An exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II, English, dated 1396,

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Lot 4*
An exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II,
English, dated 1396,
£ 150,000 - 200,000
US$ 190,000 - 260,000

Lot Details
An exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II, English, dated 1396, An exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II, English, dated 1396,
An exceedingly rare equal hour horary quadrant marked with the badge of King Richard II, English, dated 1396,
The limb carries a degree scale reading to 1° by numbered groups of ten, each group being sub-divided to five. Concentric with this is the doubled scale (1-8/4-12) for the curved hour lines, which occupy the rest of the surface. A transversal arc intersecting these represents the equinoxes and two further, more lightly inscribed, arcs may be the remains of an intention to engrave other of the zodiacal arcs either at the time of making of the instrument, or later. A pair of sighting pinnules is mounted on this face of the instrument between the edge and the bounding radius of the hour diagram. Between them are four small notches on the edge, apparently made deliberately, but probably later. On the face, between the edge carrying the sights and the radial line are some lightly incised divisions that do not coincide with the notches. Like these they were probably made later, perhaps to allow this side of the instrument to be used as a crude rule. A hole for the support, probably a rivet, of a plumb-line which would have carried a bead, appears in the apex of the instrument at the point of intersection of the two radii.

The limb carries a scale of the days of the month (1-31); within this are twelve concentric arcs, one for each month of the year, carrying a table of noon solar altitudes. Above this is a two ring circle containing a scale of dominical letters beginning at A/b for 1396 (a leap year), the letters for the leap-years being marked in the second, inner, ring. The centre of the circle is filled by the engraved figure of a stag lying down wearing a coronet around its throat and with a chain (a white hart lodged gorged with a gold coronet and chained). Running across this is an open scroll with the inscription Tabulae bisexti (table of leap-years). The date is inscribed on a vertical rectangle above the circle, in the apex of the instrument.

All the inscriptions and numerals on the instrument are stamped; the scales and figure of the stag are engraved. The corners of the instrument have become somewhat rounded with wear, and the obverse has some indentations and metal-tension lines. The instrument is now contained in a recent, purpose-made, velvet-lined, blue leather case. Sold with this quadrant is a coloured reproduction print of The Wilton Diptych, the original is part of the permanent collection, The National Gallery, London.

Weight: 112.4gr. Brass, radius 83mm; length of sides 88mm; thickness variable between 1.9mm and 2.2mm


  • Provenance
    Probably acquired by the great-great-grandfather of the present owner perhaps in northern England before his emigration to Australia and New Zealand, and thence by family descent.

    In order to use the instrument the date has first to be known. The user then searches for the solar altitude at noon which corresponds with that date in the scale on the obverse of the instrument. Turning it over he stretches the line carrying the plumb and bead against the corresponding value in the degree scale marked on the limb. The bead, which must fit tightly on the string, is then slid until it is positioned over the noon line. The instrument, held in the right hand, is then raised and the Sun sighted through the pinnules as if an altitude measurement were being taken. With the thumb of the left hand the line is clamped in the position that it has taken up during this operation so that, when lowered, the approximate time of day can be determined from the position of the bead among the hour lines.

    Instrument B (1396) D (1398) L1 (1399) L2 (c. 1400)
    Size 88; 88 80.6; 80.1 89.6; 89.4 89; 89
    Thickness 1.9/2.2 2.23/2.67 2.65/3.12 2.36/2.64
    Weight 112.4gr 111gr 156.7gr 132gr

    Generally, by its style and layout, particularly by the punches and solar altitude values used, this 1396 quadrant (hereafter referred to as B) may be associated with a group of three others of which two are dated: 1398 (Dorset County Museum, Dorchester = D) and 1399 (British Museum, London =L1), the other being undated but c. 1400 (British Museum, London =L2). There are particularly close similarities of the first two of these with the 1396 instrument. Analysis of the solar altitude tables on D and L1, and L2 by Ackermann & Cherry shows that D. was drawn for a location in the south of England, probably Dartington, the other two for the latitude of London and its vicinity. Since the solar altitude scale on the 1396 quadrant described here (B) is identical with that on L1 it can be presumed that it was also drawn for use in the region of London. Although there is a major difference between the two instruments in the animal depicted within the leap-year scale (a stag on B, a coney lying beneath a tree on L1), the circles containing the dominical letters are the same and the leaf decoration around them is very similar, apart from the letters 'S' and 'M' stamped at the base of the small leaves to left and right on L1. On B these are replaced by cross-hatching, and on D by blank roundels. On the obverse the important difference is that no badge is engraved to the right of the hour lines on B.
    The numeral punches used on the three instruments appear all to be derived from the same set. Particularly characteristic is the '8' with the head circle slightly larger than that of the base, and the '5' with its slightly curving ascender. The same is true of the upper and lower case letters used for the dominical letters and the month names, although the stamping of L1 is sharper and lighter than that on the other quadrants and the engraved animal on D and L1 is more firmly executed than on B, where the body of the stag seems, moreover, to be deformed. Of the four instruments B, which is the earliest, is somewhat less well executed than the others, and has some very minor differences, i.e. in the zigzag stippling used in the background and surround of the badges, and some very slight layout differences, notably that on D and L1, the tab containing the date is extended to include the head of the rivet for the the plumb-line support, whereas on B it stops beneath this. If these differences could imply that when B was made in 1396, the layout and making of the quadrants was not yet entirely standardised and stable, they do not invalidate the conclusion that all three quadrants (perhaps all four), were produced in the same workshop using a single set of punches. Quadrant B, however, could have been produced by a craftsman in that workshop different from he who made the other three.
    In their detailed study of these quadrants, Ackermann & Cherry suggest that the badges on the obverse of D and L1 (B does not have such a badge), were marks of ownership or association. D can be associated through the lopped tree badge and the hart without coronet or chain, with the half-brother of Richard II of England (1367-1399), John Holland (1355-1400), while L1 is associated, thanks to the 'white hart lodged and gorged with a coronet and chain', to Richard himself. If these badges are indeed ownership marks, then B, which has a different form of the white hart badge on the reverse, can also be associated with Richard II.

