Medieval England Jewelry: Earrings, Necklaces, Collars

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Though common in the Merovingian and Carlo-vingian epoch, earrings appear to have been worn only to a limited extent, and that at the commencement of the period at present under discussion. Pendants formed of quadrilateral prisms set on each side with cabochon garnets and hung with small strings of garnet beads are attached to the ears of the tenth-century figure of St. Foy in the treasury at Conques, though it is not impossible that these, like many of the gems that adorn the statue, may be of earlier workmanship.

That the Byzantine style of earring, of crescent form, was worn during the eleventh and twelfth centuries is evident from a twelfth-century bronze ewer, in the shape of a head of a woman, of Flemish work, in the Museum of Budapest.

Earrings, however, enjoyed no great popularity during the Middle Ages, and the cause of this must be traced to the fashion which prescribed for women a style of coiffure by which the hair fell down at the sides, or was covered by a veil. There is a reproduction of this remarkable specimen of Dinanderie in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

MEDIEVAL NECKLACES would have effectively hidden any ornaments for the ear. It was only at the end of the fourteenth century that fashion again allowed the hair to be worn high. Pendent rings of gold for ladies’ ears are mentioned in the Roman de la Rose, and statues occasionally exhibit short earrings, pearls attached to the lobe of the ear, or stones in the form of drops. Earrings, indeed, did not come into very common use until the close of the fifteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century.

NECKLACES AND COLLARS: The custom of wearing necklaces and neck-chains was much more limited during the Middle Ages than it had been in antiquity and at the time of the great migrations. Women’s necklaces can hardly be proved to have been in general use before the end of the fourteenth century, and during the Middle Ages seldom attained the exaggerated style they exhibited at the period of the Renaissance.

They consisted mostly of plaited cords of gold wire, and probably of single or double chains of pearls. These originally encircled the throat, but at a later date were worn more upon the breast. Though many forms of personal ornament are mentioned in early wills and inventories, we rarely meet with a reference to the necklace until the fourteenth century, nor is it pictured on monumental effigies or brasses until the beginning of the century following.

If worn at all prior to this date, it must simply have served the purpose of supporting pendants of various forms known as pentacols. These neck-chains, or collars as they were termed, soon began to receive additional enrichment, and the inventories of the fifteenth century contain frequent descriptions of neck-lets adorned with enamels and precious stones.

Eleanor, Countess of Arundel bequeathed to her daughter “a golden collar for the neck, with a jewel set with precious stones hanging thereat.” The fashion for rich necklaces was especially in vogue at the luxurious Court of the Dukes of Burgundy; nor had the Court of Richard II been behindhand in the display of this species of ornament, for the magnificent wedding presents of his wife, Isabella of France, included a collar of gold set with precious stones of immense value.

The word carcanet seems to have come into use about this time for rich necklaces of precious stones, and to have been applied a little later to the bands of jewels commonly entwined in ladies’ hair. Though never so generally worn as in the sixteenth century, a considerable number of these jeweled ornaments are represented in the exquisite paintings of the fifteenth century.

One of the most elaborate of all is the superb gold neck-let, brilliantly enameled with small and many-colored flowers, shown on the portrait of Maria, wife of Pierantonio Baroncelli, in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence, by an unknown Flemish painter of the latter part of the fifteenth century.

Close by, in the same gallery, is Van der Goes’ celebrated triptych, presented to the Spedale di Santa Maria Nuova by Tommaso Portinari, agent of the Medici in Bruges. Upon the right wing is Maria, wife of the donor, with her daughter. The former wears a magnificent necklace of exquisite design, its interlacing gold work shaped into the form of roses, enameled red, white, and blue, each set respectively with a sapphire, a ruby, and a large pearl.

The latter is adorned with a necklace composed of a double row of pearls connected by oval jeweled ornaments, beneath is hung a trefoil-shaped pendant set with rubies, to which is attached a large drop-pearl. A precisely similar ornament is seen in another work by Van der Goes, painted about 1473—the well-known portrait of Margaret, queen of James III of Scotland, now at Holy rood.

This picture was probably executed in Flanders from material supplied by the donor, and the artist appears to have adorned Queen Margaret with the same beautiful necklace, probably of Florentine workmanship, which he had seen round the neck of Signorina Portinari. Jane Shore, the beautiful and unfortunate mistress of Edward IV, and wife of the rich jeweler of Lombard Street, is represented in her two portraits, one at King’s College, Cambridge, and the other at Eton, wearing elaborate necklaces.

Around her throat are two strings of pearls, with a neck-let below of circular pieces of Gothic pattern, supporting a lozenge-shaped pendant of similar design adorned with pearls. Among sculptured representations of the neck-let the most interesting is that on the monument of Sir John Crosby (d. 1475) and his wife in St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, where the latter wears a very handsome necklace of roses, to which is attached a cluster of three roses with three pendants below.

Sir John’s collar is somewhat similarly formed of rosette-shaped ornaments. An early instance of a heavy neck-chain of gold, worn upon the breast, is to be seen upon the famous tapestry, considered to represent Henry VI and his Queen, in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry.

Collars of extraordinary richness seem to have been worn by Henry IV ; for among the miscellaneous documents preserved at St. Paul’s Cathedra is a list of various jewels set with diamonds both large and small, with balas rubies, sapphires, and clusters of pearls, which were to be employed for making collars for the king and queen.

The Inventories of the Exchequer contain frequent reference to what is termed the Iklyngton Coler. This magnificent collar, which Shaw was frequently pawned by Henry VI, was enriched with four rubies, four large sapphires, thirty-two great pearls, and fifty-three pearls of a lesser sort.’ In addition to the purelyornamental necklaces, collars or chains of ” livery “—bearing the heraldic devices of the day—were assumed by various royal and noble families, and were bestowed as marks of favor or friendship on persons of various ranks, and both sexes, who wore them as badges of adherence to those families.

An instance of the bestowal of a chain of this kind occurred in 1477 after the siege of Quesnoy by Louis XI, who, witnessing a great feat of gallantry on the part of Raoul de Lannoy, is reported to have placed on his neck a chain of great value, and to have thus wittily addressed him: ” Mon ami, vous etes trop furieux en un combat; il faut vous encJiainer, car je ne veux point vous perdre, ddsirant me servir encore de vous plusieurs fois.”

Richard II, as shown by the Earl of Pembroke’s remarkable picture of that monarch at Wilton, wore, in addition to his device the white hart, a collar of broom-pods. Henry IV employed the well-known collar of SS, derived from his father John of Gaunt.

The collar of Edward IV was composed of two of his badges, the sun in its splendor, and the white rose; while a third, the white lion of March, was added as a pendant. Richard III retained the Yorkist collar, substituting for the lion pendant a boar.”

Private family collars were also worn, and an early instance of one occurs in the brass of Thomas Lord Berkeley (1417) in the church of Wootton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire; the band round the neck being charged with mermaids, the badge of the Berkeleys.

The SS collar is the best known of all. It is composed of the letter S in gold repeated indefinitely, either fixed on velvet or some material, or forming the links of a chain. The letters are generally united by knots ; they sometimes terminate with portcullises and have a pendent rose. The collar was worn by the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Mayor of London, and the chief heralds—that belonging to the Lord Mayor being an original and beautiful example of English jewelry of the sixteenth century.

Despite all that has been written upon the SS collar no conclusive explanation has been offered as to its origin and meaning. Several representations of livery collars appear upon monumental effigies of the latter half of the fifteenth century, and there is frequent mention of them in the inventories of the same period, but, with the exception of the SS collar, they are not met with at all in the sixteenth century.

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