Buried gold, crystal keys and a book that leads you to the spot where it’s buried.
It might sound like the plot of a Hollywood adventure film, but this is a real life quest that’s poised to capture the imaginations of would-be treasure hunters everywhere.
The Golden Treasure of the Entente Cordiale, released today in the UK, is part history book, part encrypted treasure map, which promises to lead readers to a £650,000 golden casket if they can solve nine puzzles.
A sister book, written in French, has nine separate clues that also need to be solved.
Each book leads to a piece of crystal – one in the UK, one in France – that together can be used to unlock the final resting place of the golden casket.
Although the casket is worth a significant amount of money it is also historically significant, for it was given to France by the UK when Edward VII and French President Émile Loubet signed Entente Cordiale on 8 April 1904.
The Golden Treasure of the Entente Cordiale follows in the great tradition of Kit Williams’ 1979 book Masquerade, which challenged readers to find an 18-carat gold and jewel-encrusted hare in a secret location.
The Golden Treasure of the Entente Cordiale was released in the UK today and is offering readers the chance to win a golden casket worth £650,000 in an intricate treasure hunt game (pictured)
Sir Marcus Samuel, Lord Mayor of London, presenting President of the French Republic Emile Loubet (1838-1929) with a gold box, following a reception at the Guildhall, in London, Illustration from French newspaper Le Petit Journal, July 1903
A book written in English will help readers find the UK treasure, while another book penned in French will help puzzlers discover the crystal in France
Each of the nine puzzles is made up of an illustration by Michel Becker and a secret text hidden in the accompanying story, The Tale of the Edrei, which was written by Pauline Deysson.
The puzzles are written as a poem with text missing. To find the missing text, the reader needs to crack the hidden code in the accompanying illustration.
Some of the clues are puzzles that don’t require any additional information, others will need the internet to find the answer.
The authors write: ‘Bianca and Becker write in the book: ‘A paper and a pencil will be enough to discover some solutions.
‘For others, you will need to do additional research … the internet will be a valuable ally in finding the information you need without leaving your chair.
‘This is not an easy treasure hunt. In order to conquer it, you will need tenacity: a treasure is accessible only to the brave.’
Each puzzle is made up of an illustration by Michel Becker and of a piece of text hidden in the accompanying story, The Tale of the Edrei, written by Pauline Deysson. Here, the hidden text can be created by pulling out the bold letters, which creates a poem containing clues
A colourful and bright example illustration from the book which is a part of one of the nine puzzles
Masquerade: The book that sparked a treasure hunting frenzy
Kit Williams sparked a nationwide treasure hunt when he buried a gold hare (pictured) four decades ago – with clues as to its whereabouts published in a children’s storybook
Kit Williams sparked a nationwide treasure hunt when he buried a gold hare more than four decades ago – with clues as to its whereabouts published in a children’s storybook.
Tens of thousands of people started digging up parks around Britain, spade in one hand, muddied book in the other, every so often stopping to study the beautiful illustrations which contained messages around their borders and to re-read the poem on the title page.
The poem went: ‘Within the pages of this book there is a story told of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold. To solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes and find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.’
By following what each of the animals in the 15 pictures was looking at, you could reach a letter on the border. When rearranged, these formed the phrase: ‘Catherine’s Longfinger Over Shadows Earth Buried Yellow Amulet Midday Points The Hour In Light Of Equinox Look You.’
And for those who got that far, it was just a matter of noticing that the first letters of each word read CLOSE BY AMPTHILL (give or take a couple of rogue letters at the end of the phrase).
Which should have led the treasure-seekers to the burial point, near a statue of Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, in a park near Ampthill.
The precise spot could be found by finding the tip of the shadow cast by Catherine’s finger at noon on either the spring or autumn equinox.
The digging frenzy continued for nearly three years. In 1982 John Rousseau and Mike Barker – two enormous-brained physics teachers from Manchester – cracked it.
Sadly, they were too late. Much to Williams’s distress, the golden hare had been unearthed months earlier, on February 24, by someone who hadn’t solved the clues.
It later emerged that Dugold Thompson had been given the approximate location in Ampthill Park by Williams’s former girlfriend, Veronica Robertson, and had narrowed it down with metal detectors, spades and a lot of digging.
Once all nine puzzles are solved, players will have to input the information they have pieced together into the Treasure Map and the Adventurer’s Notebook – which are available on the PDF – in order to discover where the crystals are located.
Each crystal is hidden in a chest along with documentation clearly stating that it is one of the geodes of the Entente Cordiale treasure hunt.
