The knife from Burke’s Dagger Scene. It sold to an institutional buyer for £3800 at George Kidner of Lymington on November 23.

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Scheduled to speak on the second reading of the Alien Bill, imposing restrictions on foreigners entering the country in the wake of the massacres of Paris, he called, in passing, at the office of Sir James Bland Burges, Under Secretary at the Foreign Office.

Burke - whose Whiggish sympathies towards the Revolution were forever turned by The Terror - was preparing an impassioned speech about the French Revolutionaries and the alarming possibility that their behaviour might cross the Channel.

As they talked, Burges showed him a long-bladed knife, recently received from a Birmingham cutler who had grown suspicious when asked to produce a large quantity after the same pattern. Was this the evidence of revolutionaries in their midst?

Burke secreted the knife about his person and entered the Commons to begin an impassioned speech against French atrocities and in favour of tighter security. At its crescendo, he drew the dagger from his jacket and cast it to the floor of the House with the words: "There's French fraternity for you! Such is the weapon which French Jacobins would plunge into the heart of our beloved king."

In fact, at the time, the gesture occasioned only mirth. Richard Brinsley Sheridan dulled the dramatic effect with the remark, "The gentleman, I see, has brought his knife with him, but where is his fork?" However, the Dagger Scene was made famous by a widely circulated James Gillray cartoon recording the incident.

The knife which, by tradition, was the weapon thrown so theatrically to the floor was offered by George Kidner of Lymington as part of a November 23 specialist sale devoted to arms, armour and militaria. It fits the contemporary description of the knife as "a coarsely-made weapon, a foot long in the blade, and fitted to serve equally as a stiletto and as a pike-head". It comes with an old hand-written label describing its history and its descent in the Lamb family. Sir James Bland Burges, to whom the knife was returned after the incident, assumed the name of Lamb in 1821.

Such an object was very much a museum piece and - although the successful bidder has yet to be announced - it appears to have sold to an institutional buyer at £3800 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium).

By Roland Arkell