French theme park has refused to return 15th-century relic that belonged to the teenage warrior who helped defeat English invaders
A ring believed to have belonged to Joan of Arc has gone on display in France after its new owners made an appeal to the Queen to keep it out of the hands of its historic rival across the Channel.
French historical theme park Le Puy du Fou bought the 15th-century gold-plated silver ring at auction in London in February for 300,000 but was told after it had arrived in France that it had not obtained the necessary export licence for a historical artefact.
Arts Council England, which oversees the export regulations, said the ring should be returned to Britain.
Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers, whose father Philippe, a French politician, founded the theme park, said there had never been any question of returning the ring.
The request made us laugh, he told the Guardian. We wrote to the Queen asking her if she could help sort things out quickly. Clearly Buckingham Palace spoke in the right persons ear because we then heard we could keep the ring.
De Villiers added: Its a symbol, a relic, that has been held prisoner in England for 600 years. Its a small ring which does not appear of much value, but it has extraordinary symbolic significance for the French and we had to get it back.
Its a strong symbol of an extraordinary period in our history and reminds us of this great woman who overcame such obstacles to get people to listen to her and lead our our country to victory.
We hope this symbol of hope and victory will help the French rediscover the pride and confidence that they have lost today.
The medieval hoop is decorated with three crosses and the letters IHS and MAR for Jesus and Mary, and was allegedly taken from the French heroines prison cell before she was burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen, northern France, in 1431 aged 19.
On 17 March, 1431 under interrogation by an English ecclesiastical court, Jeanne dArc, the teenage peasant girl turned warrior, when asked about the visions she claimed had urged her to lead the French army to push the English out of her country refused to answer, infuriating her captors. Questioned about the ring, she told her captors it was a gift from her parents and she would look at it fondly before going into battle against the English invaders out of respect and fondness for them.
The auctioneers details from the sale earlier this year, suggested it had been enlarged at some point from a band suitable for a small, feminine finger the degree of wear generally evident to the ring, including to the hoop insert, suggesting an extended period of wear, long after the date of making.
It stated the ring had passed from Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who died in 1447, who was present at the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in 1431. She is believed to have given him the ring on the eve of her execution, though there is no official documentation of its provenance. From Beaufort it went to the Duke of Portlands family, to painter Augustus John. It was sold by Sothebys at auction at 1947, ending up as the property of an Essex gentleman.
After six centuries in English hands, the French were ecstatic to have the ring back, which had sold for many times more than its estimated 10,000 value.
The Puy du Fou is looking to build a special chapel where members of the public could see the ring, bought after an appeal for donations, for free.
It will never be a business for us. That would be a very serious betrayal of the promise we made to donors. This is a relic and to make money from it is out of the question, de Villiers said.