World Coins

Gold medal for saving an emperor up for sale

The following news release was issued by Morton & Eden concerning its Nov. 23 auction:

An extremely rare Gold medal of Honour for English Cavalrymen, 1794 awarded to William Keir (later Keir Grant), a young British Officer of the 15th Light Dragoons for helping to save the Austrian Emperor from capture by Napoleon is to be auctioned by Morton & Eden in London on November 23, 2017, when it is estimated to fetch £15,000-£20,000 [$19,801 to $26,102 in U.S. funds] (lot 78).

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In 1794, William Keir, along with seven other fellow officers took part at the Battle of Villers-en-Cauchies, near Cambrai and rescued the young Holy Roman Emperor Francis II from capture by French forces. The action, against greatly superior numbers, was later likened to that of ‘the renowned Black Prince at the hard fought battles of Cressy and Poictiers [sic]’.

As a consequence the eight British officers received the spectacular gold gallantry award Ehrenmedaille für Englische Kavalleriste, expressly awarded by the grateful Emperor (later to become Emperor Francis I of Austria and also known as the ‘Doppelkaiser’). The Emperor instructed that only nine examples of the medal be struck, with one specimen being retained for the Imperial Cabinet of Vienna.

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The eight recipients to be honoured were: Lieut.-Col. William Aylett (in command), Captains Robert Pocklington and Edward Michael Ryan, Lieutenants Thomas Granby Calcraft, William Keir (as he was known at the time) and Charles Burrell Blount, and Cornets Edward Gerald Butler and Robert Thomas Wilson.

The medals, weighing 40 ducats, were originally presented with substantial gold suspension chains for wearing.  How many of the eight, aside from this rare example, still survive is unknown but it is recorded that those to Cornet Butler and Captain Pocklington (ex Whitaker Collection) appeared in commerce in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

David Kirk of auctioneers Morton & Eden said: “It is remarkable to be able to offer such an incredibly rare Austrian gallantry medal at auction and one with such a distinguished history.”

All eight British officers were also awarded the Military Order of Maria Theresa in 1800 following a change in the statutes of the Order of Maria Theresa, allowing its award to foreigners for the first time. Permission to wear was granted by King George III and announced in the London Gazette, 2 June 1801. Together with the award came the title of Baron in Austria, considered equivalent to the award of the Knight Bachelor in Britain and in Europe. As one of the terms of this award, the Villers-en-Cauchies medal was no longer supposed to be worn although it was to be retained by the recipients. Keir Grant’s gold and enamel Knight’s breast badge for this award is also included in the auction and is similarly estimated to fetch £15,000-£20,000 (lot 79)

Major-General Sir William Keir Grant, K.C.B., G.C.H. (1772-1852) was born in Calcutta in India, the son of Archibald Keir, H.E.I.C.S. a successful and influential salt merchant whose family originally hailed from Stirling in Scotland and had been supporters of the Jacobite cause. William Keir (he later added Grant to his surname) joined the British Army in 1792.

Keir Grant went on to distinguish himself further when he commanded a major British military expedition to the ‘Pirate Coast’ on the south-eastern Persian Gulf. He was duly awarded the Royal Persian order of the Lion and the Sun by the Shah of Persia in 1820 ‘in consideration of his distinguished services in the Persian Gulf’. The order’s magnificent gold and enamel collar chain and collar badge was made in Tehran in circa 1820 and is estimated to fetch in the region of £40,000 (lot 84). In addition a grand cross breast star also associated with the same Royal Persian Order, was presumed to have been commissioned by Keir Grant some years after his formal award of the Order to enable him to wear it in conventional European style. Estimated to fetch £10,000-£15,000 this opulent piece was made by Andrews of St. Petersburg circa 1850 and is executed in pierced silver, embellished with rose gold and enamels (lot 85).

Keir Grant was latterly appointed Colonel of the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) in 1839 and was promoted to General in November 1841. He died in London at the age of 80 after a remarkable life and career.

From the 1960s through to the 1990s Keir Grant’s medals were on display at the Scottish United Services Museum at Edinburgh Castle. The group is collectively estimated to fetch in the region of £90,000 (lots 78 – 86). With impeccable provenance, the vendor however wishes to remain anonymous.

The auction commencing at 2 p.m. will take place in the Lower Grosvenor Gallery, in the Aeolian Hall, off New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA.

Morton & Eden Ltd.: Nash House, St. George Street, London W1S 2FQ; telephone: 020 7493 5344; email:; online:

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