£5m bid for historic Wellingborough Golf Club angels

Actor Paul Jesson as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey with the angels at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Actor Paul Jesson as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey with the angels at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Bronze angels which used to reside at a county golf club are the subject of a multi-million pound bid by one of Britain’s top museums.

The four 500-year-old angels used to live at Wellingborough Golf Club’s Harrowden Hall home – and now the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is putting together a £5m bid to have them on permanent display there.

The one-metre bronze figures were made in the 1520s with the intention of adorning the tomb of Henry VIII’s lord chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

But when Wolsey died – in 1530 in Leicester – he had fallen out of favour with the king and the angels, along with the rest of his tomb, passed into Henry’s hands.

However, he also died before the tomb was completed.

It was not until 1994 that the angels came to the attention of historians when two of them appeared at a Sotheby’s auction, although their significance was not realised.

The two at auction had been stolen from Harrowden Hall a few years earlier, and in 2008 the other two were discovered still to be there.

The angels’ story prompted leading historians to back the bid to reunite all four.

The novelist Hilary Mantel said: “The recovery of Wolsey’s angels is one of those miracles that historians pray for – something that seems irrevocably lost has been there all the time.

“To claim the angels for the nation would connect us to one of the liveliest eras of our history and one of its most remarkable men.”

It will cost £5m for the museum to buy the four angels, although the National Heritage Memorial Fund has already contributed £2 million and the Art Fund £500,000.

The public are now being urged to contribute towards the appeal and V&A director Martin Roth said: “The angels would be a highly significant addition to the National Collection of Sculpture, held and preserved at the V&A for future generations.”

Figures were designed for tomb

The Wolsey Angels were crafted by the Italian Benedetto da Rovezzano.

They were originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey’s tomb, but Henry VIII decided he wanted them on his own tomb after Wolsey’s fall from grace.

However, the king, too, died before his tomb could be completed, something his children also failed to do posthumously.

During the Civil War the angels were lost – until a few years ago.