Stirrups of Orangemen’s hero King Billy in London sale

Just in time for ‘The Twelfth’ comes a collectible memento of the Battle of the Boyne

The most mundane items can, by chance, become extremely valuable if they acquire the magic of provenance. A pair of 17th-century riding stirrups, in Christie’s “Exceptional” sale in London on Thursday doesn’t sound like the most exciting lot.

But this isn’t just any old piece of equestrian kit as the top estimate – a cool £60,000 – confirms. The reasons? Impeccable provenance, association with royalty and link to a major historical event. And there’s a very powerful Irish connection.

After the battle, King William gifted his horse furniture including the stirrups, a pair of gloves and an embroidered saddle cloth to his aide-de-camp

The stirrups were used by William III ("King Billy") in the Battle of the Boyne when he defeated the forces of the Catholic King James II and launched the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. The event is, of course, still commemorated annually on July 12th – Orangemen's Day in Northern Ireland.

After the battle, King William gifted his horse furniture including the stirrups, a pair of gloves and an embroidered saddle cloth to his aide-de-camp, Sir Frederick Hamilton. These mementos were passed down through generations of aristocratic families. In 1881, the saddle cloth and gloves were presented to the Orange Order of Ireland and are held in the collections of the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast but the stirrups remained in private ownership.

Now they are being offered for sale by an unnamed vendor. The stirrups made of copper-alloy and their value is further enhanced by a double royal connection. They were originally made for William III's grandfather, Charles I, and are marked with his crowned "CR" cypher and the date "1626".

‘Symbolic gesture’

According to Christie’s: “William’s use of accoutrements belonging to his grandfather, Charles I, such as these stirrups, was a symbolic gesture – he had been born and raised in Holland, and invited to take the British throne by influential British Protestants, deposing his Catholic father-in-law James II in the process. It is believed that no other pairs of 17th-century stirrups with a royal association are known to survive” – hence the estimate of £40,000-£60,000.

The stirrups can be seen in a painting of The Battle of the Boyne by the "Golden Age" Dutch artist Jan van Huchtenburg

By an extraordinary coincidence, the stirrups can be seen in a painting of The Battle of the Boyne by the "Golden Age" Dutch artist Jan van Huchtenburg (1647-1733) which was the star lot in Dublin's Gorry Gallery summer exhibition which ended this week. Gallery owner James Gorry said the painting was one of two of the battle by the artist – the other is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. He said the painting had now been sold for an undisclosed sum to a private buyer.