John George 'Radical Jack' Lambton, first Earl of Durham led an extraordinary political career, mixing support for radical parliamentary movements in his own country whilst becoming a key diplomat, and sometimes close confidante, to some powerful monarchs abroad.
Lambton, with his strange combination of aloof arrogance and staunch reforming zeal played an important role in the early history of Canada (where he is remembered with mixed feelings).
Recently, an extraordinary collection of awards given to Lambton by, variously, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Leopold I of Belgium, Otho of Greece and William IV of England has come to light.
Durham's greatest diplomatic success was certainly his placement in Russia where Nicholas I developed a high opinion of him and relations between the countries thawed, notably to the great benefit of trade.
Early biographer Stuart J Reid wrote,
"'It was a veritable triumph of personality. The Tsar Nicholas was a shrewd judge of men, and was quick to detect either flattery or dissimulation.
"Durham's open nature, his palpable honesty, the moral courage which lurked beneath his conciliatory speech, his broad grasp of first principles, the practical bent of his quick mind, and the imagination which made the sympathy of his warm heart so effective, all appealed to Nicholas."
These successes led both to the award of the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath from William IV - who became a grudging admirer despite being infuriated by Durham's Reform Bill five years earlier - and the great Russian Order of St Andrew.
The Honourable Order of the Bath brought £20,000 yesterday (June 10) at Morton and Eden (in association with Sotheby's) in London but it was by no means the greatest sale of the day.
The 22 lots had a combined estimate of around £500,000, and it was no great surprise that all of them did. But no one predicted the final total would be eight times that listed: a staggering £4,057,080.
The greatest highlights were all Russian and included:
An Order of St Anne Grand Cross insignia sold for £372,000 (estimated at £30,000-40,000), an Order of St Alexander Nevsky insignia achieve £576,000 (with a guide price of £80,000-120,000) and an Order of the White Eagle, listed at £80,000-120,000 but which was taken away for a grand £852,000.
But the top lot by a huge margin was the rare gold and enamel Order of St Andrew. Expected to sell for an already impressive £120,000-180,000, it left the stage at a world record price of £1.32m, to an enthusiastic round of applause.
Russian medals and awards appear to be rising distinctly in value - records were set six months back at Spink's auction of a selection in November 2009 which achieved five and six figure sums. With the number of collectors in Russian rising, they would be strong candidates for investment.
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