The Wallace Collection

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Parrying dagger
  • Parrying dagger
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France
  • c. 1599 - 1600
  • Steel, gold, and mother-of-pearl, russeted, false-damascened, inlaid and chiselled
  • Length: 24 cm, blade
    Weight: 0.27 kg
  • A790
  • Smoking Room
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Parrying dagger of King Henri IV of France. The hilt is made of blued steel finely overlaid in gold and inlaid with plaques of mother-of-pearl and comprises a flattened, oviform pommel with button, decorated with a fleur-de-lys, a crowned H, and the monograms M M (Marie de Médicis); on either side are oval medallions of mother-of-pearl representing a hand grasping a palm and the Pierced Hand (?); they are inscribed respectively:

    I E RE[SIST] E · A · LA · FORCE
    PRVDENCE MESVRE LA · [FI]N DE TOVTE CHOSE

    Grip of oval section, overlaid with delicate arabesques and Maltese crosses, and inset on either side with four mother-of-pearl medallions; these represent, on the one side, a crowned H, a palm branch, an olive branch (?), and the lilies of France; on the other, a dagger with the letters H III (no doubt an error of the engraver for H IIII), a palm and olive branch, and the arms of Navarre; single side-ring and curved guard, ending in oval terminals, inlaid on one side with mother-of-pearl medallions representing trophies, and inscribed in gold:

    A CET HENRY VAINQVEVR
    LES ASTRES PLVS FIDELLES
    DEPARTENT LE BONHEVR
    ORDINAIRE AVX MERVEILLE[S]

    (To this Henri vanquisher
    The astral bodies most faithful
    Give the goodwill
    <that is> Common to such marvels)


    The other side is inlaid with the letter H crowned, the monograms M M and H H. The two-edged blade has a short, flat ricasso, inlaid with gold, with the royal cypher crowned on one side, and on the other a monogram of the initial H, four sceptres in saltire and a sword in pale. An applied band of russet steel running the entire length of the blade on either side inscribed, on the one side, with the double H crowned, and the following verse:

    IVPITER ET VENVS SONT DHEVREVSE INFLVENCE
    SATVRN AVEC[Q]VES MARS TRES MALIGNS ET PERVERS
    [MER]CVR ET SOLEIL ET A LVNE EN PVISSANCE
    MEDIOCRES TOVSIOVRS GOVERNENT LVNIVERS

    (Jupiter and Venus are of beneficial influence
    Saturn with Mars very malign and perverse
    Mercury and the Sun and the Moon have little strength
    <but> always govern the universe.)

    On the other side are inset seven mother-of-pearl medallions representing the fleur-de-lys radiant and other emblems of the Order of the Holy Ghost, and the motto:

    VICTORIA REGIS

    This dagger, together with its companion rapier, was given by the City of Paris on the 13 December 1600, to Henry IV of France upon his marriage to Marie de Médicis. The rapier also bears the verse: A cet Henry...Merveilles, a list of the principal victories of the King, and the inscription, amongst others:

    LE ROI HENRI DE BOURBON IIII DE CE NOM PAR LA
    GRACE DE DIEU ROY DE FRANCE ET DE NAVARRE
    ET DE MONTMELIANT ET MAITRE DE SALUCE LE
    13 DE DESEMBRE EPOUSA MARIE DE MEDICI

    The companion rapier was in the Musée des Souverains (no. 99, pp. 158-60), and is now in the Musée de l'Armée. (Robert, J.380; Phototypie Berthaud, no. 89; Mariaux, pl. XIII).
    A790 was lot 1 in the sale of the collection of M. Norzy (Lugt, Répertoire, no. 37090)
    at the Hotel Drouot in Paris, 9-10 February 1877, when it was bought by Sir Richard Wallace for 12,500 fr.

    French, about 1598-1600.

    Laking, European Armour III, p. 300; IV, p. 313, fig. 1376.

    Napoleon I took the rapier with him in his carriage on his travels.

    The monograms on the pommel include a V and an inverted V in monogram, and two Vs overlapping like a W. On both the dagger and the companion sword in Paris most of the mother-of-pearl medallions have been replaced, judging by their workmanship, at several different dates. On the hilts only those chiseled in low relief are original; in this case only those on the forward arm of the guard and the pommel. All those on the blade of A790 also appear to be replacements. The blade has been broken and, to repair it, has been sandwiched between two plates welded to the tang.
    Henri took the throne of France in 1589, the first of the Bourbon line of French kings. He was one of his country’s most popular monarchs, a ruler who was generally regarded as caring greatly for the well-being of his subjects. His reign was also distinguished by increased religious tolerance, a remarkable reform in the wake of the religious wars which devastated France in the sixteenth century. However, this generous and progressive stance angered religious hardliners and in 1610 Henri was stabbed to death by a Catholic fanatic.

    It is not known when this dagger was separated from the rapier to which it belongs, but it may have been in the early nineteenth century, since the rapier alone later became one of the treasured possessions of Napoleon Bonaparte, who carried it with him on campaign, as a kind of talisman. The dagger meanwhile somehow found its way onto the Paris art market, before being purchased by Sir Richard Wallace in 1877. Sir Richard bought very few weapons after his great outlay in 1871, when most of his arms and armour collection was formed. He was however especially interested in objects which could be associated with famous historical figures.