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The question posed, however, was could it really have been the skullcap worn by Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), the arch reformer of the medieval Church whose humiliation of the Emperor Henry IV and crusade against the increasing secularisation of the Church led first to the infamous Diet of Worms in 1076 and then, when that failed, to Henry creating an anti-Pope, Clement III, in an eventually unsuccessful bid to unseat him?

If this is Gregory’s cap, it stands arguably unrivalled in importance as a surviving article of medieval clothing.

Although auctioneer Claude Aguttes said the principal attraction of the piece lay more in its age (c.1070-80) than in the possible papal link, the excited bidding indicated that those competing to own it considered the provenance reliable (there is an 11th century manuscript, now in the British Museum, which shows Gregory VII wearing an identical skull-cap). The cap, possibly made in the south east of England, measures 7in (18cm) in diameter and 5in (13cm) in height. It is made from blue velvet replaced, probably in the 14th century, and is decorated with four bands of red silk embroidered with gold thread and four cream silk braids decorated with motifs of stylised trees with two birds flanked by two lions – recalling motifs on the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Musée de Cluny was interested in acquiring it but could not match the hammer price bid by a private collector from Paris who paid Fr320,000 (£32,300) – six times estimate – plus 10.854 per cent premium.