HC Deb 07 March 1867 vol 185 cc1444-5

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If any recent communications have taken place between the English and French Governments as to the removal of the Statues of the Plantagenet Kings Henry II. and Richard Cœur de Lion of England, Eleanor of Guienne and Isabel of Angoulême, from the Chapel of Fontevrault, Anjou, to this Country; and, if the Statues are properly taken care of in the Chapel of Fontevrault? In order to make his Question more intelligible, he would beg to read a paragraph which appeared in The Times of the 22nd ultimo, and which was as follows:— M. Beulé, of the Institute, has written to the Débats a letter on behalf of the Scientific and Artistical Society of Angers, to protest against the contemplated delivery to the English Government of the Statues of the Plantagenets in the chapel of the prison at Fontevrault. He relates that on the 8th instant an agent of the French Government arrived there to remove the four statues of Henry II. and Richard Cœur de Lion of England, Eleanor of Guienne, and Isabel of Angoulême. The Director of the establishment, however, affirming that the order presented was informal, refused to deliver up the relics. The writer states that the agitation throughout the ancient province is intense, and that the Prefect, the Bishop, the Mayors of towns, and several learned bodies, have forwarded petitions to the Emperor against the proposed removal; he also declares that the Statues belong not only to Anjou, but to the whole of France, and should not be given up to England without a Bill passed by the Legislative body. M. Beulé adds that applications from the English Government were refused by the Restoration in 1817, and again under Louis Philippe; that Sovereign, he says, removed the relics to Versailles, and placed them in the National Museum, in order to discourage any ideas on the part of England of obtaining them, and it was the President of the Republic who, in 1849, acceded to the earnestly expressed wishes of the people of Anjou, and had the four Sovereigns replaced in the chapel of Fontevrault.


Sir, no official communication has passed between the French and English Governments on the subject of the hon. Member's Question; but the House will no doubt remember that last year a good deal of attention was called to the matter, and a very general wish was expressed among persons who interest themselves in matters of that kind that the statues should be removed to this country, with whose history they are intimately connected. I did not think it would be becoming on the part of the British Government to ask for the gift of those statues; but the matter came to the knowledge of the French Government, and the Emperor, with that courtesy which he has invariably shown where this country is concerned, wrote a letter to the Queen offering them as a gift. That offer was accepted and the statues will be removed accordingly. As to what has passed between the French Government and any local authority, I have no information. With regard to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, I have no official, and, indeed, I may say, no certain information; but a letter written by a private person who saw these statues in 1863 has been brought to my notice, and it states that at that time they were lying in a vault belonging to a building said to be used as a convict prison. Beyond that I know nothing on the subject.