The purpose here is not to provide an exhaustive account of the theft, ransom and return of the Duke’s portrait. This has already been done by others far more accomplished than I. In addition a wealth of information is easily and freely available online.
Instead, a basic timeline of events is provided as an introduction to this famous, fascinating, if bizarre, theft.
See also Lady Magazine 19/06/2015 ‘The ‘theft’ of the Duke of Wellington by Thomas Grant. This provides a good overview.
Timeline Of Events
14/06/1961: Duke’s portrait sold by Duke of Leeds at Sotherbys to a Mr Charles Wrightson of New York for £140,000. Picture assumed to be a Goya original. Public outcry follows because the Duke is to be shipped to America. Picture then offered to the National Gallery for price paid at auction. Part funded by the Wolfson Foundation and by Special Exchequer Grant.
03/08/1961: Duke’s portrait goes on display.
21/08/1961: Picture found ‘missing’.
31/08/1961: 1st ransom note received by Reuters.
26/09/1961: reward of £5,000 offered for information leading to picture’s return.
03/07/1963 onwards: a further three ransom notes received.
15/03/1965: final ransom note received. No mention of TV Licences in any of these Ransom Notes.
21/05/1965: receipt received for parcel left at New Street Station Birmingham.
22/05/1965: picture recovered from New Street Station Birmingham. Picture deposited there 05/05/1965.
27/05/1965: picture goes back on display at the National Gallery
03/06/1965: doubts are raised about the picture’s authenticity by Sir Gerald Kelly former president of the Royal Academy and Gerald Reitlinger, an art historian.
20/07/1965: Kempton Bunton hands himself in at West End Central Police Station. TV licences the given motive.
21/07/1965: Kempton Bunton appears at Bow Street Magistrates Court and remanded on bail.
04/11/1965: Kempton Bunton appears at the Central Criminal Court defended by Jeremy Hutchinson QC. Doubts about the picture’s authenticity were a focal point of the defence’s arguments.
16/11/1965: because of English larceny law, the judge directs the jury to find Kempton Bunton not guilty of stealing the picture because he never intended to keep it. Instead Kempton Bunton is convicted of stealing the frame only and sentenced to 3 months in prison.
1968: New England Act passed. Law changed to make it illegal to ‘borrow’ items – including pictures – in public possession.
July 1967: John Bunton (Kempton Bunton’s son) was arrested in Leeds on minor offence confesses to Duke’s theft. Police do not believe him and do not press charges.
2010: TV licences free for pensioners over 75s.