot me.”
It seems the queen was evidently a good deal more gracious than her son Andrew, who, in 2013, was also mistaken for an intruder and confronted by armed police as he walked in the vast gardens.
The Sunday Express, which broke that story, claimed in its report of the incident that the police pulled out their guns and ordered the prince to “put your hands up and get on the ground.”
The palace source quoted by the Express added: “From what we’ve all heard, the duke was absolutely livid and tore them off a strip.”
Andrew said: “The police have a difficult job to do balancing security for the royal family and deterring intruders, and sometimes they get it wrong. I am grateful for their apology and look forward to a safe walk in the garden in the future.”
Gurads were on red alert at the time, as just 48 hours before, in the most embarrassing security breach since a homeless drifter named Michael Fagan broke in to the queen’s bedroom and engaged her in a 40-minute midnight chat in 1982, an optimistic thief had been arrested in one of the Buckingham Palace state rooms, the vast and opulently furnished formal reception rooms that are open to the paying public during August and September. (The Daily Beast)