King Charles can keep his Benin bronze despite demands for repatriation, chiefs of the Benin people have said, potentially avoiding a diplomatic row.
The monarch owns one of the many artworks seized by British forces in 1897 from the Kingdom of Benin, now in modern-day Nigeria, whose government is now fighting to have these looted artifacts returned.
But Charles will be exempt from this campaign and is welcome to keep his Bronze on display at Windsor Castle because it was given as a gift to his mother Queen Elizabeth, traditional chiefs in Nigeria have said.
The concession comes after demands that all artworks looted from the Kingdom of Benin be returned to the present-day king or “Oba”, and pledges from a string of UK institutions to return their collections.
One source close to the modern Benin royal court told the Telegraph that the Oba would never wish his fellow monarch to repatriate any artworks, saying that King Charles ruled from a “special throne” and that his Bronze should be “allowed to remain with him”.
Chief Stanley Omoregie Obamwonyi, a member of Oba’s inner council, said: “If I know my Oba, he would never demand a gift to be returned.
“The relations between the royal court of Benin and the royal court in Britain are very cordial. The Benin court and the UK court are one and the same.”
The Benin bronze is currently held at Windsor Castle as part of the Royal Collection Trust. The 30cm bust was made in 16th-century Nigeria, in an area then known as the Kingdom of Benin.
During a military expedition by British forces in 1897, the palace of the Oba was looted and thousands of artworks were seized and auctioned off around the world, including the one now owned by Charles.
It made its way through the art market and at some time between 1946 and 1957 was bought for the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos.
However, in 1973 General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s military leader plucked the piece from the museum and brought it to the UK for a state visit, presenting it to Queen Elizabeth as a gift.
It has remained in the Royal Collection and is currently on display in Windsor Castle’s grand vestibule.
Its future may have become a diplomatic embarrassment as Nigeria has campaigned for Benin bronzes to be returned from institutions around the world.
Museums at the University of Oxford and Cambridge have pledged to return hundreds of these artifacts, with the Oba of Benin Ewuare II claiming them as his birthright, despite the official claims of the Nigerian government.