A story in 100 objects

10: HMS Royal Oak – Casket

This large oak casket was presented to Viscountess Valletort, the future 5th Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, to commemorate her launching of HMS Royal Oak in 1914.

The intricately carved casket is believed to be the work of Cyril Blackmore. The exterior is covered in carved oak leaves, acorns and oak apples interspersed with symbols representing the ship and the Edgcumbe family.

The front panel of the casket contains a carving of the Stuart crown, reminding us of the first ship designated Royal Oak, launched in 1664 and so named to commemorate the survival of the future King Charles II who hid in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.The ship launched in 1914 was the eighth Royal Oak.

The Edgcumbe symbol of the boar appears on the top panel of the casket together with the initials of the Viscountess (E V). Close examination of the lower four corners of the casket reveals how the craftsman depicted the snout of a boar within the oak leaf and acorn carving.

The casket contains decorated ceremonial tools, one of which is inscribed with the name of the ship and launch date, plus a watercolour painting by Ernest Harrington of HMS Royal Oak sailing past Mount Edgcumbe.

HMS Royal Oak entered service in 1916 just in time to take part in the Battle of Jutland. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the ship was mainly based in Malta and engaged in patrol and escort duties.

By the start of the Second World War the ship was too slow to go on frontline duty. In October 1939 she was anchored at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys so that her anti-aircraft guns could help defend against attack on a nearby radar station. She was torpedoed by a German submarine and over 800 of her crew of more than 1200 died.

The ship capsized as she sank and now lies almost upside down in 33 metres of water. The site is a designated war grave. Every year on the anniversary of her sinking Royal Navy divers place a white ensign underwater at the stern of the ship.

“Boulle furniture takes its name from Andre Charles Boulle, a cabinet maker at the court of Louis XIV.”

More objects: