Sixteenth Century England Jewelry

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WITH the accession of Henry VIII a new period opens in the history of the jeweler’s art. The spirit of the revival, which had previously affected only the Court, began to spread rapidly throughout the community, under the influence of the example set by the great jewelers of Italy. The King inherited an enormous treasury, and the display of jewelry on his own person and on that of his Court was prodigious.

We are indebted to the Venetian ambassador, Giustinian, for the following graphic description of the King’s personal adornment a year or two after his accession :— ” He wore a cap of crimson velvet, in the French fashion, and the brim was looped, up all round with lacets and gold enameled tags. . . . Very close round his neck he had a gold collar, from which there hung a rough-cut diamond, the size of the largest walnut I ever saw, and to this was suspended a most beautiful and very large round pearl. His mantle was of purple velvet lined with white satin, the sleeves open, with a train more than four Venetian yards long.

This mantle was girt in front like a gown, with a thick gold cord, from which there hung large golden acorns like those suspended from a cardinal’s hat; over this mantle was a very handsome gold collar, with a pendent St. George entirely of diamonds. Beneath the mantle he wore a pouch of cloth of gold, which covered a dagger; and his fingers were one mass of jeweled rings.

Many a lively and detailed picture has been left us by the chronicler and lawyer, Edward Hall, of the equipage and adornment of Henry VHI on his coronation and at the court entertainments, and particularly of the famous meeting of the Cloth of Gold, where, in their insane desire to outshine each other, the English and French nobles entered into boundless extravagance in dress, and so loaded themselves with jewelry, that, in the words of Du Bellay, ” they carried the price of woodland, water-mill, and pasture on their backs.”

Many are the elaborate descriptions of entertainments and pageants by the chroniclers Leland, Holinshed, and Stowe, in which rich jewelry figures; but Hall’s Chronicle, the most minute in its accounts of contemporary fashions, teems with references to “Gold Smith’s work ” and to the wealth of precious stones embroidered on the garments. The passion for personal ornaments ran such riot that even foreign critics inveighed against Englishmen for their extravagance. This love of jewelry was largely due to foreign fashions, which, hitherto discountenanced, were growing popular at Court, in consequence of the increasing communication with the Continent.

From the commencement of Henry’s reign merchants and craftsmen from abroad swarmed in numbers into London, and Hall, who shared the characteristic English antipathy to all things foreign, gives an instance of an invasion by these alien artificers. It was on the occasion of a magnificent embassy from France in 1518 in connection with the betrothal of the Princess Mary to the Dauphin that there came, he says, “a great number of rascals and peddlers and jewelers, and brought over divers merchandise accustomed, all under the color of [baggage] of the ambassadors.” In accordance with the system of his predecessors in pursuit of their own personal interests, Henry VIII extended his protection to the foreigner, while the example of the French Court, the rivalry with Francis I, and the foreign proclivities of Wolsey and Cromwell induced him to patronize extensively foreign jewelers and merchants in precious stones.

Occasionally Henry was a sufferer in his transactions with sharp Italian dealers ; and Cellini relates a story of how a Milanese jeweler counterfeited an emerald so cleverly that he managed to palm off the same for a genuine stone on the sovereign of “those beasts of Englishmen,” as he elsewhere terms them, for 9000 golden scuds. “And all this happened, because the purchaser—who was no less a person than the King of England—put rather more faith in the jeweler than he ought to have done. The fraud was not found out till several years after.” A considerable number of the foreign craftsmen patronized by the King were Italians but in jewelry the French influence seems to have predominated— judging by the frequent mention of jewels of ” Paris work,” and by the fact that the majority of the jewelers mentioned in the ” King’s Book of Payments,”‘ bear French names.

Throughout the first half of his reign Henry placed huge orders in the hands of these craftsmen, but advancing years and an exhausted treasury appear to have somewhat diminished his expenditure on personal ornaments. Some interesting correspondence between the above-mentioned Jehan Lange, a jeweler of Paris, and certain of his native townsmen has been preserved.* “The King,” he writes in 1537, referring to certain jeweled garments he had submitted to His Majesty, “was very glad to see such riches. He said he was too old to wear such things.

“The King always makes good cheer, but he has grown cold, and we have not quite sold everything; for the gentlemen have spent their money in the war.” ” I find the King,” he says in another place, “disinclined to buy, for he has told me he has no more money, and it has cost him a great deal to make war.”

In spite of Lange’s complaints, it was only just before his death that Henry VIII acquired a famous and magnificent historical jewel, the great pendant of Charles the Bold, last Duke of Burgundy.” In its center was set the wonderful diamond—a deep pyramid five-eighths of an inch square at the base—believed to be the first on which Louis de Berghem tried his newly invented method of cutting. Around it were set three balas rubies, styled from their equality in size and weight the “Three Brothers,” which, owing to their fine quality, were set open, without the foil with which stones were then usually backed.
Between these were four enormous pearls.

According to the universal custom of his day, the Duke, accompanied by all his treasure when campaigning, carried this jewel Letters and Papers with him, partly to have it constantly under his personal supervision, and partly because of the magic properties then attributed to precious stones. Captured by a common soldier from his tent after his memorable defeat at the battle of Granson in 1475, the pendant came into the possession of the magistrates of Berne, and from them was purchased by Jacob Fugger, of the opulent merchant family of Augsburg, whose son, after keeping it for several years, disposed of it to Henry VIIL

The last we hear of this famous jewel is in 1623, when it is described in the same words in the list of jewels removed from the Tower by James I, and handed over to his jeweler Heriot to be refashioned for the use of Charles and Buckingham on their visit to Spain.

About the year 1536 the great painter Hans Holbein, who had come to England several years previously, entered into the service of Henry VHI, and it was between that date and his death in 1543 that he executed those masterpieces of design for jewelry which will ever stand as a landmark in the history of the subject.

The most important of Holbein’s designs for jewelry are preserved in the British Museum, to which they were bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane in 1753. The collection, originally mounted in a quarto volume, termed Holbein’s London Sketch-book, is now remounted and systematically arranged. The designs, comprising 179 separate items, are for the most part drawn with a pen with black ink, and then some slight touches of brown put in for the shadows. Several of the designs have the ground blackened, the ornaments being left in white. Some of the jewels, entirely colored and often touched up with gold, are designed for enameling in high relief, though it is not improbable that these were intended to be ornamented with black enamel. The most attractive are the patterns for jewels enriched with precious stones and enamels, the majority of which were for neck pendants intended to hang from a chain, ribbon, or silken cord.

The design of a few of these pendants is based upon the prevailing custom of wearing initials of the name either in embroidery or in pure gold attached to the garments. Some curious instances of this fashion are recorded by Hall, particularly in his graphic account of what took place at a masque given by Henry VHI at his palace at Westminster. In the same way jeweled initials were also frequently worn in the form of pendants, and a jeweled B can be seen hanging from the neck of Anne Boleyn in her portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.

Holbein’s drawings contain several beautiful instances of this type of design, generally completed with three pendent pearls. One of them has a monogram of the initials R and E in chased and engraved gold set at the four corners with two rubies, an emerald, and a diamond. Another has the letters H and I (probably for Henry and Jane Seymour) with an emerald in the center; and a somewhat similar jewel, formed of the sacred monogram, is worn by Jane Seymour in her portrait by Holbein at Vienna.

The designs for the larger pendants, mostly circular or lozenge-shaped, are set with sapphires, diamonds, rubies, and pearls, and terminate with large pear-shaped pearls. The spaces between the stones are filled with chased or enameled arrangements of scroll or leaf work. The smaller jewels, which might also have been worn as ensigns or badges on the hat, or as brooches, are of open gold work with leaf or ribbon ornament set with stones and pearls. They include a very beautiful design of a half-length figure of a lady in the costume of the period holding between her hands a large stone, upon which is an inscription.

The fifteenth-century traditions seem to have influenced Holbein in the design of this jewel, which at once calls to mind the Flemish-Burgundian brooches (an example of which, in the British Museum, has already been mentioned) ornamented with similar figures, full-faced, and holding a large stone before them. The jewels actually executed from these designs were probably the work of Hans of Antwerp.

He was a friend of Holbein, and one of the witnesses of his will; and his portrait, painted by Holbein, is now at Windsor. Hans of Antwerp appears to have settled in London about 1514, having perhaps been induced to do so by Thomas Cromwell, who in early life resided for a time in Antwerp as secretary to the English merchants there. It was presumably Cromwell who, as “Master of the King’s Jewel House,” was instrumental in procuring for him the post of the King’s goldsmith. His name occurs several times in Cromwell’s accounts.

The chief duty of the King’s goldsmith was to supply the New Year’s gifts, so popular at that time. These usually took the form of personal ornaments, and it seems likely that Holbein’s famous sketches were specially designed for this purpose. However remarkable the Court of Henry VHI was for its profusion of jewelry, that of Queen Elizabeth, who inherited the Tudor love for display.

Throughout her reign—a period marked also upon the Continent for its prolific production of jewelry—the fashion set by the jewel-loving Queen for a superabundance of finery. The country suddenly becoming wealthy, was tempted, like one not born to riches, to use the whole in outward show, and this display was rendered comparatively easy by the influx of gold and precious stones after the Spanish conquests in America. Numerous portraits of courtiers and court ladies afford ample evidence of the prevailing fashions in jewelry, while the portraits of the Queen herself, all overburdened with ornaments, are too well known to need detailed description. “There is not a single portrait of her,” says Walpole, ” that one can call beautiful.

The profusion of ornaments with which they are loaded are marks of her continual fondness for dress, while they entirely exclude all grace, and leave no more room for a painter’s genius than if he had been employed to copy an Indian idol, totally composed of hands and necklaces. A pale Roman nose, a head of hair loaded with crowns and powdered with diamonds, a vast ruff, a bushel of pearls, are features by which every body knows at once the pictures of Queen Elizabeth.”

An excellent description of the jewelry of Elizabeth towards the close of her brilliant reign is given by Paul Hentzner, who visited England in 1598: “The Queen had in her ears two pearls with very rich drops; she wore false hair and that red; upon her head she had a small crown ; her bosom was uncovered, and she had on a necklace of exceedingly fine jewels. She was dressed in white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk shot with silver threads; her train was very long. An enormous number of these exist.

A catalog of them has been drawn up by Mr. F. M. O’Donoghue, of the British Museum. Instead of a chain, she had an oblong collar of gold and jewels.” To a courtier who knelt to her, “after pulling off her glove, she gave her right hand to kiss, sparkling with rings and jewels.” The best of all representations of that ” bright occidental Star” is her faded waxwork effigy, still to be seen in Westminster Abbey—no other than the one which on the 28th of April, 1603, was carried on her coffin to the Abbey. It shows the veritable passion Elizabeth possessed for pearls. Her stomach is encrusted with large Roman pearls, while strings of pearls hang round her throat and neck. Her earrings are circular pearl and ruby medallions, with huge pear-shaped pearl pendants.

Full of detail are the records of costly “jewels” that have come down to us, particularly in the list, preserved in the British Museum,’ of the New Years gifts presented to the Queen, from the fourteenth to the thirty-sixth year of her reign.

The practice of exchanging presents on New Year’s Day attained extraordinary proportions at the Court of Elizabeth, and was supplemented by birthday presents, which, as Her Majesty’s weakness for jewelry was well known, took for the most part the form of personal ornaments of every kind. The very accurate accounts that were kept by the officers of the Queen’s wardrobe of every item in her enormous store of jewelry is witnessed by a number of curious entries in her wardrobe-book of losses of jewelry sustained by Her Majesty.

In addition to numerous inventories and wills full of information concerning the jewelry of the period, we have at our service, as in Roman times, the works of social satirists, such as The A.natomie of Abuses, by Philip Stubbes (1583), and Bishop Hall’s poetical satires of 1597, to which we are indebted for many valuable details. In accepting these it is well to bear in mind the common tendency of every age to ridicule its own fashions ; yet, in spite of Puritan narrowness, and the exaggerated indignation of the satirist, it is manifest that extraordinary luxury and extravagance in dress and jewelry were prevalent not only at Court, but among all classes of the community.

Of greater importance, however, than the information to be gleaned from pictorial and literary sources is that derived from the actual jewels themselves, a considerable number of which, through all the changes and chances of more than three centuries, have been handed down still practically intact, and retaining the chief feature of their decoration—their exquisite enamel. Shakespeare, while appreciating the charm of its harmonious combination of colors, recognized, it appears, the delicacy of this beautiful medium, when in the Comedy of Errors he makes Adriana say :— I see the jewel best enameled Will lose his beauty ; yet the gold bides still, That others touch, and often touching will Wear gold. The New Learning, which made itself felt in England during the reign of Henry VII, began at this time to exercise a direct influence on the choice of the designs of jewels and on the arrangement of their ornamentation.

As witnesses of the intellectual revival,, they often took emblematic forms, bearing in exquisite enamel-work fancy mottoes and devices, generally obscure in their interpretation, and intended to express the sentiments of their wearers, or those of donors, regarding the presumed state of mind of their recipients. The passion for these reached its height in the golden days of Good Queen Bess, when it became the fashion for the bejeweled gallants who fluttered like a swarm of glittering insects around
her to display their wit and ingenuity in devising jeweled emblems as fit presents to the Virgin Queen.

Thus in the list of costly articles of jewelry offered to Elizabeth, we meet with the present, made in Christmas week 1581, by some courtiers disguised as maskers, of a jewel in the form of “a flower of gold, garnished with specks of diamonds, rubies, and opals, with an agate of her Majesty and a pearl pendant, with devices painted in it.

Few of the jewels of this stirring period display a more charming symbolism than those produced after the defeat and destruction of the Spanish Armada, whereon England is figured as an ark floating securely and tranquilly on a troubled sea. It is covered inside and out with the most elaborate symbolism, and contains altogether no less than twenty-eight emblems and six mottoes.

Internal evidence proves this remarkable jewel to have been made by order of Lady Margaret Douglas, mother of Henry Darnley, in memory of her husband, Matthew-Stuart, Earl of Lennox, who was killed in 1571.

Public and private collections likewise contain a considerable number of enameled miniature cases furnished with loops for suspension, and cameos set with jeweled and enameled mountings of the period. The Berkeley heirlooms, among which is the Anglo-Saxon ring already mentioned, include the Hunsdon Onyx, the Drake pendant in form of a ship, Edward VI’s Prayer Book, and a crystal armlet. These exquisite jewels, according to tradition, were presented by Queen Elizabeth to her cousin Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who died in 1596.

They then passed to his son George, the second Baron Hunsdon, who so highly valued them, that he bequeathed them on his death, in 1603, to his wife, and afterwards to his only daughter Elizabeth, with strict injunctions to transmit the same to her posterity, to be preserved (according to the actual terms of his will) “

The jewels mentioned, which came into the Berkeley family through the marriage of the above-named Elizabeth Carey with Lord Berkeley, are still preserved at Berkeley Castle.

A golden jewel, we learn, was round, and hung with a small pendent pearl ; one side was enameled with a representation of the battle of Bosworth Field, and the other with the red and white roses of Lancaster and York upon a green ground. Within were four miniatures, Henry VH, Henry VHI, Edward VI, and Queen Mary. The miniatures are still preserved at Windsor Castle, but shorn of their enameled case,
which has long since disappeared.

The jewel was bought by the King from “young Hilliard,” son of the famous miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, who, besides painting the miniatures, probably also executed the enamel-work upon the jewel itself. Hilliard, like the artists of the Renaissance already cited, had been brought up as a goldsmith and jeweler, and, as we see by the inscription which he placed round his own portrait, held an appointment as goldsmith at Elizabeth’s Court; while his knowledge and love of jewelry are admirably displayed in his miniatures, in which every jewel is painted with faultless accuracy and care.

