THE GRAND CHALLENGE CUP dates from 1839, in which year the Stewards resolved that a Silver Cup, value 100 guineas, to be called the "Henley Grand Challenge Cup", be rowed for annually by amateur crews in eight-oared boats.
At this first Regatta, J. D. Bishop, of the Leander Club, umpired on horseback. The race, which was won by First Trinity, Cambridge, attracted four entries and it is recorded that: "The Etonian Club were dressed in white guernseys with pale blue facings, rosette sky blue. Brasenose had blue striped guernseys, blue cap with gold tassel, rosette yellow, purple and crimson. Wadham wore white guernseys with narrow blue stripes, dark blue cap with light blue velvet band, and light blue scarf, and Trinity College were attired in blue striped guernseys, rosette French Blue.".
One of the prize medals given for this first race in 1839 was presented to the Regatta in 1969, and is on display in the Prize Tent.
The Grand Challenge Cup has been competed for annually since 1839 with the exception of the years affected by the two World Wars. While the text of the qualification rules has varied over the years, the Cup has always been open, except in the Olympic Games year of 1908, to all established amateur clubs. The Cup has been won by overseas crews forty eight times - twelve times by crews from Germany, eleven from the United States, nine from the U.S.S.R., four from Canada, thrice each from Belgium and Australia, twice by Holland and once each by crews from Switzerland, France, Bulgaria, and Croatia.
The base of the Cup was added in 1896 and extended in 1954 and 1986 and records the names of all winning crews since the inception of the Regatta. The Book of Honour was added as an integral part of the trophy in 1954. In 1964, the winning Harvard crew of 1914 presented the Regatta with a new cup, being identical to the now fragile original of 1839; this new cup continues to be used as the trophy.
In 1845 a new challenge prize was offered for eight-oared crews which, in the following year, was named THE LADIES' CHALLENGE PLATE.
Up to the 1966 Regatta, entries for this event were restricted to boat clubs from colleges, schools and certain other academic institutions within the United Kingdom together with Trinity College, Dublin.
The rules were then widened to permit entries from any college, school or academic institution throughout the world.
In 1985 major changes to the rules for the "Ladies" and the "Thames" removed the 'student' requirement for the "Ladies", which became an event open to crews from any club and is now the second most senior event for men's eights at the Regatta.
THE THAMES CHALLENGE CUP was instituted for eight-oars in 1868, and attracted entries from home and overseas crews of "club", rather than "Grand", standard. From 1985 there were a number of rule changes for the "Thames", each attempting to ensure that the best club and student crews entered the higher event, the "Ladies".
After a two year review the Stewards, in December 1995, made fundamental changes to the rules of the "Thames" and excluded all student crews.
In addition the event now has a number of other exclusions, with the intention of ensuring that the "Thames" is an event for "genuine" club crews.
As part of the search to find the right formula for the eights events at the Regatta an additional event was instituted in 1990 for the eights of single colleges, of smaller university boat clubs and of schools unable to enter for the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup by reason of age. This proved to be a very popular event. The Stewards quickly decided that it should become a permanent part of the Regatta programme and provided a trophy, THE TEMPLE CHALLENGE CUP. The cup, made in 1835 by Charles Fox, has been engraved with a sketch of the Temple.
THE PRINCESS ELIZABETH CHALLENGE CUP for eights was instituted in 1946 for public schools in the United Kingdom and was opened to entries from overseas in 1964. The inauguration of this race coinciding, as it did, with the first visit to the Regatta of Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth (now Her Majesty The Queen), permission was graciously given to name the trophy "The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup". The cup now used as the trophy was given to the Regatta in 1957 and the silver base was added in the same year.
At the 1998 and 1999 Regattas the Stewards held an Invitation Race for Women's Eights. At the Stewards' Meeting in December 1999 it was decided to make this event into an Open Women's Eights event, formally incorporated in the Rules of the Regatta and to be known as THE HENLEY PRIZE. At the 2002 Regatta the event became known as THE REMENHAM CHALLENGE CUP when the Stewards accepted the gift of a trophy presented by The Remenham Club in recognition of the support its founding clubs had given women's rowing and in memory of its past President, Mr. Ian Rogers, M.B.E.
Instituted in 1841, THE STEWARDS' CHALLENGE CUP for fours is second only to the Grand Challenge Cup in seniority and is subject to the same rules of entry. In early days the boats carried coxswains. Such an encumbrance seemed unnecessary to W. B. Woodgate, who, when competing in the event in the Brasenose four in 1868, instructed the coxswain, F. E. Weatherley, to jump overboard on the word "Go". Lightened by the ejection of this passenger, the Brasenose four went on to win easily - only to be disqualified.
Presentation prizes for a race for fours without coxswains were offered at the next Regatta, but it was not until five years later, in 1873, that the Stewards' Challenge Cup became a coxswainless race.
THE VISITORS' CHALLENGE CUP was originally called the "District Fours" and awarded for a local four-oared race with coxswains. The event was renamed in 1847, and the qualification rules of that time remained in force until 1970. From 1971 to 2000 the event was open to boat clubs of any academic institution throughout the world.
At the Stewards' meeting in December 2000 it was decided to expand the intermediate level of events by opening up the Visitors' Challenge Cup to clubs as well as to the Students.
