Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Gold tiger's head
Tipu Sultan (1750-99) succeeded his father, Haidar Ali, as ruler of the South Indian state of Mysore in 1782, building a sophisticated and modern court around his palace at Seringapatam. For much of his reign he was engaged in hostilities against the British.
This tiger's head was the centrepiece of an octagonal throne which was made for Tipu but which he may never have used. Every part was covered in sheet gold 2 millimetres thick and individual parts were set with rubies and diamonds. The teeth are made from rock crystal and the gold tongue is hinged.
Although the tiger was an ancient symbol of kingship in India, Tipu made it his own; he declared that it was 'better to live a single day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep'.
The British signed a peace treaty with Tipu in 1792 but the discovery of secret communications with Napoleon brought about a renewed campaign against him, culminating in Tipu's death during the sack of Seringapatam in 1799. The golden throne was broken up and distributed to the troops, but the most important elements were brought back intact as trophies. The tiger's head was presented to William IV by the East India Company in 1831. The silver-gilt inscribed base was made by the London silversmith, Paul Storr.