Half a century after students celebrated the Prince of Wales’ 21st birthday by stringing ‘Happy Birthday Charlie’ across Great Court, students, staff, alumni and Fellows gathered in Great Court to mark the 75th Birthday of alumnus His Majesty King Charles III.
With Trinity’s Praelector Professor Hugh Hunt officiating, members of the College community held up giant letters and the Choir sang Happy Birthday, to His Majesty the King and to two students whose birthday is also on 14 November: Raka Chattopadhyay, a first-year Maths student and Xiao Ma, who is in her third year of a PhD in Applied Maths.
I feel both honoured and grateful for being part of King Charles III’s birthday celebration as I share the same birthday. The rich heritage of Trinity College brings together different generations and I feel lucky to be part of it.
Vice Master Professor Louise Merrett said:
Trinity is a welcoming place for students, staff and academics from all over the world and the 75th birthday of King Charles III is a wonderful opportunity to come together as a College and mark another historic occasion in this Coronation year.
Trinity is replete with history and its impressive buildings reflect our centuries-old journey from the founding by Henry VIII, who combined two medieval halls to form the College in 1546.
Beneath Trinity’s grandeur is a modern community full of ideas and opportunities to learn, uncover new knowledge, help to tackle some of today’s most pressing challenges and take on important roles in society.
Among the College’s alumni who hold key offices in the UK today are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, the Lady Chief Justice Dame Sue Carr and of course His Majesty King Charles III.
Meanwhile out on the cobbles, Professor Hunt explained a recent change to the statue of King Henry VIII on Great Gate. Instead of an old chair leg in his right hand, Henry now has a new gilded sceptre.
This is the handiwork of members of the Association of Pole-lathe Turners & Green Woodworkers, which this year held a special competition at its annual Bodgers Ball. Instead of the ‘Log to Leg’ race to create two Windsor chair legs from an ash log without any power tools, woodturners rose to the Coronation-year challenge of creating a sceptre.
The winning sceptre by Kevin Downing from Ireland, and Daryl La Rue and Kathy Morch from Canada was donated to Trinity where it was gilded by Trinity College Carpenter Jon Squires before being given to Henry this week.
A brief history of Henry VIII’s chair leg
Viewed from the cobbles on Trinity Street, the statue of Henry VIII on Great Gate, which dates from the early 1600s, is one of the most popular sights in Cambridge, in part because of the tangled tales around the sceptre-chair leg.
The original sceptre is believed to have been broken in the early twentieth century, leaving a stump that resembled a chair leg. Student pranksters replaced this with an actual chair leg.
To mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the College renovated Great Gate, repainting the shields and installing a new sceptre. In less than a week, students had replaced the sceptre with another chair leg.
In April 1958, newspapers reported that a gale had blown away Henry VIII’s hand including the infamous chair leg. The College repaired the damaged hand, but this time decided to retain the chair leg.
The 1959 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments described the statue as holding ‘a sceptre consisting of a wooden chair leg.’
Some tourist guides tell the story of how in the 1980s a window cleaner at work inside Great Gate spotted that Henry’s sceptre was missing again and leant out of the window to replace it with a chair leg.