The mention of Hilliard introduces to our notice the other creators of the beautiful jewelry of the period. English work continued to be influenced by the Continent; and engraved designs for jewelry- by the Frenchmen Ducerceau and Woeiriot, and by the eminent goldsmith and engraver Theodor de Bry, who himself worked in London in 1587 and the two following years, must have been well known and imitated in England.

During the latter years of her reign Hugh Kayle and his partner Sir Richard Martin supplied the Queen with jewels as New Year’s gifts and presents to ambassadors amounting to upwards of 12,000. Enough has been said to demonstrate that the reign of Elizabeth, fertile in great events, was productive of much important jewelry, whose charm, excellence, and historic interest have, up to the present, by no means received the attention they deserve. And it may be stated, without prejudice, that jewels of the period which bear a clear stamp of English origin compare favorably, nay even advantageously, with the productions of contemporary jewelers of the Continent. The jewels of the unhappy Mary Stuart form a subject of peculiar interest. Like her jealous rival Queen Elizabeth, Mary was most lavish in her display of jewelry.

In addition to the crown jewels she had a profusion of personal ornaments, her own private property. Her inventories, published by the Bannatyne Club (1863), furnish many a vivid description of the splendid objects which, during the course of her turbulent life, she bestowed on her friends or lost under stress of circumstances. They have further acquired quite an historical celebrity “from the frequency with which they were claimed by their unfortunate mistress in her appeals for mercy and justice during her long captivity, and the rapacity with which her royal jailer and other enemies sought or retained possession of these glittering spoils.” It is impossible here to enter into details respecting the many beautiful things recorded in her inventories, or the strange vicissitudes that they underwent.

Their dispersal would seem to have begun with her infatuated passion for Bothwell. The number of jewels she lavished on him when they parted on Carberry Hill, those she distributed as personal gifts, and others that served in the various emergencies in which the unfortunate Queen found herself, afford some idea of the extraordinary quantity of precious articles in her possession. A few of Mary’s actual jewels, such as the Duke of Norfolk’s rosary and jeweled necklace, the Duke of Portland’s jeweled cameo have been preserved.

THE origin of the ornaments for the hat or cap, known generally as enseignes, has been mentioned in dealing with the jewelry of the Middle Ages. At the period of the Renaissance, the enseigne—the ” bijou par excellence” it has been termed —was above all the recipient of the very highest workmanship, and formed the subject of varied designs of the most ingenious character.’^ By the beginning of the fifteenth century fashion had already turned hat-badges almost entirely into articles of adornment, and judging by that worn by King Dagobert in Petrus Christus’s picture of 1449, and, among many other portraits, by that of Richard HI in the National Portrait Gallery, these jewels were composed of goldsmith’s work, enameled, and set with precious stones. In the sixteenth century the majority of enseignes seem always to have borne some figured design ; and Cellini, referring to the year 1525, says: “It was the custom at that epoch to wear little golden medals, upon which every nobleman or man of quality had some device or fancy of his own engraved ; and these were worn in the cap.”

For a considerable time the earlier religious badges sold at places of pilgrimage continued to be worn. Though enseignes very frequently bore some religious representation, or the figure or emblem of some patron saint, they ended, like other articles primarily religious, ENSEIGNES by becoming purely secular, and took the forms of devices of a fanciful or even humorous character. Every one from the highest rank downwards had his personal devise or more often a series of them. It was worn as an emblem—an ingenious expression of some conceit of the wearer, the outcome of his peculiar frame of mind. It usually contained some obscure meaning, the sense of which, half hidden and half revealed, was intended to afford some play for the ingenuity of the observer.