    Of the four quadrants, B (1396) is closest to D which, although smaller, is nearly the same weight. Unlike the other three quadrants, B seems not to have been gilt. With D and L1, it shares the distinction of being one of the very few (probably less than ten), known dated 14th century instruments. Like the other three it is also noteworthy for showing equal hours. These are those used today in which the entire period from midnight to midnight is divided into twenty four equal parts, rather than, as had previously been the case, the periods of day and night are each independently divided into twelve parts which vary in length according to the season of the year. Use of equal hours had developed only slowly during the 14th century, aided by the dissemination of weight-driven clocks throughout Europe, but was gathering pace in the closing decades of the century. Richard II's court, like that of Charles V in France, may well have been a centre for this process. Certainly one of the earliest examples in England of an administrative record using equal hours occurs on the occasion of Richard's abdication on 30 September 1399 stated to have been 'at about the ninth stroke of the clock'. That three equal hour quadrants associated with Richard and his court have survived, may suggest that there was a particular need of them there as a slow, but crucial, innovation took place. The group is also one of the earliest examples of workshop production, perhaps the earliest, yet known from England. Although much remains to be determined, the present instrument makes, and will continue to make as research continues, a substantial contribution to what can be known about late medieval instrument-making.

    King Richard II

    Richard II (1367-1400 AD), Plantagenet king of England from 1377 to 1399, is perhaps best known for how he is portrayed in Shakespeare's work of the same name. The play documents the king as a cruel, vindictive and careless individual, as well as presenting him as being obsessed with the power and the image of his kingship.
    The character created by Shakespeare appears foppish and irresponsible with a personality completely ill-matched to his station and is somewhat at odds with most historical accounts, even though some facets of the character, such as vindictiveness, may be rooted in actions of the real king. Shakespeare's characterisation has been described as distorted and over-dramatised, relying on later historians accounts.
    Richard II was crowned at the young age of ten in a politically motivated move by parliament to stop his uncle, John of Gaunt, from usurping the throne. Despite his age, the young king demonstrated considerable skill in his dealing with the peasant's revolt of 1381, aged fourteen, through both diplomacy and later, personally led military offensive against the rebels. His later campaigns in Ireland also showed a level of leadership and competency possessed by the king. Although Richard II was militarily active throughout his reign, his court was less martial than that of his predecessor Edward III, and was more focused towards arts and culture. As regent, Richard II was noted as being extravagant in his purchases of items of beauty; even very functional objects pertaining to him were elegantly decorated.
    The nature of kingship is something that permeated the reign of Richard II through his strong belief in royal prerogative, that kings were kings and subjects knew the importance of obedience. The very imagery that dominates his reign follows this idea of the unquestionable king. His adoption of new arms impaled with those of Edward the Confessor in 1397, and the prominence of his badge of the white hart within the Wilton Diptych are important examples of the promotion of his own cult of lineage. The very language employed in reference to the king elevated him with the use of such elaborate vocabulary as, 'highness, majesty, royal presence' as opposed to more traditional addresses of lordship. However, although Richard II portrayed himself as remote and almost godlike, it is noted that he intervened, via his retainers, in daily affairs more than many other kings.
    His style of manipulative governance in provincial power structures greatly heightened political tensions that, in conjunction with other events such as his alienation and antagonistic actions towards the Lords Appellant in the late 14th century, set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to conflict with Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV), Richard II's abdication, imprisonment in Pontefract castle and subsequent death.

    Gordon, D., Monnas, L., and Elam, C., (eds) 1997, The regal image of Richard II and the Wilton Diptych (London: Harvey Miller Pulishers).
    Saul, N., 1997, Richard II (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    Silke Ackermann & John Cherry, 'Richard II, John Holland and three Medieval Quadrants', Annals of Science, lvi 1999, 3-23.
    Catherine Eagleton, 'A King, two Lords and three Quadrants', Early Science and Medicine. A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the pre-Modern Period, xvi 2011, 200-17, where mention is made of the present quadrant in footnote 7.
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