THE WYFOLD CHALLENGE CUP for coxswainless fours was presented to the Regatta in 1847. At that time it was the custom for the challengers in each event to row trial heats among themselves and for the successful challenger to contest the final heat against the winners of the previous year. As the engravings on the cup record, this prize was awarded to the winning challenger for the Grand Challenge Cup. In 1855 the trophy was made over to a four-oared race. In December 1995 the qualification rules for this event were brought in line with those adopted for the Thames Challenge Cup. Again the intention is to ensure that the "Wyfold" is an event for "genuine" club crews.
THE QUEEN MOTHER CHALLENGE CUP for quadruple sculls was introduced in 1981, the first time there had been a race in this class of boat at the Regatta. The qualification rules are the same as those for the Grand Challenge Cup.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother graciously consented to this trophy being named after her to mark the occasion of her 80th birthday in 1980, the year in which it was decided to institute this event.
The Men's Quadruple Sculls event was introduced to the Regatta in 2001, at the same level as The Ladies' Challenge Plate and the Visitors' Challenge Cup. For a number of years The Men's Quadruple Sculls has been the only event at the Regatta without a Challenge Trophy.
In 2007 H.R.H. The Prince of Wales kindly consented to his name being associated with a new trophy for the Men's Quadruple Sculls - THE PRINCE OF WALES CHALLENGE CUP.
The trophy has been donated by Mr. V. G. Saunders, a Member of the Stewards' Enclosure, and was the original prize awarded to the winner of the 1931 King's Cup Aero Race, E. C. T. Edwards, the brother of H. R. A. (Jumbo) Edwards, the famous Oxford Coach. This new trophy was contested for the first time at the 2008 Regatta.
THE FAWLEY CHALLENGE CUP for quadruple sculls was offered for the first time at the 1992 Regatta. This is an event for junior men and is open to crews from single boat clubs as well as from single schools.
The trophy presented for this event is the Cup given to the Regatta by his family in memory of Nicholas Young who rowed for Westminster School and St. Catherine's College, Oxford.
At the 2001 Regatta an event for WOMEN'S QUADRUPLE SCULLS was introduced.
In 2003 this event became known as THE PRINCESS GRACE CHALLENGE CUP in memory of Princess Grace of Monaco. Her brother, Jack Kelly Junior had won the Diamond Challenge Sculls in 1947 and in 1949.
Princess Grace was the Regatta prizegiver in 1981.
THE BRITANNIA CHALLENGE CUP was presented in 1969 as an event for four-oars with coxswain by Nottingham Britannia Rowing Club to mark its centenary. The event was open to both club and student crews.
Since 2004 the event has been restricted to club crews only and a new event has been offered for the student crews (see The Prince Albert Challenge Cup).
Since 2004 the The Britannia Challenge Cup has been restricted to club crews only and a new event had to be offered for the student crews. This event, originally known as the Men's Student Coxed Fours, became THE PRINCE ALBERT CHALLENGE CUP in 2006.
The trophy was designed and created by Hector Miller and was presented by Imperial College London. It is named after Prince Albert who became the first Royal Patron of the Regatta in 1851 and was also closely associated with the origins of Imperial College.
THE PAIR-OARED RACE was instituted in 1845 for presentation prizes of Silver Wherries. In 1850 these were discontinued and SILVER GOBLETS were given instead as presentation prizes. In 1895 Mr. Tom Nickalls donated a challenge trophy in the form of a Silver Peg Cup to commemorate the achievements of his sons, Guy and Vivian, who between them won eleven Goblets in the 1890s.
To mark the Centenary Regatta in 1939, presentation goblets were offered for a DOUBLE SCULLING RACE. The final proved to be a magnificent contest in which Beresford and Southwood, of Thames Rowing Club, dead-heated with the Italians, Scherli and Broschi, then champions of Europe. The Challenge Cup and medals were instituted in 1946, whilst a silver base was added in 1987.
The race for THE DIAMOND CHALLENGE SCULLS "for amateurs, open to all England" was introduced in 1844. At that time, The Diamond Challenge Sculls trophy was a presentation prize of a diamond scarf-pin. The Diamond Challenge Sculls were not instituted until 1850, when they were described thus: "The sculls are models of about six inches in length, formed of frosted and bright silver, the handles are fillet gold, the sculls crossed and corded gold, the cord appearing in the centre of a wreath of green enamel set with rubies and brilliants and tied with gold, the ends of the tie sustaining a brilliant drop.". In that year the diamond scarf-pin gave way to a silver-gilt `pineapple' cup, which was similarly presented to the winner to keep.
In 1957 a new case was made for the trophy as there was no more room for further silver plaques in the old case, which had held the sculls for 116 years.
In 1993 an event for Women's Single Sculls was introduced, and counted as a round of the F.I.S.A. World Cup in the three years 1993 to 1995. In 1996 the Stewards purchased a silver cup as a challenge trophy and were delighted to obtain the approval of H.M. The Queen for this trophy to be called THE PRINCESS ROYAL CHALLENGE CUP and this was presented for the first time in 1997. In addition, the winner of The Princess Royal Challenge Cup receives a set of miniature crossed sculls as a presentation prize.