Hunters will then be able to place the two crystals together to locate the crystal cabinet and claim their golden casket prize.
According to the website, the winner will be the first to unearth the buried geode fragments thanks to the solutions provided to the riddles, which must be produced at the same time.
Michael Becker, who designed the visual puzzles
The game has been designed with the greatest care to lead to two very specific hiding places and organisers warn there is ‘no need to move about during the game’ unless to uncover the crystals because ‘there is no intermediate checking possible on the field’.
The entire concept is based around the Entente Cordiale, which took place at the turn of the 20th century.
Speaking to The Guardian, Vincenzo Bianca, who created the puzzles, said: ‘It was Michel Becker’s idea. He found the golden case, bought it, and learned everything that you can know about the entente cordiale.
‘He fell in love with this story between France and England, which existed thanks to the will of the two men [King Edward VII and Loubet]. He wanted to bring this story to the world with this treasure hunt.’
The casket was made by the prestigious Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company, jewellers by appointment to the Crown. Its lid is decorated with a golden sculpture, the allegorical figure of Peace crowning France and Britain with laurels.
The casket also contains a roll of parchment inscribed with a text celebrating Anglo-French friendship.
Michel Becker said: ‘Now is the time for the casket to emerge from the shadows and deliver its message of peace and hope across political borders.’
British author and historian Stephen Clarke has said he had no idea where the treasure was hidden, but that he had seen the casket, ‘and picked it up and sniffed it’, calling it a ‘very solid hunk of gold.’
Becker previously worked on the legendary treasure hunt book On The Trail Of The Golden Owl (French: Sur la trace de la chouette d’or).
The book was first published in 1993. It provides clues to the location of a buried statuette of an owl, created by Becker.
The puzzle contained within the book remains officially unsolved as of 2020, making it the second longest-running contest in the armchair treasure hunt genre. Hauser/Valentin died in 2009, and the solutions are now held by his lawyer.
What is the £650,000 prize?
Numerous wars between English kings and French monarchs during the Middle Ages and into the Tudor period had created an enmity between their people, separated by just the English Channel.
Britain’s influence in France at the time even stretched to Calais, the closest point to the European country from the UK. It was in English hands until 1558 when the Duc de Guise conquered it.
This was a mortal blow to Mary Tudor who famously said: “If my heart was opened the name of Calais would be found written on it”.
In later centuries the conflicts continued. The French aided America in its War of Independence against the British, and the Napoleonic Wars pitted the two countries against each other for many years, culminating in the battle of Waterloo. Britain and France were in conflict over colonial interests.
Pictured: Hunters are looking to locate two crystal goades, which have been buried in the UK and France and can be combined together to form a key
The casket was made by the prestigious Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company, jewellers by appointment to the Crown
The treaty had the aim of settling long-standing disputes between the UK and France in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Siam, Madagascar, the New Hebrides, west and central Africa and Newfoundland.
When Edward VII and French President Émile Loubet signed the Entente Cordiale, the agreement was sealed with a golden casket given to France by the UK.
The Entente Cordiale was a colonial-era agreement signed by Britain and France to stop disputes over interests in Africa and other areas across the globe.
The treaty brought an end to a rivalry between the two nations that encompassed everything from bloody wars to religious differences.
The casket was made by the prestigious Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company, jewellers by appointment to the Crown.
The Entente Cordiale was a colonial-era agreement signed by Britain and France to stop disputes over interests in Africa and other areas across the globe
Its lid is decorated with a golden sculpture, the allegorical figure of Peace crowning France and Britain with laurels.
The casket also contains a roll of parchment inscribed with a text celebrating Anglo-French friendship.
The Entente was extended in 1907 to include Russia and culminated in the alliance that formally took on the central powers during the First World War.
Britain and France also fought together in the Second World War and it was from London, in 1940, that General Charles de Gaulle called on his countrymen and women to resist German occupation.
The 18K yellow gold case has sealed the Entente Cordiale between France and England.
The lid is surmounted by an allegory of Peace crowning France and England with laurels. Chiselled decoration of friezes of garlands held by ribbons on the lid, and military trophies on the sides of the base.
It is also decorated with four small painted porcelain plaques depicting Tower Bridge, Westminster Palace, Royal Opera House and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The case rests on four leafy feet ending in volutes, two of which hold the crossed enamelled flags of France and the United Kingdom bearing Emile Loubet’s initials on one side enamelled and on the other set with diamonds.
The interior lined with cream satin bouillonné conceals an illuminated scroll with an emphatic and detailed dedication of Franco-English relations, written at Guildhall on the 7th of July 1903.