The love of the time for expressing things by riddles led to the publication of sets of emblems, like those of Alciatus, which had imitators in all directions. Every one, in fact, tried his hand at these “toys of the imagination.” Numbers of enseignes are mentioned in the inventories, and male portraits very commonly exhibit this form of decoration. Women also wore them upon the hat or in the hair, but not until about the middle of the sixteenth century. The hat was turned up so as to show the lining, and the badge was usually placed under the rim, at the side, and somewhat to the front of the hat. Some of these medallions are furnished with a pin, like a brooch ; but as the majority have loops at the edge, or are pierced with holes for the purpose of sewing them to the head-dress, they can as a rule be distinguished from ordinary brooches.

Pendants of the same form as those hung from neck-chains also appear occasionally as enseignes upon the hat. In England, during the sixteenth century, brooches, as they were often called, were extensively worn in caps and hats’ as men’s jewels in particular; and besides these there were jeweled hat- ” He gave me a jewel the other day, and now he has beat it out of my hat.”

An enameled brooch of this design modeled in full relief with the figure of St. George and the dragon, with the Princess Sabra in the background, is preserved among the exceedingly interesting series of jewels in His Majesty’s collection at Windsor Castle. It is of gold, finely chased, brilliantly modeled, and surrounded with an open wire balustrade enameled green. This brooch, traditionally believed to have been worn by Henry VIII, is known as the Holbein George ; but internal evidences tend to prove the unlikelihood of Holbein having had any hand in its construction. It appears to be of Venetian origin—though not without some traces of German influence—and to date from the first few years of the sixteenth century. There exist several other jewels, the majority of them hat-ornaments, executed in this so-called “gold wire” enamel,’ of the same exquisite and rare style of workmanship, and all possessing a singular likeness to that at Windsor, both in the patterns of the dresses worn by the figures represented on them, and in general treatment, particularly of the hair of the figures, which is formed of ringlets of spiral twisted gold wire.

HAIR-PINS were worn occasionally by ladies, the jeweled aigrettes of more frequent use, and the gold circlets set with precious stones, more elaborate forms of head-decoration were employed. Though these were often entwined with ropes of pearls and sprinkled with precious stones, they belong rather to costume proper. There remain, however, hair-pins, of which we obtain a certain amount of information from the inventories, and from the few actual specimens that still remain. Hair-pins, like other articles of Renaissance jewelry, are remarkable for their variety of design, particularly as far as the heads of the pins are concerned. In the Germanic Museum at Nuremberg are several hair-pins with heads variously ornamented, one of them being in the form of a small enameled hand.

EARRINGS (The fashion of wearing the hair over the ears, which, as we have seen, completely banished earrings from among the ornaments of the Middle Ages, greatly checked their use during the sixteenth century. In Italian pictures one finds here and there some traces of them, but compared with the profusion of other ornaments, their almost complete absence is somewhat surprising. The most remarkable instance of their use is the beautiful portrait of a lady by Sodoma, or by Parmigianino, in the Stadel Institute at Frankfort, where are seen elaborate earrings of openwork scroll pattern with three pendent pearls.

James I, as is clear from contemporary male portraits, where an earring is worn, as a rule, in one ear only. Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, is seen in the National Portrait Gallery wearing a ruby earring; while the Duke of Buckingham was particularly noticeable for the splendor of his diamond earrings. Commenting on the degeneracy of his contemporaries, Holinshed in his Chronicle (1577) observes: “Some lusty courtiers also and gentlemen of courage do wear either rings of gold, stones, or pearl in their ears, whereby they imagine the workmanship of God to be not a little amended.” In a splendor-loving time one might expect to find such ornaments among courtiers, but that earrings were worn also by men of action and men of parts is evident from the portraits of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Earl of Southampton.

The use of earrings among men continued to the time of Charles I. King Charles himself followed the general fashion and hung a large pearl in his left ear. This he wore even on the scaffold, where he took it from his ear and gave it to a faithful follower. It is still preserved, and is now owned by the Duke of Portland. It is pear-shaped, about five-eighths of an inch long, and mounted with a gold top, and a hook to pass through the ear. Earrings, together with similar luxuries, vanished at the time of the Protectorate men are not seen wearing them after the Restoration.

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